John Madden hunkered down in his old, black leather chair to watch lots of football — on lots of enormous televisions — on the first Sunday of the National Football League season.
His ability to relate to the common man never ceases to amaze. It served him — and NFL fans — so well during his 30-year, highly decorated broadcasting career, from which his retirement truly took hold Sunday without him in a booth.
Madden spent the day in what we will call "The Mad Den." Or "The Madden Dome." Anything but that trendy title "man cave" given to such hideaways illuminated mainly by plasma-television screens.
"Man cave, I don't like that term. 'How's your man cave?' It makes you cringe," Madden said.
His TV room would make your jaw drop. Nine 63-inch plasmas (donated by DirecTV) are simply side dishes to the 9-by-12-foot projections screen. They're located on one wall inside the soundstage at his Pleasanton office building, where he has filmed several commercials as one of America's most famous pitchmen.
The warehouselike room is almost half the size of a football field. It could easily fit 250 viewers, although Sunday's audience consisted of 25 guests, mostly from EA Sports, purveyor of Madden's best-selling video game.
"I don't think anyone else in the world has this setup. Who would?" Madden asked.
Who would have thought a guy could travel cross country by bus for three decades and make a lasting mark on his sport by speaking with simple yet passionate analysis? Madden, 73, retired five months ago from NBC Sports so he could finally spend more time at his Pleasanton home with his family. That's just what he did Sunday, occasionally checking in on his grandchildren as they played a "Madden NFL" video game in the back corner.
"I never wanted to 'retire' retire. I wanted to retire from broadcasting games," said Madden, who last week was appointed as a special adviser to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and will oversee a coaches' committee.
"All my passion, I didn't retire that," he added. "I watch and evaluate (football), and I didn't have any place to put it. For years, I put it on TV. Now I don't have that. I have this (Mad Den) and the radio (weekday mornings on KCBS 740-AM, Sunday mornings on Sirius Satellite Radio). With the commissioner, I have a lot to do with (that passion)."
Rather than raise his voice or bellow his trademark "boom" Sunday, he calmly sat front and center. He did so in a low-lying throne with wooden arms, imported from his office down the hall where he has a treasure trove of memorabilia from his Hall of Fame coaching career with the Raiders.
Incidentally, he will be at tonight's Raiders' season opener, exactly 40 years to the day he made his winning debut as their coach. He plans on attending all Raiders home games, having last worked one as a broadcaster way back in 2003, an epic one involving Madden-favorite Brett Favre.
Favre's debut with the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday didn't merit center-screen status in the Mad Den. He printed out menus listing which games where on which screens. (No, turducken wasn't part of the buffet.)
Favre's game did eventually get shifted there once the Philadelphia Eagles had assured themselves a blowout win against the Carolina Panthers. And how did Favre look? "I knew all that talk about just him having to hand off the ball and not pass was baloney. You've got to throw the ball. Brett Favre had to make plays, and he did."
He also liked how teams from Atlanta, Philadelphia and New Orleans started their seasons.
Overall, he loved having the chance to see all the games, even if he fears he will never learn how to pay attention to them all at once. Having a montage of televisions is something he's pined for since he first started working 30 years ago at CBS, where he awed Brent Musburger's attention span in the room they called "Roast Beef Central."
"Watch how this works," said Madden, who then ordered one of his company's interns to: "Put (Screen) One back in."
Shady Acres Retirement Home, this wasn't, even if it is dim in there.
"How can you beat this?" he asked.
Yep, the big lug still knows the perfect words to capture the moment.
Reach Cam Inman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Editor's note: John Madden wrote the foreword for Cam Inman's 2008 book, "The Best Bay Area Sports Arguments."