John Madden’s connections with Patriots illustrated how special he was

 John Madden, seen here in 2009, died on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2021. He was 85. 

News of John Madden’s death Tuesday at age 85 hit here with an emotional wallop similar to word of Celtics icon Tommy Heinsohn’s passing in November 2020.

They had much in common beyond some hilarious 1970s and ‘80s Miller Lite commercials. Madden, like Heinsohn, was forever true to himself, passionate about his sport, compassionate to others, a larger-than-life figure with everyman appeal. As a sports fan and television viewer, I don’t think I’ll ever stop missing either one of them.

Madden, like Heinsohn, was a Hall of Fame coach, and yet that’s — what? — the third thing that comes to mind when we think about him, maybe the fourth? To younger generations, Madden is known for the video game that bears his name. Others, older, may remember which side of the all-important debate he was on: tastes great or less filling?


But most will best remember him as a broadcaster. And that’s how it should be. As an analyst, from his novice-in-the-booth beginnings at CBS in 1979 to his retirement from “Monday Night Football” in 2009, Madden was influential, informative, and beloved for his authenticity. There was no one like him before, and no imitator has come close since.

Many of the highlights from Madden’s broadcasting career are pulled from those high-profile NFC games in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when the 49ers, Cowboys, Giants, and later Packers rumbled for conference supremacy on CBS and later Fox. Madden and broadcast partner Pat Summerall didn’t call many Patriots games.

And yet we can pinpoint different reasons why Madden was great from those times he was affiliated with the Patriots.

Foremost is his call of the Patriots’ winning drive against the Rams at the end of Super Bowl XXXVI, which is kind of amazing given that he was wrong about how the Patriots should proceed when they took over on their 17-yard line with 1:21 left and the game tied, 17-17.

“Now, with no timeouts, I think that the Patriots, with this field position, you have to just run the clock out, you have to play for overtime now,” said Madden. “I don’t think you want to force anything here. You don’t want to do anything stupid, because you have no timeouts and you’re backed up.”


Tom Brady, under pressure, dumped the ball off to J.R. Redmond for a 5-yard gain on the first play.

Madden reiterates that he doesn’t approve: “I don’t agree with what the Patriots are doing here. I would play for overtime. If I had good field position, I would. But in this field position, I would play for overtime.”

The Patriots begin moving. Brady finds Redmond for a first down. The clock ticks to 41 seconds. Brady again hits Redmond, who navigates some traffic, gets the first down, and goes out of bounds with 33 seconds left.

“More importantly than getting the first down, he got out of bounds to stop the clock,” said Madden. “And now I kind of like what the Patriots are doing.”

With 29 seconds left, Brady finds Troy Brown for 23 yards, then Jermaine Wiggins for 6. As the clock ticks to 7 seconds, Brady spikes the ball, the picture of cool as he catches it with one hand.

“I’ll tell you, what Tom Brady just did, it gives me goosebumps,” said Madden.

Madden was wrong, and he loved that he was wrong, because he got to witness something exceptional in the game he loved.

If there is a broadcast that encapsulates, beginning to end, how well Madden did his job, it’s another one involving the Patriots: Their Super Bowl XXXI loss to Brett Favre in the Packers. I rewatched this game randomly back in the early days of the pandemic, and was blown away by how on-point and informative Madden was that day.


Early in the game, he foreshadowed Packers kick returner Desmond Howard’s impact, saying, “You talk about offense, you talk about defense, but it can be special teams that win big games, too.”

After Howard became the hero with a game-breaking kickoff return for a touchdown, Madden revealed how close Howard was to getting cut in training camp. He noted that there were concerns about Drew Bledsoe’s nerves. He raved about Curtis Martin (“This guy has moves on moves. He has moves in the backfield. He has moves in the hole. He has strength, and then he has moves when he gets in the open field.”) He matter-of-factly mentioned that he thought Bill Parcells was coaching his last game for the Patriots.

If you can handle the outcome, I recommend rewatching it to hear Madden at his best.

There’s one more Patriots connection, too, a tragic one that some believe led Madden to leave coaching. He was the Raiders coach on Aug. 12, 1978, when Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley was paralyzed in a preseason game on a hit by Oakland’s Jack Tatum.

Stingley was hospitalized in the Bay area for nearly two months. A 1983 Sports Illustrated profile of Madden, written by Sarah Pileggi, revealed that Madden visited him daily. She wrote:

“[The Maddens] offered their home and the use of a car to Stingley’s family. They brought clothes to the hospital for Stingley’s girl friend, who had not had time to pack before flying West.

“On the opening day of the season in September, when the Raiders lost to the Broncos in Denver, Madden returned to Oakland at night on the team plane and went straight to the hospital to see Stingley. Hank Bullough, then the Patriots’ assistant head coach, said at the time, ‘All of us feel we’ll never be able to repay John for what he has done for Darryl.’


“Stingley himself thinks that what happened to him may have been the cause of Madden’s retirement, and in his autobiography … he writes, ‘I love that man.’ ”

As the years passed and his stature — as a broadcaster, pitchman, and video-game namesake — only grew, the love for Madden became universal around the NFL, as made clear in the Fox Sports documentary “All-Madden” which, by happenstance, premiered on Christmas Day.

The documentary featured a who’s who of NFL legends, among them Bill Belichick, Brady, and Parcells, talking with delight about what Madden meant to them. According to Fox Sports, Madden watched the documentary with his family on Christmas Day. After all the joy and humor he brought football fans on television, he got to watch as the appreciation was reciprocated.

Steve Sabol and NFL Films gave us the majesty of football. Howard Cosell provided the bombast. But no one ever made it more fun, or provided better company, than John Madden.


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