John Madden, possibly the most famous person to ever be associated with professional American football, has died. The news was announced by the National Football League (via Variety), which said in a statement that Madden’s death was “unexpected,” but it did not offer a specific cause of death beyond that. Madden was 85.
The NFL statement quotes league commissioner Roger Goodell as saying that Madden was a “devoted husband, father, and grandfather,” and that he “was football.” The brief statement ends by saying that, “There will never be another John Madden, and we will forever be indebted to him for all he did to make football and the NFL what it is today.”
Madden was born in Minnesota in 1936 but his family moved to California when he was a kid, and he played football in both high school and college. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1958, but a knee injury during training camp prevented him from ever playing professionally. Instead, he started working as a coach for various college teams, developing a reputation for consistent success that got him a job as a linebacker coach with the Oakland Raiders.
A few years later, Madden was named the Raiders’ new head coach and, over the course of his decade-long tenure with the team, put together one of the highest winning percentages in the history of the NFL. He also won a Super Bowl and was the youngest coach to ever win 100 regular season games. Citing health concerns, though, Madden retired from coaching in 1979 and joined CBS as a color commentator—finding a second career that would make an even bigger impact than his time as a coach.
As a broadcaster, hopping between all of the major networks whenever they had NFL rights and/or enough money to afford him (Madden was, at one point, paid higher than any NFL player), John Madden effectively became the face of football for a lot of people, with his boisterous attitude and flair for silly broadcasting gimmicks (he’s credited with popularizing the use of the telestrator, the tool that allows broadcasters to essentially draw on the screen) turning him into a larger-than-life personality and earning him a bunch of Emmy awards (and advertising spokesperson contracts) in the process.
But that’s all without acknowledging the other enormous impact he had on pop culture and football through his involvement in EA’s Madden NFL video game series—one of the biggest and most successful video game franchises of all time, sports or otherwise. Rather than just signing away his name and recording a few voice lines, Madden’s input and expertise helped push the series both creatively and technologically, making it the definitive football game for a lot of players (though that has all been in tangible decline since EA bought the exclusive rights to make NFL console games, changing Madden from the definitive take on the sport to the only take on the sport).
Like Goodell said in the NFL’s statement, John Madden simply was football—whether in terms of his coaching, his broadcasting, or the Madden NFL games. His impact on the sport and its status as a fixture of American pop culture is undeniable.