John Madden loved football. He loved the game and the competition, and he shared that passion with everyone who listened to him during the three decades he was on the air, myself included. But despite all of his contributions over a legendary career, John was initially a football coach.
Those who know him from television – or even video games – may not remember John made a name for himself as head coach of the Oakland Raiders, where he coached for 10 seasons before handing over. his visor and whistle a sports jacket and a microphone. . He viewed the game differently from many, emphasizing the competitive nature of the sport and the quality of the game. The main job of a coach is to prepare a team – physically, strategically and emotionally – to have the best opportunity to play. win on a weekly, match in and match out basis. Even after the Raiders, John still viewed football that way.
I first met John during my time as an assistant coach with the New York Giants in the 1980s, when he was commenting for networks and coming to Saturday morning practices for production meetings, then later when I was on the Madden committee that John presided. Its official name was the ‘Coaching Subcommittee’, but that didn’t quite sum up what it was. It was John’s committee. The committee recommends changes to the rules and matters of importance to the NFL Competition Committee – essentially, anything that will help improve the quality of the game. The one thing you could always count on with John was is that he would have an opinion on everything that was discussed. His constant goal was the integrity of the game and the safety of the players. And whether he was discussing ways to protect a player’s head or the role of an eighth official, those heated conversations shaped the playing field for the better.
But when I think of John, it’s deeply personal. I think of the 2007 New York Giants regular season and a call I got from him that is now part of footballing tradition.
As we neared the end of this season, our playoff position was secure after beating the Buffalo Bills, and our last game was against the undefeated New England Patriots. There had been a lot of talk between people in the media who thought I shouldn’t risk playing our starters. The division as to whether we were resting our players or going all-in was real. Monday night I decided we would play our starters and we would play to win. History would not register that we did not do our best. Even though we lost 38-35, the game proved to me and our team that we can play with the best.
I’ll never forget walking into my office at 5am that Sunday after losing, seeing that red light flashing on the phone, and listening to the voicemail message waiting for me from John. What he said really illustrates how he felt about the game. It meant so much to me, I copied it verbatim.
âI just called to congratulate you and your team on a great effort last night. Not good, but great. I think this is one of the best things that has happened to the NFL in the last 10 years, and I don’t know if they all know it, but they should be very grateful to you and your team for this. what you did. I firmly believe in this: that there is only one way to play the game, and it’s a regular season game and you go out to win the game. I was so proud to be in the NFL and what your guys did and the way you did it. You proved that it is a game and that there is only one way to play the game and you did it. The NFL needed it. We’ve said too much, “Well, they’re going to rest their players and don’t need to win, so they won’t win.” Well, it’s not sport and it’s not competition. I’m a little emotional about this. I’m so proud.
I replayed it for the coaches and later in the week for the team because that’s the kind of gravity John’s words carried. That was football for him: the quality of the game, the character of the player and the way the game was played. John lived and breathed football. He believed it was the greatest game and dedicated his life to making sure it always would be. John’s appeal reaffirmed the belief that you bring honor and glory to the Giants and the NFL by the way you come to play and compete.
When John was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame, he was emotional and said, âI believe busts speak to each other. Can’t wait to have this conversation, I really can’t.
âVince Lombardi, Knute Rockne, Reggie, Walter Payton, all of my former players, we’ll be here forever and ever and forever talking about anything. That’s what I believe. That’s what I think. that’s going to happen, and no one is ever going to talk to me about it. “
I would have loved to be a fly on the wall Tuesday after he died, listening to John’s conversation with these greats, with other coaches like Don Shula and Bill Walsh. John has definitely been blessed with a unique gift when it comes to football, and the impact it has had on the game and on everyone who loves it will live on for generations.
Tom Coughlin was the two-time Super Bowl-winning New York Giants head coach and is the founder of the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation, which supports families battling pediatric cancer.
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