When the Oakland Raiders say it's sunny outside, veteran reporters know to dive for umbrellas. The Raiders are the most devious team in the National Football League, so the announcement yesterday that ulcers had forced John Madden to quit as coach was at first greeted with universal skepticism.
Of course, Madden was sick of working for Al Davis, of being called the world's largest athletic puppet. finally, he had snipped the strings. Knowing minds about the NFL were surprised not that Madden had ulcers, for like withholding tax that seems a condition of Raider employment, but that they drove him from the sidelines.
Instant wisdom within the NFL had Madden waiting a proper amount of time an popping into the wars once again, because as only the second man in NFL history to win 100 games his first 10 years as coach, he is much in demand. So where will he bounce back?
"This is not a smoke screen," a Raider player source said. "The man is sick."
Outwardly, Madden seemed the last NFL coach to allow the game to tackle him, to have his coaching obit written at age 42. Within the team, he qas known as Pinky, a red-haired bear of man who stalked about during games and vented considerable frustration at officials.
He was highly accessibel and -- by Raider standards -- candid, a fellow who seemed self-confident enough to laugh at himself during the week of the Raiders' victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the 1977 Super Bowl.
During a midweek press conference, Madden was asked to respond to the Raiders' apparent problems with teams in the Vikings' NFC Division. They had beaten the Packers by just four points and the Bears by a point, on a decision officials later admitted was wrong.
"I didn't know we had trouble..." Madden began to say, and suddenly the microphone slipped off the podium. Immediately, Madden picked it up and said: "Every time I lie, this thing falls."
As assured as Madden seemed publicly, there were signs of inner turmoil. Because of a quirk of fate kept him off the plane that crashed and killed several Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo players in 1960, Madden has avoided flying whenever possible.
And he rarely slept. Night persons returning to the Raider training camp or their hotel before a game would nearly always find Madden up and pacing. Rider players became concerned during the last half of this season.
"After every home game, we have a team buffet in one of the big rooms of the Hilton," defensive end Pat Toomay said from his Dallas home. "And John would never come. He always came before -- win, lose or draw.
"He wouldn't come, he couldn't come, so he had to be pretty bad off. And in some instances he wouldn't leave the locker room for an hour, sometimes two, after a game, because he wasn't feeling well."
Madden concealed the inner fire that drives all successful coaches, but not totally. The Post's Betty Cuniberti, who covered the Raiders during their Super Bowl season two years ago, caught a glimpse when Madden reacted angrily to what on the surface appeared a harmless training-camp story.
During a lengthy scolding, Madden shouted: "Don't you understand?... This is my life." Some time later, Madden brought the subject up again and said: "Do you know what I really hated about that story?"
"I called up my wife and asked her if she'd read that (censored) story and she said: 'Yes, I loved it.'"
Madden was the ideal coach for the collection of characters Davis brought to the Raiders. No other team seems so appropriately named.
"He (Madden) is not a pretentious man," Toomay said. "He has great insight into people, he's able to be successful with a broad spectrum of individuals. If the head coach wasn't able to do that, this team would have fallen apart years ago.
"Al's philosophy is: 'Whatever it takes -- and win.' And it doesn't matter how.He likes players who don't give a damn, guys who play extremely hard but aren't interested in extraneous matters and have sort of a contempt for authority.
"Madden was the cement that held it together."
His obsession was winning the Super Bowl, and after the Raiders finally accomplished that after years of frustration he yelled: "You can't measure the satisfaction in words... It's been a long time and you learn to live with it. But this time there was no ice, no miracle catch and no controversial play."
The Raiders beat the Vikings with the basic, power football Madden cherishes -- and had when Art Shell and Gene Upshaw were in their prime. And Ken Stabler was able to make it even more effective with his passes.
The Raiders were showing signs of age during last season's 9-7 performance. Stabler was flawed and the always-suspect defense spent far too much time on the field. Toomay expects changes nearly as-dramatic as Madden's resignation.
"I expect he (Davis) will look around at the other teams, Dallas for example, and see what they've done to be successful. I wouldn't be surprised if he adopted some of their ways, an offseason conditioning program for instance."
This has been a memorable week for football coaches. Woody Hayes went berserk and punched a player ad three days later Chuck Fairbanks was sued for trying to break his contract. Now Madden quit his job with an ulcer.
What is the thread?
"Maybe just the fact that coaching is a bitch," said Toomay, who has seen the entire football spectrum during his undergraduate career at Vanderbilt and postgraduate work with the Cowboys, expansion Buccaneers and Raiders. "Madden was, what, 103-32-7 in 10 years? That's something. But I guess he's paid for it."