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NFL great John Madden dies at 85

Former NFL coach John Madden, who guided the Oakland Raiders to a Super Bowl victory before embarking on a successful broadcasting career and pioneering a blockbuster video game franchise, has died. He was 85.

With his distinctive voice and folksy, everyman persona, Madden became a fixture of NFL broadcasts during a 30-year commentary career that began in 1979 and concluded with Super Bowl 43 in February 2009.

It was a testament to Madden’s status as a beloved broadcaster, and later involvement as the voice of the smash hit “Madden NFL” video game series, that his remarkable achievements as a coach have often been overlooked.

“Nobody loved football more than Coach,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.  “He was football.”

The league said Madden died “unexpectedly” on Tuesday morning, but did not give a cause of death.

“There will never be another John Madden, and we will forever be indebted to him for all he did to make football and the NFL what it is today,” Goodell said.

Born on April 10, 1936, Madden grew up in California and looked destined for a career in football after starring for his high school.

But his hopes of a professional career ended without playing a game when he suffered a second serious knee injury during his first professional training camp after being drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1958.

The injury was to prove instrumental in launching Madden’s coaching career. During his rehab, he spent hours in the film room breaking down plays in the company of Eagles quarterback Norm Van Brocklin.

“That’s where I learned pro football,” Madden would say years later.

After several years coaching in college football, Madden was hired as linebackers coach by Oakland owner Al Davis in 1967.

Two years later, he would become the youngest head coach in NFL history at that time, at the age of 32 years and 10 months.

Yet while Madden built a succession of strong Raiders teams, his first seven seasons as head coach were a story studded with near-misses.

The Raiders lost five AFC Championship games during that period, saddling Madden’s team with the unwanted tag of serial nearly men.

Lifting the curse

The curse was lifted in spectacular fashion in 1976, however, when after a 13-1 regular season, a Raiders team led by quarterback Ken “Snake” Stabler romped to a 32-14 Super Bowl win over the Minnesota Vikings.

With that monkey finally off his back, and Madden still only 40, it seemed certain to be the first of many championships.

But two years later, citing fatigue and ill health caused by a stomach ulcer, Madden walked away from the sport.

“I gave it everything I have and just don’t have anything left,” a tearful Madden explained in an announcement that shocked the NFL.

“I’m retiring from football coaching, and I’m never going to coach again in my life. I’m an Oakland Raider, and I always will be an Oakland Raider.”

It was not long, though, before Madden found a new calling. 

Hired by CBS as a color commentator, Madden proved to be a star in the commentary booth. 

He would eventually work for all four major networks — CBS, Fox, ABC and NBC — at one stage commanding a salary that was higher than any NFL player.

His mix of sharp analysis with the occasional breathless truism — “If this team doesn’t put points on the board, I don’t see how they can win” — were to become his calling cards.

Madden’s distinctive style made him the logical choice as the figurehead of the only officially sanctioned NFL video game, “John Madden Football”, launched in 1988.

The game, which would later be known simply as “Madden NFL” and updated every year, would become one of the biggest-selling video games of all time — generating billions of dollars in sales — and hugely popular with fans and NFL players alike.

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