John Madden’s Legacy: More Than A Game

by Zach Rhein and John Timko, Sports Reporters
photo courtesy of NBC News

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sunk into the couch, controller in hand and eyes narrowed at the screen as “Madden” loaded. The National Football League (NFL) video game transports me to a virtual football world where I can stand proudly on the field as a player for the New England Patriots, my team of choice. If it’s a good day, I lead my team to victory as a head coach, or build a lineup of superstars as a general manager. 

We, as players, focus on Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes’ glowering stares on its cover, but forget about the legend for whom the game is named: John Madden. 

Madden, arguably the most influential figure in football, passed away on Dec. 28, 2021. He may be gone, but his years as a coach and broadcaster, as well as his video game, have left a lasting impression that spans generations. 

Madden spent nine years as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, where his team won 75% of their regular season games. In 1969, after his very first season, Madden won the American Football League Coach of the Year award as the youngest head coach in the league. He went on to coach his team to six American Football Conference Championship Game appearances and a Super Bowl victory in 1976. 

Despite having coached only 10 seasons, a tenure incomparable to the likes of other legendary NFL coaches, Madden was the youngest to reach 100 regular season wins, and he recorded more wins than losses in every season. Nearly 45 years later, he still holds the Raiders’ franchise record for the most wins as a head coach.

It wasn’t just Madden’s coaching accomplishments that made him the icon he was and still is. Over his 30-year career as a broadcaster, he lent his infectious energy to moments on the field and was the first American sports commentator to utilize the Telestrator. This technology allows one to sketch on top of a video or photograph, and thanks to Madden’s pioneering mind, it is now commonplace in sports reporting, making complex plays more accessible to the audiences following along at home. 

He called games for ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC, calling at least one Super Bowl for each network. He won 16 Emmy awards from 1982 to 2009, and his record of legendary calls has turned his voice into one of the most celebrated in broadcasting history, recognized by football fans of all ages.

In 1984, Electronic Arts (EA) Sports founder Trip Hawkins approached Madden, seeking the Hall of Fame coach’s support in the production of an NFL video game. Madden had some notes, demanding that EA Sports change their plan for 7 vs. 7 gameplay to the typical 11 vs. 11 structure of real NFL games. 

Madden wouldn’t put his name on any game short of authenticity; the game even featured his actual 1980 Raiders playbook. Madden’s dedication to making the most realistic experience for video game players is a large reason for the continued popularity of “Madden,” with versions released annually since 1990.

Madden is one of the most beloved figures in football history. From old-timers who remember his coaching days, to our parents who remember his legendary broadcasting career, to us and millions of children around the world who turn on their Xbox, PlayStation or iPhone every day to play along and learn about the game of football, it is safe to say that few people have impacted as many people as Madden did. 

So next time you pull out your console to play “Madden,” think about the man behind this game and the way you view football. Think about the impact that one man had on the game of football, and appreciate his greatness.