If you know anything about John Madden, one thing was abundantly clear.
The man loved football.
From his time as head coach of the Oakland Raiders to his time as a broadcaster to being behind the most successful football video game franchise of all time, Madden oozed enthusiasm and joy for the game he loved so dearly.
While he loved all aspects of the game, it seemed Madden had a particular soft spot for at least one team that became clear during his time as a broadcaster for all four major networks. He wouldn’t necessarily root for them (a faux pas as a national broadcaster), but you could tell he appreciated the team and what they stood for.
That team is the Green Bay Packers.
Often during the introductions of games he would broadcast from Lambeau Field as well as during the games themselves, Madden would praise the Packers and their fans for being a callback to what football was and should always be, with the team being community-owned and the throwback nature of Lambeau Field with the metal bleachers and no roof.
Madden also famously stopped by the Chili John’s restaurant on Military Avenue every time he was in town to broadcast a game. The man simply loved Green Bay and their fans.
“I think to be a Packer fan you have to be willing to put stuff on your head. If you love the Packers and you want to show that you love the Packers, put stuff on your head,” Madden said about Packers fans and the legendary chunks of cheddar that adorn many of their heads.
If there was one Packer, in particular, Madden loved more than city, team, and stadium, it was Brett Favre.
If Madden and broadcast partner Pat Summerall were calling your team’s game, it was a big deal. It was especially big in Green Bay because prior to 1992, the team wasn’t playing well and thusly wasn’t getting much national attention which meant you’d never get networks’ top broadcast teams. Sure you’d see them once in a while if the Packers were playing San Francisco or some other elite team but those moments didn’t occur too often because Green Bay would usually lose handily.
That all changed with Favre’s arrival and the Packers’ resurgence in the mid-1990s. The gunslinging quarterback not only won over Packers fans with his legendary arm and childlike passion for the game, but he also swooned Madden. Perhaps Madden saw in Favre a kindred spirit who shared extreme exuberance for football, someone he could live through vicariously with his coaching days long gone.
Whatever it was, Madden’s appreciation for Favre quickly endeared him to Packers fans as he became a mainstay broadcasting Packers games throughout the 1990s. His excitement over Favre’s style of play would give birth to some of his greatest sayings, known as “Maddenisms”, including this wonderful analogy of a Favre throw to a Wisconsin delicacy:
“He put all the mustard on the brat”— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) December 29, 2021
John Madden was one of one…RIP pic.twitter.com/eBwHKwUNXh
On a more somber note, Madden was also in the booth for the legendary Monday Night Football game Favre played after his dad died and his enthusiasm was initially tempered.
“There is no road map for this,” he said during the broadcast. “How does he go about playing tonight? I have no idea.”
Once Favre started lighting up Madden’s former team, the enthusiasm and man crush returned. In hindsight, on a night like that, there was no one better to call that game than Madden.
His love for Favre would of course draw parodies from Frank Caliendo to Family Guy but none were done in a mean spirit. Caliendo’s impersonation seemed to come from a place of reverence as Caliendo noted on Twitter in the wake of Madden’s passing.
As much as Madden loved everything about Green Bay, Packers fans probably loved the man even more and are now mourning his passing.
To conclude, allow me a few personal thoughts.
As someone who grew up not far from Green Bay during the Favre era, Madden became somewhat of a surrogate uncle to me. Between his presence on broadcasts and his video game franchise that taught me the ins and outs of football, he was the voice of football for me as a kid.
In a way, I guess his voice is what I’ve tried to emulate in my own writing career. Madden wasn’t big on football jargon as a broadcaster and explained things in a way that someone watching football for the first time would understand. Some would mock his analysis for being overly simplistic, but that’s where his enthusiasm would take over. Simple explanations with a “boom” became institutions in the booth and something I and millions of fans will treasure forever.
In an era where technical jargon dominates pro football discourse, Madden brought an everyman sensibility to his job that made the game more enjoyable to everyone. No one else has come close since and is truly a testament to the legacy he leaves behind.
Thank you, John. I hope you and Pat are calling games up there right now.