John Madden, Iconic Football Broadcaster and Coach, Dead at 85

He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006

John Madden
John Madden gives advice at UC Berkeley, 1980.
MediaNews Group/Oakland Tribune via Getty Images

A football era came to an end on Tuesday, December 28 with the unexpected death of John Madden at the age of 85. Had Madden not had a long and storied career providing commentary on football games, his time as a head coach for the Raiders would have been enough to make him a legend in the sport.

Over the course of his 10 years coaching the Raiders, he amassed 103 wins, 32 losses and seven ties in regular season games. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006; his biography there notes that his winning percentage for those games — .759% — is the NFL’s highest for coaches who have over 100 career wins.

After retiring from coaching at the age of 42, Madden made the move into broadcasting in 1979, and remained a mainstay of the sport for the next 29 years. He provided commentary for games on CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC over the years that followed. It was there that he established himself for a generation of football fans — in terms of both his knowledge of the sport and his enthusiasm about it.

Looking back on Madden’s life, a number of observers have pointed that Madden’s focus at California Polytechnic State University was on education — he received both a B.A. and an M.A. in it and, as The New York Times reported, was only a handful of credits short of receiving his doctorate. Did that help him explain concepts within the sport to an audience who might not have spent decades immersed in football? It can’t have hurt.

Madden’s involvement in the video games series that bears his name also contributed to his close association with the sport. The first installment appeared in 1988, though Madden was initially approached about it in 1984. His involvement with it included pushing the developers to make it as realistic as possible with the technology at hand. It’s yet another way that his life and career were interwoven with the sport — and why his loss will be felt so acutely throughout it.

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