It is difficult to overstate the influence that John Madden, who died on Tuesday aged 85, had on American Football, yet his impact went far beyond sport. He shaped American culture in a way that many presidents never did.
For example, do you want to know why Americans love drinking those putrid Bud/Miller/Coors Lite beers? That would be largely down to Madden. In 1974, Miller Lite was created with an existential problem: how do you persuade a largely male market to give up drinking their usual beers for a lower-calorie alternative that tasted like the collected contents of a pub’s beer tray? Answer: bring in Madden, the Super Bowl winning coach of the Oakland Raiders, as your main salesman to provide the product with instant macho legitimacy. Today, light beers account for four of the top five beers sold in the States.
Statistically, his winning percentage of 75.9 per cent makes him the most successful coach in NFL history and yet this might be his second or third biggest imprint on the sport. After standing down as a coach, he moved into television, almost inventing the idea of a “colour commentator” in a 30-year career as a summariser. For millions, both in and outside of the United States, Madden was the voice of the NFL. If that was not enough, Madden became the face of the Madden NFL Football series, the most successful sports video games of all-time.
This would be the equivalent of Sir Alex Ferguson taking on Gary Neville’s role in the Sky Sports studio before launching an eponymous video game that outstripped Fifa in popularity. No other individual is more responsible for the NFL’s growth into a $13 billion (£10 billion) behemoth than Madden.
“I am not aware of anyone who has made a more meaningful impact on the National Football League than John Madden and I know of no one who loved the game more,” Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said on Wednesday.
His everyman appeal was first established during his decade-long tenure as head coach of the Oakland Raiders. This unfashionable but brutal franchise – think Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang from the 1980s – became a dominant team in the regular season but kept tripping up in the play-offs. They finally got over the hump by winning the 1976 Super Bowl, beating Minnesota 32-14.
If you think of today’s mega-coaches – all immaculately groomed and even more carefully spoken – Madden was the antithesis. He was oversized in every way from dress sense to metaphors that provided an instant connection with the man on the street.
It came as no surprise then that he should move into TV. His vocabulary of Boom! Wham! Bang! Doink! may seem to have been borrowed from Batman fight scenes but his greatest gift was to explain the tactical intricacies of an endlessly complicated sport in clear and simple terms. More than anything, his passion for the sport seared through the screen and infected millions of viewers.
Yet his greatest legacy may be in lending his name to a new American Football video game in 1988. EA Sports had approached Madden about the project four years earlier, but he turned it down as it was a 7-a-side rather than 11-a-side game. When he said yes, EA Sports offered …….