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Al Davis: Raiders Owner Turned John Madden into a Super Star

James Van Etten@jbvanettenContributor IOctober 9, 2011

CANTON, OH - AUGUST 05:  Broadcaster and former coach Oakland Raider John Madden (L) gestures in front of a portrait of him after being introduced by Oakland Raider owner Al Davis during his induction during the Class of 2006 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Fawcett Stadium on August 5, 2006 in Canton, Ohio.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

Many will grieve the passing of icon Al Davis in their own Silver and Black way, but the heaviest heart should be that of former Raiders head coach John Madden.

The importance of Al Davis on John Madden’s career is not lost on the gregarious former coach and longtime friend:

Al Davis has been the biggest influence in my professional football life. I mean, he was a guy that gave me an opportunity, one, to get into professional football in 1967 as an assistant coach, and then at the age of 32, giving me the opportunity to be the head coach. That was something that was very special. I mean, there weren't a lot of people that thought John Madden, the linebacker coach, is going to be the head coach of the Raiders. Al believed in me, then gave me the opportunity. During the time, the 10 years I was head coach, he gave me everything. I was never turned down for one thing that I ever wanted for football by Al Davis. Since I've been out, we're still friends. We still see each other all the time. I just had dinner with him last week on his birthday. He's just, you know, one of my best friends, one of my best friends in life. You know, if it weren't for Al, you don't know where you would have gone.

John Madden owes everything he is or has to the man whom former NFL lineman and now analyst Lomas Brown referred to as “The Godfather of the NFL.”  Madden was brought into the Raiders fold by Al Davis in 1967 as linebackers coach and after only two years named him head coach of the Oakland Raiders on February 4, 1969. Madden was only 32 years old and was now in charge of Al Davis’ Modus Operandi (MO), “Just Win Baby.”

The “Commitment to Excellence” for Davis and the Raiders reached its zenith in the Bicentennial year of 1976 when the Oakland Raiders earned their first of three Championships, defeating the Minnesota Vikings 32-14 in Super Bowl XI.

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 28:  Former Oakland Raider coach John Madden arrives for  the funeral mass for New York Giants owner Wellington Mara, 89, at St. Patricks Cathedral October 28, 2005 in New York City. Mara was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in
Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

Madden pulled a George Costanza and retired from coaching after 1978, amassing a record of 112-39-7 during his tenure, second only to the namesake of the Super Bowl trophy, Vince Lombardi. At only 42 years young and on top of the coaching world, what was the rotund red-head supposed to do now? Become more famous.

In 1981, after grinding for 12 years doing color commentator work for various networks, Madden joined Pat Summerall and his trusty flask to create the greatest NFL broadcasting duo (trio) ever.  Madden and Summerall were the lead team until January of 1994, when CBS lost the broadcasting rights to FOX.

Summerall and Madden were to football what Walter Cronkite was to the world news. If Cronkite reported it, it was relevant and truthful. If Summerall and Madden were in town, that game was must-watch TV.

During that same time, Madden began to develop a computer game with Trip Hawkins, founder of Electronic Arts (EA Sports). The ex-coach was teaching a course at the University of California on football for fans and wanted a computer simulation to use as a teaching tool for his students.  Flash forward 30 some years and the Madden video game brand continues to be one of the best-selling sports games with countless copies sold every year. 

Millions of student GPAs drop every academic year as Madden junkies push their bodies into the early hours of the morning, straining their vision for a cyber-moment of victory and curse their thumbs hours later as they scramble to slide into class on time and open up their Apple.

The autumn wind is a Raider. Only two weeks into the season of fall where photosynthesis begins to wane and the oranges and reds of October take center stage, the Bay Area has become a true black hole with the losses of both Steve Jobs and Al Davis, two maverick visionaries.

The man referred to by rapper/producer Ice Cube as the “Frank Sinatra of football,” defiantly and successfully did it his way. John Madden can attribute his mega-stardom to the late, great Mr. Al Davis.

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