John Madden, the former American football coach whose voice and congenial broadcasting style made him synonymous with the National Football League, died unexpectedly December 28. Madden, who lent his name and likeness to the long-running series of football games published by EA, was 85 years old when he passed.
Madden’s earliest claim to fame was his ten-year stint as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, which culminated in a 1976 win over Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI. During his time with the Raiders, he became the youngest coach to rack up 100 wins, which he accomplished by age 42. While he was head coach, the Raiders never completed a season without a winning record. Madden finished out his coaching career with a 103-32-7 regular season record, which remains the best winning percentage for a head coach in the modern NFL.
In 1984, EA Sports approached Madden, who had at that point retired from coaching due to occupational burnout and moved to colour commentary, to discuss endorsing its planned computer football game. Madden saw it as a chance to help people learn about football and was enthusiastic about the concept, but refused to lend his name to the original designs, which used six or seven players per team due to the technical limitations of home computers of the era.
After numerous delays, which at one point involved EA Sports hiring Bethesda Softworks to help build a physics system, John Madden Football was released for the Apple II in 1988, with the retail box including a quote from Madden that said, “Hey, if there aren’t 11 players, it isn’t real football.” The game included plays taken directly from the 1980 Raiders playbook, which Madden had provided, and was billed as the “first real football simulation.”
Thanks, Coach pic.twitter.com/jGx8aVdRPj
— Madden NFL 22 (@EAMaddenNFL) December 29, 2021
Madden saw himself first and foremost as a coach, and continued to regard the Madden series of games as useful teaching tools. He took a similar approach to his broadcast commentary, explaining the action in an enthusiastic but simple way that anyone could understand, even if they had never seen a game of football before.
He is survived by his wife, Virginia, and their two sons, Joseph and Michael.