One of the best ways to get a discussion going on the Internet—be it on message boards, chat rooms or Twitter—is to bring up the subject of play-by-play announcers and color commentators working NFL games.
It doesn't matter who you bring up—Chris Collinsworth, Phil Simms, Joe Buck or Jon "This Guy" Gruden—all have their detractors and supporters. Heck, there are people who even dislike Al Michaels.
Let's not even get started on "analysts" like Bob Costas.
No matter who they are, what they do and how they do it, at some point they get compared to the biggest icon to work a game on Sunday: John Madden.
Love him or hate him (admittedly there is reasons for both), you have to admit that few people loomed larger in the football landscape than Madden; even people who didn't watch football knew who he was.
We're in the second season of Madden-free games and I have to say, I miss him a lot more than I expected. Sure, he slobbered over Brett Favre in ways that would make Gruden blush, and yeah he went a little nuts with the telestrator and, of course, his stories and analysis would wander aimlessly like a drunk college student looking for a place for a late-night snack when all the stores are closed looking for the elusive burrito—
What were we talking about?
Oh, right. Madden.
As crazy as he seemed, Madden made football more fun and probably pulled in more casual fans than just about anything besides fantasy football.
Here are eight reasons I miss the big guy—and it's not just a list of bad current play-by-play guys.
We all loved Tecmo Bowl; let's just put that right out there.
However, aside from that, there were precious few good football video games. It was shaky game play, even for the time, limited plays and bad graphics.
Then someone had the brilliant idea to approach Madden about partnering up for a new game. In 1988 John Madden Football debuted, and the rest was video game history.
When Electronic Arts approached Madden, they didn't know what they were in for. According to Wikipedia, EA founder Tripp Hawkins approached Madden in 1984. Madden, a nut for detail as far back as his coaching days, was determined that any game with his namesake be as realistic as possible—so much so that it took four years to get it right and be released.
The second version came out in 1990 and then came annually—much to the relief of Madden-addicts everywhere.
The game has become more and more realistic each year, and while many other games have come and gone, the popularity of sports games, as well as their high level of immersive playability are a direct result of Madden's input on his own game. Adding his voice to play-by-play was just icing on a delicious cake.
When John Madden Football, and later Madden NFL, hit the stands, other video game manufacturers took notice and stepped their own efforts up. Even now, retired, Madden is heavily involved in the development of the game.
There were a lot of videos I could have used here—one was the original infomercial about the first game—but the ambulance was one of my favorite things in any of these early games. Any time I can throw it out there I will.
I desperately tried to find a Madden Cruiser video from one of Bleacher Report's partners, but alas, it was not to be.
Of course, do we really need a video to revel in the memory of Madden's ultimate road-trip vehicle?
Madden is famously afraid of flying, as he had an on-board panic attack on a flight in '79. Thereafter, he avoided planes, often traveling by train.
After way too many miles on Amtrak, Madden began touring the countryside in his customized coach-bus which we all know and loved as the Madden Cruiser.
Seeing that bad boy roll up to a preseason game or to Canton for the Hall of Fame ceremonies just said to me: "hold on boy, football is just around the corner."
Madden enjoyed the ride, not just because he could avoid flying. As he told Paul Bannister of Bankrate.com in 2004:
I used to get on the airplane, then I'd get off the airplane. I'd go to the hotel and the stadium, then back to the airplane. I traveled all over, but I didn't see anything. Now, I do.......
Madden saw the country in a way few of us bother to anymore and certainly influenced my decision to drive myself from New York to California when I was in college.
The Madden Cruiser was big, bold and brash—just like its chief passenger.
Stuff like the Sunday Night Football in America bus is just a pale imitation.
Celebrities and athletes have always shilled products to some extent but they were often so darn earnest doing it. Madden never seemed to take it—or himself—all that seriously.
Madden's amusement with himself seemed to say to athletes "hey, it's ok to laugh at yourself." And they did.
Say what you will about how goofy Aaron Rodgers comes off in this State Farm commercial, ads like that have personalized players in a way that wasn't very common before Madden goofed it up for Toyota.
I'd love to see Madden come out of retirement and do a few ads with some of the NFL players he talked about on Sundays and Mondays.
On the other hand, if one of them was Brett Favre, we might not be able to mop up the drool.
In a world where things like the self-congratulatory ESPYs and LeBron James' "Decision" rule the airwaves, it's hard to remember how original the idea to launch something like the All-Madden Team.
The story goes that John Robinson, former USC and NFL coach, suggested putting the "team" together in order for Madden to get across the idea if how he thought the game should be played.
