John Madden could fill a sweater; John Madden could fill a room.
He came from an era when it was OK for men to be a bit fun and bombastic, before today’s grim data-driven demi-coaches, who may be impressive, but are they leaders?
Nope. True leadership requires way more than hair gel, a laptop and a half-ass beard.
“Hey guys, follow me through hell,” Madden could tell his player. And they would.
To be sure, he was a different kind of king. His pants fit funny and I doubt he had a decent haircut his whole life. He wore sideburns like mud flaps.
But was he a leader.
Sly as a big cat, with some Dangerfield swagger, he challenged players the way Lombardi and Ditka did, went toe-to-toe as men, didn’t worry about self-esteem, drove them to be world champions.
Do you know how hard that is?
Along with the estimable Al Michaels –Trapper John to his Hawkeye, Ricky to his Lucy – Madden created a broadcast juggernaut that would rival “60 Minutes” for ratings.
Their one-two punch turned “Sunday Night Football” into the No. 1 show on television for more than a decade, and made a joke of every other booth team in the history of the game – only Madden and his former partner Pat Summerall come close.
Under Summerall’s tutelage, a star was born.
With Madden as the lead, “Sunday Night Football” became must-see TV. It became the new Sullivan show, a rallying point in living rooms from Portsmouth to Pacoima.
If Vin Scully was the voice of American summers, John Madden became the voice of American falls.
In the way you could enjoy George Will even if you didn’t like politics, or auto critic Dan Neil if you didn’t drive a car, you could enjoy Madden even if you didn’t know football.
Indeed, when you weigh in his “Madden NFL” video-game empire, Madden has done more for pro football than anyone since Pete Rozelle, or maybe even George Halas himself (the game’s cheap and savvy Copernicus).
Madden’s passion shined through everything he did. Afraid of flying, he became America’s best-known RV’er.
He also, somehow, introduced the world to the “Turducken,” a Thanksgiving parlor trick where Louisiana chefs shove a duck inside a chicken inside a…well, you get the idea.
It was the audacious Cajun engineering that he loved.
You know, back when grandeur was enough – before cup-holders and jumbo screens became such tacky yardsticks – the NFL used to hold Super Bowls at the splendid Rose Bowl, football’s Louvre.
In Madden’s Super Bowl there (No. XI), the pre-game activities included a Frisbee dog and Vikki Carr. You knew right then it had to be Coach’s day.
When he won, they carried Madden off the field.
Do you know how hard that must’ve been?
I mean, beating Fran Tarkenton and Chuck Foreman is one thing, but how many joyous and enormous men does it take to raise their Falstaffian hero high in the Pasadena sky?
Just one, really. Just him. Just Madden being Madden.
A true trophy of a guy.
Follow the columnist’s work at ChrisErskineLA.com