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Madden Gets Off the Bus

I know it’s not a Washington subject, but I will make it into one. Frank Caliendo killed ‘em at a Washington dinner a couple of years ago with, among other things, his dead-on impersonation–make that inhabitation–of John Madden.

Then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld even suggested he should do his schtick at the Pentagon.

Caliendo also did Madden at an NAB dinner a couple of years back. NAB is based in Washington.

OK, there’s the justification for using my Washington blog to talk about how much I will miss John Madden, who announced his retirement today.

I was watching ESPN and Ben Roethlisberger was pointing out that Madden had been in the booth for both his winning Super Bowls. Maybe I can get him to come out of retirment to call my next one, he said. He may be a good luck charm.

I don’t know about the charm part, but I say the sooner John Madden returns the better. Perhaps he can emulate his favorite player, Brett Favre.

His has been an unlikely face for a TV star, but as the most recognizeable and the beefy, beloved face of the NFL, that is what he has been for his three decades in broadcasting.

I have been a Madden fan since he was the Raiders coach who won that Super Bowl back when they played them on Sunday afternoons and only charged an arm rather than an arm, leg and your first-born child for a ticket.

I was thisclose to former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue at a Washington hearing, but hadn’t heard the news so didn’t ask him how important Madden was to the game. But I didn’t have to.

He brought an everyman quality that was perfect for the Joe and Jane Sixpacks of the world, which for a Sunday afternoon (or night, or Monday)  includes me and most of the rest of the country.

He was–and is, this is not an obit after all–all about sweat and grass stains and blood and unbounded enthusiasm for honored place all three have on the gladiatorial ground that is the gridiron.

It’s only football, of course, but not to Madden, so not to us. He made us suspend our disbelief and join him in celebrating what he saw as the honor and glory of suiting up and holding the line, or breaking it. Why is it that former linemen–like Madden and Paul McGuire and Merlin Olsen and Dan Dierdorf–make some of the best sports broadcasters?

But I digress. Madden has been a joy to watch and listen to, with his awning of eyebrows over eyes that lit up every time Favre was mentioned. Madden has been a combination of John Candy in Uncle Buck and Andy Rooney, with some Art Rooney thrown in (and even a little Mickey for his infectious enthusiasm–”Hey let’s put on a football game, we can use my dad’s barn as a stadium.”

His departure represents yet another thread lost in the fabric of Boomers’ TV lives. Sniff.

It think we should just acclaim him Super Bowl “commentator emeritus” and make him do the game. Or maybe pass a law declaring him a national treasure, which they would have to do in Washington, which is what this blog is all about.

PS-During the Washington hearing referred to above which involved the NFL and Comcast in a program carriage dispute, Judge Richard Sippel, being asked to make sense of some sports ratings, said they might have to be re-run with the departure of Madden adding, “He’s the only one who can explain the game.”

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.