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John Madden, NFL Hall of Famer and video game icon, dies at 85

John Madden, shown as head coach of the Oakland Raiders, died Tuesday at 85. (AP Photo) (Anonymous/AP)

John Madden, a towering figure in professional football as a Super Bowl-winning coach, a legendary broadcaster and a video game icon, died Dec. 28 at age 85.

The NFL announced Madden’s death, saying only that he died “unexpectedly” Tuesday. The league did not cite a cause of death.

“Nobody loved football more than Coach,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in the league’s written announcement. “He was football. He was an incredible sounding board to me and so many others. There will never be another John Madden, and we will forever be indebted to him for all he did to make football and the NFL what it is today.”

Madden was a beloved and pioneering figure who was instrumental in establishing the NFL as the nation’s most popular and prosperous pro sports league.

NFL world salutes John Madden and his impact on football

“I am not aware of anyone who has made a more meaningful impact on the National Football League than John Madden, and I know of no one who loved the game more,” Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a written statement. “When I think of a person of sports who is worthy of the term, ‘larger than life,’ I have always thought of John. And I always will.”

His contributions to the sport’s growth came in three acts, first as the coach of the Oakland Raiders for 10 years between 1969 and ’78. He was hired at age 32 and proceeded to win nearly 76 percent of his games, never having a losing season. He coached the Raiders to a Super Bowl triumph over the Minnesota Vikings at the conclusion of the 1976 season. Madden’s .759 winning percentage ranks as the highest ever among coaches with at least 100 career victories.

“He was a great, great coach,” former Raiders offensive lineman Art Shell, who played for Madden and later was the team’s coach, told NFL Network. “He understood people. That, to me, was his biggest asset. He could understand each and every football player on that football team. And he understood what made each one of us tick. He knew how to get to us.”

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He achieved even greater fame as a broadcaster, traversing the country by bus because of his aversion to flying and making games accessible and entertaining to viewers. He worked for all four major networks over three decades during which he garnered 16 Emmy Awards while forming revered broadcasting teams with play-by-play partners Pat Summerall and Al Michaels.

Madden knew the game well. More importantly, he knew how to make it enjoyable to watch.

“Some people say, you know, they run in there and they collide or something,” Madden said in a 2006 interview posted online Tuesday by the NFL Network. “It’s in there, ‘Boom!’ That’s what I say.”

To an entire generation of video game aficionados, he was most notable as the face of the immensely popular Madden NFL Football franchise. The video game became so entrenched in popular culture that even current NFL players sometimes are obsessed with their player ratings in the game.

“It is impossible to hyperbolize what John Madden meant to generations of NFL fans,” NFL Players Association spokesman George Atallah wrote on Twitter. “Literally, his name became synonymous with the game of football.”

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He was frequently seen on TV ads. He was a best-selling author.

“Few individuals meant as much to the growth and popularity of professional football as Coach Madden, whose impact on the game both on and off the field was immeasurable,” the Raiders said in a statement.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame said that its flag will be flown at half-staff in Madden’s memory.

“The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Coach Madden,” Jim Porter, the Hall of Fame’s president, said in a written statement. “Few, if any, have had as great an impact on the sport of professional football on so many different levels as Coach Madden. He was first and foremost a coach. He was a coach on the field, a coach in the broadcast booth and a coach in life.”

John Earl Madden was born in Austin, Minn., in 1936 and moved with his family to Daly City, Calif., at age 6. His best friend was John Robinson, later the coach at the University of Southern California and in the NFL for the Los Angeles Rams. Madden played football, basketball and baseball in high school. He and Robinson attended the University of Oregon on football scholarships.

After undergoing knee surgery, Madden bounced around to other schools before becoming an all-conference player at Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles but never played in an NFL game after another injury.

He turned to coaching. He began in high school and college and then worked his way to the American Football League and the Raiders as a linebackers coach in 1967. Owner Al Davis promoted Madden to the head coaching job in February 1969. Madden reached the pinnacle of the profession with the Raiders’ 32-14 win over the Vikings in Super Bowl XI in January 1977.

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But Madden was not a coaching lifer. He announced his retirement from coaching in January 1979, saying that he’d given it everything he had for a decade and he didn’t have anything more to give. He vowed that he’d never coach another game.

But Madden didn’t stop working. His beer commercials for Miller Lite added to his popularity. He began working for CBS in 1979, eventually calling 11 Super Bowls before retiring from broadcasting following the 2008 season.

Madden remained connected to the league in recent years as an adviser on a variety of issues. The NFL indeed lost one of its greats.

“He was dearly loved by millions of football fans worldwide,” Porter said. “While it’s a very sad day, it’s also a day we should celebrate the life of a man who brought joy through the game of football to millions.”

Madden was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006. He said in his induction speech: “Today feels like the second time in my life that I’m being carried off [on] the shoulders of others. This has been the sweetest ride of them all.”