Friday, April 17, 2009

John Madden

I'd be remiss if I didn't say something about John Madden's retirement, even though I'm sure everything to say has already been said elsewhere.

As a coach, he may not have approached the greatness of Lombardi, Landry, Walsh, and others, but you can't argue with success. He managed to co-exist with Al Davis, and he more than anyone else deserves credit for the "just win, baby" ethos which rose out of Oakland. His teams almost always had great players, but at the same time they always teetered just on the brink of being out of control, with odd ducks and near-malcontents that thrived in the silver and black.

As an announcer, over the span of 30 years he took what could have been little more than home-spun folkiness and ended up as an icon. There were times when he came close to becoming a caricature of himself, but it was always in good fun, and he had the grace and wisdom to never take himself too seriously. And at his best, he was probably the best television analyst the game has seen. In their prime, Pat Summerall and Madden comprised what was likely the best announcing duo in the history of the game. Summerall was the perfect foil for Madden, coming from the Ray Scott minimalist style of announcing, which provided Madden plenty of room for analysis and observation. There was a time in the late 1980s and early 1990s that Dick Enberg and Bill Walsh were NBC's top NFL announcing team, and someone wrote a piece comparing Madden's style of analysis with that of Walsh. Using a great block as an example, the writer said that Walsh was likely to talk about the technique of the block, and how the play fit into the scheme of the gameplan. Madden, meanwhile, was likely to exclaim, "BOOM!"

That may not have been great analysis, but at the same time it was what separated Madden from his peers. There's no doubt he had the knowledge of the game and could use it when called upon, but he also never forgot that it was a game. And games, even when they've become a billion-dollar business enterprise, are supposed to be fun.

Madden goes out on a high note, having spent his final years with another great play-by-play man, Al Michaels. In the latter days of Monday Night Football they weren't always at their best, letting their minds and their chatter wander when they lost interest in the game, but they were at their absolute best on NBC's Sunday Night Football package, when the league worked with the network to ensure that every game was going to be an important matchup.

It's hard to imagine that Madden isn't going to be around. I think Michaels and Collinsworth could make a superb team, but it just won't be the same. John, you will be missed.

No comments: