PLEASANTON — John Madden's award-winning, 30-year career as an NFL broadcaster came to a wrap Thursday when he announced his retirement from NBC Sports.
"It was a tough decision," Madden, 73, said in an exclusive phone interview, "because sometimes when you make a decision like this, it's 'I'm getting rid of this' or 'I hate this,' like people hate to get up early in the morning or whatever.
"I didn't hate any of that. I didn't hate traveling, watching film, going to games. I just enjoyed the whole thing. I loved it so much. It was my life and passion. It's the right thing to do, but it's the hard thing to do."
Madden, who coached the Raiders from 1969-78 and led them to a Super Bowl title after the 1976 season, became an American television icon thanks to his gregarious nature, sense of humor, enthusiasm ("Boom!") and ability to break down football's nuances in simplistic fashion for the common fan.
Nothing was off topic for Madden. But now he is proverbially riding off into the sunset on his famous bus. He has called his last game — this year's Super Bowl, the 11th of his broadcasting career.
Madden, a Pleasanton resident, ended his self-described "great ride" so he could spend more time with his family, including his wife of nearly 50 years, Virginia, as well as their two sons and five grandchildren.
"I'll be connected (with football) somehow, but I don't know how yet," Madden said. "That's been my life.
"Just because I retired from TV, that doesn't mean my passion and love for football goes away."
He'll still talk about football — and myriad topics — on his daily radio show on KCBS 740-AM. He'll still travel around the country on a bus, including an annual summer trip to Canton, Ohio, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in 2006.
He'll be more involved with the top-selling EA Sports video game "Madden NFL Football" that has introduced him and the sport to a new generation of fans. He'll sit as a fan at local college and high school games, including those involving the Foothill High freshman team coached by his oldest son, Mike.
Madden quickly dismissed the notion of becoming a consultant for an NFL team, including the Raiders: "No, I don't think there's any meat on that bone. I've never believed in consultants in sports. Either you're a part (of a team) or not. I know how the game is and how complicated it is and how much it takes to stay up on things on a daily basis."
Asked if he's interested in owning the Raiders — assuming Al Davis, his close friend, would be willing to sell — Madden said: "No. Uh uh. But as a fan, I'll be able to go to more games."
Madden hasn't broadcast a Raiders game since the December 2003 epic starring Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, who was mourning his father's death days earlier.
Lack of success by the Raiders and 49ers in recent years has kept those franchises off marquee broadcasts typically worked by Madden, who joined NBC in 2006. (He also called games for all three other major networks, starting with CBS in 1979, then Fox from 1994-2002 and ABC's "Monday Night Football" for four seasons. He's won 16 Outstanding Sports Analyst/Personality Emmy Awards and is nominated for another this year.)
This season's "NBC Sunday Night Football" lineup doesn't include any games in California, although that could change with the NFL's flexible scheduling. Madden agreed that would have made for another "tough" season away from his native Bay Area but said he opted to retire before learning of the league's schedule.
Madden said he's in good health, thanks in part to daily workouts that include lifting weights "but not benching 300 pounds."
NBC announced Cris Collinsworth will succeed Madden.
Might Madden have second thoughts and make a comeback such as the one a year ago by Favre, one of his favorite players?
"No, I'm sure I won't. I watched too many people over the years do this," Madden said. " ... During (the past) two months, I vacillated. At times I thought I'd go back, maybe do a schedule that was part time, not a full schedule, not every game. NBC did offer me that. I don't want to do that. I'm all or nothing."
Many are grateful for all he did as a broadcaster.
"John steps away as not just the most honored or respected football announcer. He's the absolute best sports broadcaster who ever lived," NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said on a media conference call. "It so happened his fame is probably greater than anyone else's because he did it with America's No. 1 sport."
Al Michaels, Madden's partner in the booth, said: "No one has made the sport more interesting, more relevant and more enjoyable to watch and listen to than John. There's never been anyone like him, and he's been the gold standard for analysts for almost three decades."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement: "John's respect and passion for the game always stood out. He was the ultimate football fan who also happened to be an extraordinarily talented coach and broadcaster."
More well wishes were posted on the Web by the Raiders, whom Madden led to a 103-32-7 regular-season record and their first Super Bowl title. Phone calls flooded into Madden's Pleasanton office while he stayed away on such an emotional day.
He went out on a high note by calling Super Bowl XLIII two months ago (Pittsburgh's 27-23 win over Arizona), and his final words summed up football's ultimate stage: "When you can play a game like this, you have to be proud of all the players and coaches and everything they laid out on that field today. That was a real super Super Bowl."
And it ended a super, super broadcasting career by Madden.
Contact Cam Inman at email@example.com