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Bam! Madden Bows Out

Broadcasting lost a big one today, when NFL commentator John Madden, 73, announced his retirement.

In these turbulent times, however, it relieves me to see that Madden is going out gracefully. So many of us should be so lucky.

Madden will be replaced in the broadcast booth by Cris Collinsworth, NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol said in today’s conference call.

Madden’s been calling ball games for 30 years, starting at CBS in 1979. Prior to that, he was the Oakland Raiders’ head coach for ten years, after joining the team as a linebacker coach in 1967. Madden’s own professional career was extremely short: he was drafted 244th by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1958, but after one short season he sustained a knee injury in training camp that ended his career.

Still, Madden – who earned himself a BS and MA in Education from California Polytechnic State University – was always one of the game’s star students. And the colorful way in which he expressed himself soon became the voice of football.

Over his 30 years in broadcasting, Madden has won 16 Emmys and worked for all four of the major networks, calling Super Bowls for each of them. He was paid well for his efforts, earning an estimated $9.5 million a year in this last go-round with NBC. His contract was supposed to run until 2011, but he doesn’t plan to play it out.

Madden is perhaps best known for his delivery style, which was often a declaration of the obvious but was always entertaining. A November 2006 Onion headline declared: “John Madden Reminds Viewers of Importance of Quarterback to NFL Teams.” And to see comedian Frank Caliendo’s impersonation of Madden on his TBS show, Frank TV, almost made it hard to go back to the real thing. (Caliendo’s Twitter update: Contrary to some speculation, I am not retiring….. Just taking a break to work on my Cris Collinsworth impression.)

Madden also loved his telestrator, which is not some weapons system made famous in the Star Wars saga, but a device that allowed him to use a light pen to diagram plays over live or replayed footage.

One of his wisest moves was lending his name, voice and expertise to a video game 20 years ago. Electronic Arts’ Madden NFL Football is the best-selling sports videogame of all time, with more than 65 million copies sold since it was first released in 1988.

The accolades came rolling in on Thursday.

“No one has made the sport more interesting, more relevant and more enjoyable to watch and listen to than John,” said Al Michaels, Madden’s frequent broadcast partner, said in a statement. “There’s never been anyone like him and he’s been the gold standard for analysts for almost three decades.”

“John Madden is a true legend and Hall of Famer who has put his imprint on the NFL in so many ways as a coach, broadcaster, ambassador, and as the face of the popular video game that bears his name,” said ESPN and ABC Sports President George Bodenheimer. “We thank him for the years he spent on Monday Night Football, and I personally thank him for his friendship.  We will all miss his signature calls, his passion for the game and seeing him in the television booth each week of the NFL season, but his impact on the league and its fans will continue to be felt.  I wish him all the best in his retirement.”

“He made us all lot wiser about line play, which is something a lot of color analysts or announcers weren’t nearly as capable of doing,” said Joe Horrigan, the vice-president of communications for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, according to Fox Sports’ Alex Marvez . “He did it in such an entertaining fashion but with great credibility. There’s a difference between those two things.

Reaction to the news that Collinsworth will replace Madden is mixed. I learned this several ways. 1) I conducted a highly scientific focus group by posting status updates on Facebook and Twitter. There, one friend said: “Madden has been a caricature of himself for years…He had lost it….Collinsworth is one of the best…funny and knowledgeable and not over the top.” 2) I emailed another football fanatic friend and asked what he thought. “Collinsworth is horrible,” was his response. 3) And then I read the comments after this story in the Washington Post, which went back and forth and back and forth.

What are some of your thoughts about Madden’s retirement? What are some of your memories of him? Let me know in the comments.

Paige Albiniak
Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.