John Madden’s death leaves hole in America’s sporting heart

He was Boom! He was Turducken. He was Thanksgiving. He was football.

He was the big ole coach of Al Davis’ Super Bowl XI champion Raiders, then he was the big ole face of football on television and the inimitable, fun voice of football, full of life and larger than life.

He was our treasure, an everyman NFL and pop culture icon and institution, and the passing of the legendary John Madden on Tuesday at age 85 leaves an unmistakable hole in America’s sporting heart.

He was the sports broadcasting GOAT.

He was the soundtrack of the sport he helped become the national pastime.

You wanted to listen to him alongside Pat Summerall the same way you wanted to listen to Vin Scully if you were a Dodgers fan, to Marv Albert if you were a Knicks or Rangers fan.

Madden was entertaining and he was enlightening and if he didn’t remind you of your irreverent uncle, maybe he reminded you of the shot-and-a-Miller Lite beer guy plopped on the bar stool next to you.

Madden and Summerall were The Dream Team in the television booth for 22 years, the monotone, down-the-middle Summerall and the bombastic, unabashed, shoot-from-the-hip and shoot-from-the-lip Madden, and now they are together again in The Booth Somewhere Up There. And if you knew John Madden, you can be sure he will give as many football fans as he can find a ride to the next game scheduled in heaven in his precious Madden Cruiser.

John Madden, left, and Jonathan Ogden during the 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
John Madden, left, and Jonathan Ogden during the 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
Kirby Lee/USA Today Network/Sipa USA

If he wasn’t outlining the area above the upper lip where 29-year-old Troy Aikman could not grow any facial hair, he might be focusing on Nate Newton on the bench and telling us: “You could have a barbecue on that head.”


“It’s like he didn’t take himself too seriously,” Giants legend Phil Simms told The Post. “The things he would say about linemen, people. … ‘Oh look, that’s a lineman, this is dripping off his nose,’ just whatever. He just said the things that nobody ever said on the air.”

Madden popularized use of the Telestrator during the 1982 Super Bowl, and it was impossible to take your eyes off him and impossible to take your ears off him, because you would have missed something you never saw or heard before.

“When he got done, it was just scrambled everywhere on the screen, but that was part of the fun,” Simms said. “It was actually funny.”

Summerall was the famous Giants field-goal kicker, Madden the all-conference offensive tackle from Cal Poly.

“They were great football people who treated the players and coaches the right way with great respect,” Simms said, “and they wanted to know the truth so they could convey that to the fans, which was really cool.”

Everyone, from Bill Parcells on down, could trust John Madden.

“He made meetings with the broadcasters fun,” Simms said. “A lot of laughs, and I think he did so many games with the Giants that the coaches and everybody were comfortable with him, and we told him everything. He would always handle it the right way.”

When Madden and Summerall arrived, it got everyone’s attention.

“There was a vibe that would be around the team when they would show up,” Simms said. “It created energy: ‘Oh, John Madden and Pat Summerall are here.’ ”

Pat Summerall and John Madden in 2002.
Pat Summerall and John Madden in 2002.

There wasn’t anyone, especially if you were an offensive lineman, who didn’t want to be on the dare-to-be-different All-Madden Team.

Younger generations learned football by playing the Madden video game.

He was one of a kind. I asked Simms why.

“I think a couple of things,” he said. “One, the way he talked about football in very layman terms. And of course, just him. He was a big man, a bigger-than-life figure, had that great voice … he was the first one to do games a little differently. And then gaining the trust of players and coaches where he was able to deliver things in a game that we hadn’t heard people do before probably.”

Madden made a fortune but never stopped giving you the impression that he would have done it all for nothing.

He was in tears at Summerall’s funeral in 2013 when he said: “To me he wasn’t a braggart. To me, he was John Wayne.”

I did several Q&As with Madden, an absolute delight, and here’s what he said about Summerall at the end of 2009:

“He was special because no matter what came up in the game, he had been there before, and in different capacities. He was a great punctuation guy. I could go on and on and not make a whole lot of sense, and Pat in three words could make sense out of what I couldn’t make any sense out of.”

I asked him once what he would want his television legacy to be, and he said: “I think if you know the answer to that, you probably don’t have one.”

He has one now. And it is heartening for me and everyone who knew him to know that in the last days of a great American life, Fox’s “All Madden” documentary tugged at his heartstrings and filled him with pride and joy.

RIP, big fella.

How’s this for your legacy?

There will never be another John Madden.