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Bigger than life, John Madden’s NFL impact spanned generations

The former head coach and television personality influenced multiple generations of players, coaches and fans.

John Madden, Oakland Raiders coach, during an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Municipal Stadium on October 6, 1994. The Raiders defeated the Browns 40-24. (Photo by Ross Lewis/Getty Images)

When John Madden died on Tuesday at the age of 85, the football world lost someone who had made significant impacts on multiple generations.

To the oldest generation of Kansas City Chiefs fans, he was one of the greatest coaches their favorite team has ever faced. During his 10 seasons as head coach of the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969 through 1978, he was 14-4 against Kansas City, taking the Raiders to seven AFC West championships, six AFC championship games and the team’s first Super Bowl victory. For head coaches with at least 10 seasons, his regular-season winning percentage of 0.759 is still the best in league history.

To the next generation, he was one of the game’s most prominent voices — and biggest personalities. He became a color commentator immediately after his coaching career ended, spending 30 years in the broadcast booth for all four of America’s major television networks — most notably alongside CBS play-by-play announcer Pat Summerall, with whom he was paired for 13 seasons beginning in 1981.

CBS NFL Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

But to the youngest generation — and likely for generations to come — he was the face of EA Sports’ hugely successful pro football video game, which was introduced as John Madden Football in 1988 and became Madden NFL in 1993 when EA Sports acquired the rights to use NFL teams and players in the game. Today, it is the league’s only officially-licensed video game — and it’s taught millions of fans how to play (and appreciate) the game.

When Chiefs coaches and players spoke about Madden on Wednesday, there were clear indications of each of these influences.

“He loved to hate the Chiefs,” remembered head coach Andy Reid, who said that Madden was among those who encouraged him to join the team in 2013. “But he loved the Hunt family. He’d tell you that they had some knock-down drag-outs — he could remember every play — but he said, ‘It’s a great organization. The Hunt family’s phenomenal.’ He would always remind me to tell Norma Hunt hello. He liked them — but he didn’t like them.”

His relationship with Madden began when Reid was an assistant coach for the Green Bay Packers under Mike Holmgren in the early 1990s.

“He invited me on the bus one time in Green Bay. I got to ride through the parking lot on the bus. [It was] the thrill of my life,” said Reid — whose thrilling moments include coaching in a Super Bowl victory. “Mike Holmgren was real close to him, so I automatically kind of got put in — literally put in the bus. [He was a] California guy [and] I’m from California; we had a couple of things that were a little bit the same.”

And in many ways — not the least of which is their shared passion for food — Reid seems to have modeled himself after Madden.

Oakland Raiders Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

“He was a player’s guy,” said Reid. “He would talk to them — communicate. And he did the same with us — with the fans on TV. I mean, that’s what he did. That’s why we all loved him. He kind of taught us the game — in a simple way — where everybody felt like they could go play.”

Reid extended his prayers to the Madden family for its loss and spoke about his influence on the game.

“He was the absolute greatest,” he said. “Everybody’s had their say on it. I think you realize how much he touched the football world — and all of us. [He] made our job what it is today. As a coach, he made it an honorable position to be in. Heck, it’s hard to be a Hall-of-Famer, period — let alone be a Hall-of-Famer in two different areas. That’s phenomenal. And he was that.”

Reid also spoke of his time working with Madden following his broadcast career, when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made him part of the league’s Coach’s Subcommittee, which advises the league’s official Competition Committee. After that, the coaches involved simply thought of it as “the Madden committee.”

“We had like six or eight coaches on there,” said Reid. “He headed that up — and he was great. He was really into the rules and regulations of the game [and] what made the game better; that’s how he wanted to touch the game at the end. It was the commissioner’s insight to bring him in and let him do that. We all just rallied around him — we were like little kids following him around — but what a great insight [he had]. A football junkie.”

Arizona Cardinals vs Oakland Raiders - October 22, 2006 Photo by Robert B. Stanton/NFLPhotoLibrary

That was also clear to quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who got to know Madden through his head coach.

“I mean, he was still watching film until his final days,” said Mahomes. “He was still watching our film — getting a feel for what we were doing and giving insight. It’s just the type of guy that he was. He truly loved the game of football — and loved the people that were in the NFL. He was truly a special person.”

Mahomes is clearly one of those in the most-recent generation — the one whose perceptions of the game were formed by playing Madden NFL.

“Obviously [he] made a huge impact for me,” noted Mahomes. “I mean, playing the video game — kind of learning football by playing that video game growing up — [there are] a lot of memories. [Like] when my dad was beating me when he had Randy Moss and the Vikings and making me cry in the back game room.”

Defensive tackle Chris Jones characterized himself as an “All-Madden guy” — meaning that he always plays the game at its greatest level of difficulty — which he said he’s been doing since the Nintendo 64 was introduced.

“Madden’s been a significant part of my life,” said Jones. “It actually brought me closer to football because I always wanted to play with myself on the game.”

To Jones, Madden is one of the all-time greats.

“What he was able to do for the game — his love for the game, his perspective of how he viewed the game — it impacted not only players, but coaches and other individuals around the world.”

And Mahomes — who appeared in Fox Sports’ Christmas Day documentary Madden — agreed.

“I mean, the impact that John Madden made — not only the NFL but me and lot of the players here [and] in this league — is tremendous. I wanted to show my respect, because [he was] such a great person and a great leader in the game of football.”

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