Madden Retires, Won't Soon (Ever) Be Replaced


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↵No one does parodies of the unimportant, which is why you do what you think is a pretty decent John Madden impression, and not one of your third cousin who lives on a mink farm in the backwoods of Oregon. That he is so widely parodied by footballistas across the spectrum is testament to his importance and his singularity: he was and is unique, and at his best was a color man who almost singlehandedly invented the job from scratch. ↵

↵Madden announced his retirement from the booth today, and will leave as both an aficionado of the game and as one of the more innovative color men to work the booth -- and I'm not just talking about the telestrator, the electronic stylus allowing the coach to bring a nation into his film room at once. I'm also not just talking about his one man campaign to popularize the Turducken, the Prince of Poultry he awarded to the top player on Thanksgiving. ↵

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↵Madden constantly fiddled with his role as announcer, tinkering and adding not huge, clunky pieces to the broadcast. Instead, Madden sought to do what a good chef does, working with the quality ingredients he had in front of him, and adding garnishes only when possible. This is a critical point overlooked in most bombastic imitations of Madden: his subtlety. He might "BAM!" and "Boom!" his way through an illustration of a blocking scheme on a particular play, but he was still doing what few other color men could do: communicate effectively and concisely with the viewer in a short burst to show you precisely how a running back popped loose for a 30-yard touchdown. He was especially fond of lineman -- being a former lineman himself -- and did much to make sure they received due credit (even while he was giggling and circling their belt-lapping guts with the telestrator.) ↵

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↵At root, he understood that the foundations of the game begin with blocking and tackling, and did more than any other color man of his generation to bring the viewer down to ground level to see the grappling and shoving making every spectacular play possible. He did this in halting, sparse, often onomatopoeic language delivered in a rumbly, adenoidal baritone instantly recognizable to the viewer. His oddball diction and voice were his brand as much as anything. ↵

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↵My personal favorite Madden trademark bearing mention: his loose focus on the game. Madden calling a game was no formalist. Rather than only comment on the field, Madden's own naturally wandering attention span roamed the stadium constantly. Here was a fan sleeping in the stands, there was a coordinator fidgeting in the booth, over there was a lineman panting after a long running play. He saw importance in every detail, and thereby brought you, the home viewer, to the game. Like you, he noticed odd little things throughout a broadcast, like Dallas lineman Erik Williams' ability to shoot a stream of water directly through a tiny hole in his caged facemask. (Something he telestrated and put into slo-mo for the home audience once during a Cowboys game.) ↵

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↵Madden's greatest skill as an announcer was to convince you that he knew far less than he did, and was just like you: stuck in a seat with another guy discussing what he saw going on in the game, and not a Super Bowl-winning Hall of Fame coach with millions from a video game empire to roll around in once he got home. Sounding slightly dumb while being so smart in the booth is difficult. Replacing the man who pulled off the trick first and best will be nigh-impossible. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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