Madden's Broadcasting Streak to End at 476 Games

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to
Monday, October 13, 2008; 3:30 PM

They really don't keep detailed records on these sorts of accomplishments in the broadcasting business, but one of the most impressive streaks in the history of sports on television is about to end this weekend when John Madden will stay home in the Bay Area and sit out Sunday's night's Tampa Bay Buccaneers home game against the Seattle Seahawks in central Florida.

For the first time since he began calling games as a color analyst for CBS Sports full-time in 1980, Madden, now 72, and working games for NBC on Sunday nights, will not be in action for an NFL regular season game, a remarkable run the network said is now at 476 games.

Eat your heart out Brett Favre, but Iron Man Madden has never missed a regular season week in an NFL football booth in 28 years. Not for illness, not for wedding anniversaries or big birthdays, not even for flat tires or mechanical breakdowns on his "Madden Cruiser" in the middle of Nebraska on its cross country trek to the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

Madden will be replaced in the NBC Sunday night booth this Sunday night by Cris Collinsworth, arguably the best studio football analyst in television who normally serves as the co-host with Bob Costas for NBC's "Football Night in America" Sunday pre-game show. Collinsworth also has done game color for years and will be seamless fit working with play-by-play man Al Michaels. But it will only happen this week because of some extenuating circumstances.

It wasn't exactly Madden's idea to take a deep breath and a day off this weekend, but when NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol first broached the possibility with him last spring, Madden said he'd have to think about it. Ten days ago, he spoke with Ebersol again and told him it might not be a bad idea.

"I wasn't reluctant as much as I was 'let's wait and see how it goes,'" Madden said in a telephone interview Monday. "Last year we had a couple of tough (trips). I still enjoy the travel, but you'd like to be home once in a while. I've got five grandchildren. It's a quality of life issue. The 49ers and the Raiders not being good also has hurt, because you never get a home game. Even when L.A. had a team, I'd get to be home. When you see the grand kids, it's like they've grown two feet. So I'd like to check in once awhile, and this is a good chance to do that."

Ebersol first thought about giving his man a blow when the NFL television schedule first came out last April. He saw that NBC would have a game in Jacksonville on Oct. 5, followed by a game in San Diego this past Sunday (Oct. 12), followed by an Oct. 19 game in Tampa.

Madden's fear of flying is well-known, as is his preference to get from game to game and occasionally home in Northern California on a specially outfitted bus with his personal driver. It's got a kitchen, steaks in the fridge, surround sound, flat-screen TVs and, perhaps most important of all, a bed with the exact same mattress Madden sleeps on at home, the better to nod off any time he chooses without waking up with his spine twisted like a pretzel.

If Madden would have done all three games, it would have necessitated a cross-country haul this week from Jacksonville to San Diego, followed by another jaunt back over the Rockies and east to Tampa starting next Monday, all within the space of 14 days. He had a similar run of travel last year, and Ebersol said he didn't want him to have to do it again, no matter how soft and comfy that mattress may be.

If there is a seventh game in the American League Championship Series between the Red Sox and Rays, it is scheduled in Tampa the same night the Seahawks and Bucs will be playing in the same city. That surely would fragment the television audience by cutting into the eyeballs watching the football game around the country, another factor in Ebersol recommending to Madden that it seemed like the perfect storm of circumstances for him to spend the weekend at home.

And no, Ebersol laughed, the price of gassing up the bus has nothing to do with it.

Madden has been around the often cutthroat television business long enough to be a tad suspicious, even if he is now in the third year of his initial six-year contract to do Sunday nights for NBC. Ebersol said Madden asked him point blank, "do you have another agenda going?"

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