F or the 19th time the Chicago Bears will face the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving in a game that could be dubbed the Tryptophan Bowl. On the one hand, you havean apathetic Bears team who just beat their best quarterback prospect in 40 years. On the other hand, a dismal Lions team seemingly determined to book their second winless season in just over a decade. The only possibility to bother here is for our stomachs.
But if there was a man who could make this match half appetizing, that was John Madden, still the NFL's most colorful commentator more than a decade after calling his last game. Before the Minnesota native became synonymous with the league's video game franchise, Madden was football's fun uncle - a two-way lineman who found his way to coach after he was taken off. a knee injury at training camp nipped his professional career in the bud, eventually leading the Oakland Raiders to Super Bowl XI victory at the record-breaking age of 40. The fact that he never sufferedlosing season and remaining the franchise's most successful coach, with a higher career winning percentage than Vince Lombardi, is as much a testament to Madden 's quick wit as inconsistent Raiders leadership.
After 10 full seasons on the sidelines of the Raiders - where his mountainous stature, disheveled air and management laissez-faire dabbled in perfectly with a team of proud rebels - Madden retired from training and embarked on a career of broadcasting at CBS, passing through a slew of men in crested blazers before matching Pat Summerall, Madden's booth soulmate. Where Summerall was impassive and laconic describing the action, Madden was freewheeling and bombastic, an onomatopoetic grill who salivated over seal blocks and blitz vans while his peers talked about the fruits of that dirty work - the high vault completionor the breakaway race. That is, when he wasn't preparing for a certain Green Bay Packers QB.
But that doesn't mean that Madden only spoke to Booms, Pows and Favres. His live, improvised The follies were as delicious as anything that fell out of Yogi Berra's mouth. They've run the gamut of football axioms ("If he's quit", Madden would say of a catcher chasing a long ball while running shoulder to shoulder with a defender, "he goes" ") to news on the company ("Cheap and available ... you never want that as a nickname ") to general comments ( "There is no dog that has more fun than a golden retriever ") to delicious nonsense (" Butkus could have been a Belushi or Belushi could have been a Butkus. ") That 's mind not only marked the pMadden's prosperity on four networks, but he also made tons of money for him throwing beer and video games, and by the end of his career made him ripe for the master impersonator shipments. Frank Caliendo .
Apparently the one thing Madden hated more than these knockoffs was airplane travel. His habit of crisscrossing the country on his televised coach missions - aka the Madden Cruiser - only made him more endearing and his games even more important. (He never called a Pro Bowl while in permanent residence in Hawaii, nor did he anchor any preseason games outside of the contiguous 48.) But Thanksgiving was the time to come. confirmation that the character of Madden was not an act. If Madden landed this mission, it meant there would be more than just a triumph at the end of theseason on the line. There would also be food. Madden is probably more responsible for introducing into the world a quintessentially American dish called turducken - which is exactly what it sounds like: chicken cooked in a duck cooked in a turkey.
As Madden's Thanksgiving game unfolded, the cameras reduced to the feast being prepared inside the Cruiser for the big man and his TV entourage. At the end of the game, Madden would give chopsticks of a six-legged turkey to the most notable performers on the winning side. As a Chicago native who was cursed for becoming a Bears fan, I always felt like it would be Barry Sanders or Calvin Johnson who would end up leaving me and mine hungry.
It's been 13 years since Madden left the booth to spend more time with her family. But Fox - who in 1994 got Madden in free agency and paid him more than any pro player - haven't forgotten the man who gave instant credibility to his all-new NFL coverage. Over the past few Thursdays, the network has dropped sneak peeks for All Madden - a biographical documentary slated for release on Christmas Day, featuring everyone from Troy Aikman to Michael Vick with praise and respect.
That many players who delighted Madden in their prime followed him into the cabin is no coincidence. Most of the time, they're reminiscent of Madden's singular flair for work. In fact, NFL fans haven't yet seen a man of color who can fill his crested blazer. Matt Millen, a winning linebackerA four-time Super Bowl rider, looked set to become Madden's heir apparent at Fox before destroying his credibility in the Lions front office, assembling their infamous 0-16 squad. Jon Gruden has monkeyed everyone to excess in Monday Night Football while running fanatic emails to his friends and colleagues. Aikman is a little too stuffy, Cris Collinsworth too sarcastic; Tony Romo is the nerd in the class who can't wait to tell you how perfectly he anticipated every question on the test. Only the ManningCast gets closer to the fun energy of Madden's footballing uncle. That it takes two, and a constant flow of guests, says it all.
Retired Madden, 85, has become a figure of more and more distant, appearing from his NorCal house as an eligible tackle to do the interview or thestrange statement. (Overall, Madden wasn't really designed for today's hot take ecosystem; the closest it came to roasting anything was to calling the regular Thursday night games an error at the time .) Still, Madden 's absence weighs heavily, especially on these vacations. And in a league where pretensions are overflowing, NFL fans should be thankful for having an authority that doesn't take itself too seriously as long as they have. It will be good to see him again in the Fox documentary and remember this: If Madden isn't the best broadcaster in the game, he's easily his ultimate Thanksgiving boss. That is, no one has brought more spice to the snoozer that's Bears vs. Lions, a clash that's always a big turkey.