By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 17, 2009
John Madden, one of the architects of pro football's enormous popularity, announced his retirement from broadcasting yesterday after three lively decades as an NFL television analyst.
"I strongly believe that this is the right time," Madden said in a radio interview. "This is the right thing, and you just do it. Now, is it easy? No, I love it too much for it to be easy."
Madden, who turned 73 last week, became a staple of football on TV after a 10-year coaching career that landed him in the Hall of Fame. A wildly successful football video game also bears his name. Longtime NFL player, broadcaster and executive Matt Millen said yesterday that Madden, who won a Super Bowl as coach of the Oakland Raiders, was a central figure in developing the NFL game into the nation's most prosperous sport.
"He changed football," Millen said in a telephone interview. "He made it bigger than probably even he ever thought it could be. John went into the Hall of Fame as a coach. He could have gone in carrying any of about four different banners, too -- broadcaster, contributor, you name it. The guy is amazing."
Dick Ebersol, the chairman of NBC Sports, traveled to the Bay Area to meet with Madden on Wednesday after Madden told him of his plan to retire on the phone.
Ebersol said he and Sandy Montag, Madden's longtime agent, spent about 11 hours with Madden on Wednesday, and Ebersol tried to persuade Madden to reconsider and accept a reduced workload next season in which Madden would work NBC's Sunday night NFL broadcasts in September and November and take off October and December. Madden declined.
Madden's final game for NBC was its broadcast of the Pittsburgh Steelers' triumph over the Arizona Cardinals in last season's Super Bowl. He said yesterday that he gave himself two months following that game, as he had done annually in recent years, to decide whether to retire or work another season.
He "vacillated" over the decision this time, he said, and then made up his mind and phoned Ebersol last week. He wanted to be certain, he said, so that he wouldn't announce his retirement and then end up wanting to return.
"It was a great ride," Madden said during his regular appearance on Bay Area radio station KCBS. "I enjoyed every part of it. But, you know, that part of my life has come to an end now. . . . It will be the first year that I haven't had a football season since my freshman year in high school. I've had a season every year because I went from player to coach, and from coach to broadcaster, and in my life I've never had a season off."
Ebersol named Cris Collinsworth, a member of the network's NFL studio show, to succeed Madden as the analyst alongside play-by-play announcer Al Michaels in the NBC booth.
"It's a sad day," Montag said during a conference call with reporters. "But it's a happy day because . . . he's going out his way. He's perfectly healthy."
Ebersol called Madden "the absolute best sports broadcaster who ever lived," and also said during a conference call, "He was the only broadcaster who, I believe, could change ratings."
But Madden's impact on the sport was even greater than that, Millen said. The NFL has grown into an industry with approximately $8 billion in annual revenue and, according to Millen, Madden's contribution to building the public interest that generated such wealth shouldn't be overlooked.
"For a lot of people, he is the NFL," Millen said. "He is the face of the NFL. He is the voice of the NFL. To me, he's still the coach, and he became a mentor and a friend. But to a lot of people, he's the broadcaster. And to a younger generation, he's the guy on the video game.
"He did more for the NFL than any PR campaign ever could have done. Anything they ever wanted to do to promote the game, anything they ever could have come up with, he did more by himself. It's a great, great sport, don't get me wrong. But he carried the torch for a long time."
Madden won 16 Emmy Awards and gained an immense following because of his ability to make viewers both understand and enjoy games. He was known for his offbeat style and his football sound effects ("Boom!" "Doink!"), as well as his insight into the nuances of the sport and for his disdain of flying that led him to crisscross the country in a bus for his TV duties.
He coached the Raiders to a record of 112-39-7 between the 1969 and '78 seasons (including 103-32-7 in the regular season) and a triumph over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI. He has the highest regular season winning percentage of any coach with at least 100 victories, according to the Hall of Fame. He began his TV career in 1979.
He also was successful as an advertising pitchman for several companies, and his Madden NFL video game made him the face of the sport to a new generation of fans.
"There is one thing football fans have agreed on for decades: They all love John Madden," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a written statement released by the league. "John was a Hall of Fame coach before becoming one of the most celebrated personalities in sports. He had an incredible talent for explaining the game in an unpretentious way that made it more understandable and fun. . . .
"It is only fitting that his last game as an announcer was this year's Super Bowl. . . . He is stepping down as a true Super Bowl champion."