It wasn't always the pretty boy quarterbacks who got the accolades Madden handed out (though they got their fair share). As the man himself put it in his book All Madden: BOOM! BAM! BOINK!:
What does it mean to be "All-Madden"? It's a whole range of things. For defensive linemen and linebackers, it's about Jack Youngblood playing with a busted leg, Lawrence Taylor wreaking havoc on the offense and Reggie White making the other guy wish he put a little more in the collection plate at church. It's about a guy who's got a dirty uniform, mud on his face and grass in the ear hole of his helmet.
Sure, he named guys like Walter Payton to the team, but he loved to make sure we knew how players like Ronnie Lott, Richard Dent and Mark Bavaro impacted a game.
It wasn't just about stats or Pro Bowls or TV highlights, it was about playing the game hard, winning in the trenches and leaving everything out on the field.
The All-Madden Team brought some of these guys to the attention of casual football fans. Hardcore guys knew who the linemen and tackles were, but when Madden pointed them out, everyone else took notice as well.
I don't actually know if this is good or bad. I mean, in concept, the more meat the better on Thanksgiving, right?
There's something a bit disturbing about the turducken though. Where does it reside? How do you hunt it? Is it living near a nuclear power plant?
Likely created in a lab by some government scientist, possibly using cloning technology from an alien spacecraft in Area 51, the turducken may not have been created by Madden, but it was certainly popularized by him.
Of course, it had to be created in order to feed offensive and defensive lines—Madden couldn't spend all day in the Madden Cruiser basting individual turkeys.
The turducken brought some fun to what were occasionally terrible matchups on Thanksgiving and probably made the players missing their own family get-togethers feel a little more at home.
Many awards have been thrown out there by the networks for Thanksgiving MVPs; none have been the equal of that mighty mutant, turducken.
While Jon Gruden now owns Monday Night Football's "say less with more" title, Madden did it sooner and with more variety.
Nobody turned a simple play into more of an exercise in doubletalk like John Madden. Forget the sound effects (BOOM) and the occasional stammers (as Madden was trying to say so much he often seemed to confuse himself).
There was something lovable about that though—for the most part he wasn't as coyingly, overbearingly pandering to every player on the field as Gruden sometimes gets.
Madden just seemed to speak before he thought and his brain was always trying to catch up to his tongue. He wasn't polished as so many guys who arrive in the booth are these days.
He was a guy who sometimes was at a loss for the right words; he stumbled, he babbled, he droned on. If nothing else, he was genuine and he spoke his mind without trying to be controversial or negative just for the sake of it.
That's something sorely lacking in many announcer booths these days.
This one isn't for everyone because I know Frank Caliendo bugs the heck out of a lot of people. Forget the rest of what he does though—I find his John Madden impersonation pretty damned funny.
What would Caliendo do if he wasn't trotted out on FOX to do his Madden? Would he be wandering aimlessly around the world doing impersonations for spare change? Maybe waiting tables at a Red Robin somewhere.
Sure, he does a bunch more impersonations, but his Madden is his bread-and-butter.
Frankly, I'd be afraid of what Caliendo would do with more time on his hands. In fact, without Madden around now I'm sure Caliendo is up to no good.
What's funny about it is he really doesn't have to go that far over the top—Madden is sort of a walking self-impersonation anyway. All you need to do is tweak the delivery and amp it up about four percent and you've got humor.
I think we all knew what the last video was going to be about. Nobody—not the Cheeseheads before The Defection, not Brad Childress, not Tony Kornheiser, not his own mom—loved Favre more than John Madden.
Never did anyone enjoy calling a Brett Favre game like Madden did; he was like a kid up there in the announcer's booth, and it is fitting in many ways that they left within a year of each other.
If you really think about it though, Favre's games were a great example of what made Madden an enjoyable announcer to listen to even when he was babbling. Madden had a tremendous love and enthusiasm for the game and never was that more evident than when he was talking about Favre.
Those games reminded us that, resume aside, Madden was just as much a fan as the rest of us on some level.
With so many announcers these days either cold and dispassionate to the point of boredom, or talking down to their audience, I miss Madden's genuine enthusiasm.
Gus Johnson is a nice filler, but it's not the same.
As an announcer, he was far from perfect, however the one thing he did was keep it fun. So much of the time, announcers are trying to be clever or distance themselves from the on-field play.
Madden was a guy who wore his passion for the game on his sleeve and brought us closer to it because of that.
He wasn't the most adept speaker, he wasn't always the sharpest analyst, and he wasn't always the most smooth or polished guy to ever hold a mic, but he was fun—and it'd be nice to hear a little more of that from the booth.