PLEASANTON -- Luxurious as it is, the Madden Cruiser doesn't require much of a tour.

"This is my living room, that there is the kitchen and in the back is the bedroom," John Madden says without getting up.

Great. Now let's get to the football.

For the better part of an hour Tuesday, the Hall of Famer held court from his throne. Sitting on the bus that has taken him from coast to coast as a coach, broadcaster and video game titan, Madden, 76, analyzed the upcoming NFC Championship game between the second-seeded 49ers (12-4-1) and top-seeded Atlanta Falcons (14-3).

John Madden takes a ride in his Madden Cruiser. Madden likes the San Francisco 49ers over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game.
John Madden takes a ride in his Madden Cruiser. Madden likes the San Francisco 49ers over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game.

This Madden cruise wasn't far: just a quick spin near his home in Pleasanton to promote a Visa contest that allows winners to ride along with the coach on the Madden Cruiser and to watch games from his Man Cave. (www.visa.com/makeitepic).

But once his bus got rolling, so did Madden. Here are his keys to the NFC title game:

FALCONS DEFENSE VS. KAEPERNICK'S LEGS: Sure, Madden has seen an athlete run like Colin Kaepernick before. But it wasn't a quarterback.

"No, no. The way he runs, he reminds me of that sprinter, (Usain) Bolt," he said, referring to the Olympic star. "Kaepernick is a long-legged guy. We never used to think that long-legged guys could run fast."

Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards in the 49ers' playoff opener against Green Bay last Saturday, setting an NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback. The Packers looked surprised and confused. And that, Madden said, is the best way to measure Kaepernick's breathtaking speed.

"The way you can tell that he's running fast is when the defensive players are taking bad angles," Madden said. "Kaepernick causes you to misread his speed, to take bad angles. Defenders think he'll be there -- and he's not."

John Madden gets ready to board his Madden Cruiser. Madden likes the San Francisco 49ers over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game.
John Madden gets ready to board his Madden Cruiser. Madden likes the San Francisco 49ers over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game.

Kaepernick gained 178 yards before contact (and only 3 yards after), according to ESPN Stats & Information, which shows the Packers hardly ever laid a hand on him.

The coach compared the 49ers' dynamo to Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson, who posted huge rushing totals early in his career when defenders couldn't comprehend how he got from Point A to Point B so quickly.

"You'd watch defenders take bad angles and think, 'Why the hell are they messing up on defense?'" Madden said. "It was because of how fast he was. Kaepernick has that same thing."

So how to stop him? Strange as it sounds, Madden said the Falcons would be best off making Kaepernick run -- and hammering him when he does. The goal is to scare the 49ers out of continuing to put their quarterback in harm's way.

"Take away the option of the running back -- do whatever it would take to make (Kaepernick) run -- and then blast him," Madden said. "Because after a while, the 49ers would say, 'Let's not run him anymore. He's getting hit too much.' "

49ers DEFENSE VS. TONY GONZALEZ: Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez has said that he will almost certainly call it a career after this season, but Madden remains skeptical.

"Unless he gets hurt in (the playoffs), I would be surprised if he retired," he said.

Madden said that Gonzalez, 36, is a better player now than he was as a youngster. And he saw Gonzalez when he was just a pup. Madden recalled seeing Gonzalez playing basketball for Cal.

"And I said, 'Shoot, I'd draft that kid No. 1' (in football) just after seeing him play basketball. I mean, he was that good of an athlete," Madden said. "I thought he would be what he is."

During the regular season, Gonzalez had 93 catches for 930 yards and eight touchdowns. Against the Seattle Seahawks last week, he caught six of the seven passes thrown his way for 51 yards and a touchdown.

Madden can see Gonzalez retiring if, say, he wins the Super Bowl as a way of going out on top. That's what John Elway did. Still ...

"John Elway had to. John Elway was so beat up he just couldn't go anymore," Madden said. "Gonzalez doesn't look that way to me."

John Madden takes a ride in his Madden Cruiser. Madden likes the San Francisco 49ers over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game.
John Madden takes a ride in his Madden Cruiser. Madden likes the San Francisco 49ers over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game.

FALCONS D-LINE VS. 49ers O-LINE: Madden hands out an award every year to the best offensive line in the NFL. Unless something goes haywire, he said the 49ers are a lock to get his nod for 2012.

He pointed to the way the unit, especially left tackle Joe Staley, diffused the Packers' pass-rushing monster, Clay Matthews, who had one sack in San Francisco's 45-31 victory.

"When the (opposing) defense has a disruptive player, you have to take control of him," Madden said. "The 49ers' offensive line is good at taking control."

He's a particular fan of Mike Iupati, the 49ers' All-Pro left guard. "He is not somebody I'd want to line up against," Madden said. "A couple of steps he's at full power. That was a hell of a draft choice."

FALCONS VS. HISTORY: The Falcons have reached the Super Bowl only once in a franchise history that began in 1966. And recent postseasons have been filled with mostly frustration. When Atlanta squeezed past Seattle 30-28 last week, it marked the first playoff victory for coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan (who had been 0-3).

"That's the type of stuff that's really unfair -- 'You can't win the big one,' " said Madden, who won one Super Bowl during a Raiders coaching career that spanned from 1969-78.

"Mike has done a heck of a job, and the Atlanta Falcons have done a heck of a job. And in our society, we don't have any place for No. 2 or No. 3 or No. 4. No one runs around saying, 'We're No. 2! We're No. 2!' If you don't win in the playoffs, you're nothing.

THE PICK: Kate Longworth, a reporter for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, who was also along for the ride, asked Madden to predict a Super Bowl winner.

"The 49ers," he said.

Contact Daniel Brown at dbrown@mercurynews.com.

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