The Other John Madden
By Kirsten (Madden) Hubbard
Maybe I felt a special connection because my maiden name is Madden.
Growing up, I received the question regularly – related to John? And the answer was yes. My dad’s name really is John Madden. The teller at Kmart would ask ‘THE John Madden? The football guy?” Half the time I simply said “Yes.” Because my dad was a football guy – Sundays have been football days in my house since TVs were fuzzy and Utz potato chips came in big tin cans. The other half of the time I would say “If I were THE John Madden’s daughter, would I be shopping at Kmart?”
The flaw in that response was – yes, I imagine THE John Madden wouldn’t think twice about pulling the bus into a Kmart and doubling down on the Blue Light Special.
And that was his charm. This big, dopey, down-to-earth guy who was flawed and tough and joyous and supersmart and relatable.
As a coach, he lives in the muted burnt orange and avocado greens of my childhood – grainy, gritty, and raw with wild hair and a ridiculous frame that frumpled every suit. I don’t think frumpled is a word, but it should be – he wasn’t so much disheveled, his clothes just couldn’t handle the enormity of his personhood.
He could have been intimidating – an oversized rottweiler - were it not for an unnaturally Muppet-sized smile that swallowed your guard. Instead, he was an overly friendly Great Dane intent on sitting in your lap.
I understood he wore field tags when it was needless the way I leave the airport tags on my luggage – talismans of where you are, where you have been, what it took to get there, and what and who you owe for being there. I understood why tough men consented to his leadership.
I liked him, even when he robbed a back-to-back Lombardi from my first heroes – Monk and Theismann and Riggins and Green.
As an announcer, I adored him. The dull stoic commentators of pre-Madden days were almost background noise. John Madden broke the cadence. He breathed life into the game. The strength of his passion reached out and tackled you right there in your living room.
And, for a hattrick, he brought you smack onto the 50-year line with Madden. Entire generations learned the strategy and code of football from their bedrooms, a rare unifed language understood across the globe. Multimillion dollar players argue their rating, and the cover is almost as coveted as the Lombardi.
He taught America football. He elevated the game for players, for coaches, for fans. We talk now about great coaches playing chess. America can follow the board because Madden taught us how the Queen moves.
Our family gathered round the TV on Christmas to watch the retrospective All Madden, lulled into nostalgia by sugar cookies and mayhaps a drop or two of peppermint schnapps in our morning coffee. I texted my dad, THE John Madden, that morning. Our relationship has struggled, as relationships do, but the Other John Madden was having a moment, and it seemed right. We both watched. Apart, but together.
It was good to see the Other John Madden – it felt warm and fuzzy and sentimental.
And, then, BOOM....