With the passing of NFL legend John Madden to close out a rough 2021 it made me wonder about the voices that talk over the action in our favorite sports and if anyone made it seem more conversational than he did. Paired with Pat Summerall throughout a star-crossed career in the booth, Madden invented parts of speech as easily as he gained admirers and the whole time spun the story of a game as well as anyone ever.
Truly mastering a difficult skill without trying it was so much fun to hear a guy having as much fun talking the game on Sunday afternoons. He has been missed in that role for years now, sadly. Because for a generation of sports fans his voice blended with a football game was simply the accepted standard for how a broadcast was supposed to be presented.
Rarely today are the voices who bring us the action so laid back or comfortable on the air. For those of you too young to have experienced a Madden game, think halftime show casual with the laid-back, feet on the desk air of a talk show monologue. To ease the experience through, he was allowed a telestrator pen so he could write graphics on-screen like a football mad scientist.
It was a great way to get to know a sport, I’m so grateful for those years where I got the privilege of hearing his passion through the oversized 200lb TV screen.
John also developed a video game that’s still returning on its original investment handsomely. As the systems it’s played on have changed as much as the fans playing it, Madden NFL is still the game fans choose to replicate the action on their own. Seems like it always will be.
Madden should be considered one of the better NFL coaches in that group’s storied population of personalities. He won a title with Oakland in 1977. Nothing will top him feeling like a part of our families as a color commentator.
It made me think that as sad as Madden’s passing is, that it’s also a letdown that there aren’t any true impact voices connecting fans to their sport as he did. Vin Scully comes to mind for baseball. An iconic and fitting soundtrack to any ballgame, (or anything really)Vin is as close to perfection in the booth.
Much like Madden, simply being himself with a microphone on and a game close by was more than enough. Still connected to the Dodgers, he’s left the post recently receiving the accolades and love he’s earned over the years on the way out.
In basketball, I think of Marv Albert and the way he’s brought us such terrific action and calls throughout the years. Gus Johnson and Kevin Harlan also stand out in that sport as their rhythm and pace seem to fit the quicker action of a constantly moving sport. Johnson has drawn criticism as a yeller but I think he’s as skilled as anyone in meeting the moment with energy.
Madden opened the door for broadcasters to be themselves and fans hearing them were the true winners. Go ahead and say a prayer for John Madden and the people who live to bring you their love of sports through communication about it. Longevity helps, but in the end, he’ll be remembered and loved for being a really outstanding guy. POW!
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