John Madden sounded weary instead of his usual cheery self as he talked about retiring Thursday from a legendary broadcasting career.
That wasn't surprising. I've gotten to know the big lug pretty well the past couple years, and I've grasped how much football means to him.
I understood his mixed emotions. He just stepped away from a role that he dominated externally as much as he cherished internally.
The NFL is losing its ultimate spokesman. For three decades, he educated us with football knowledge while also entertaining us with offbeat topics like turducken on Thanksgiving.
Newspaper protocol called for a straightforward article to relay news of Madden's retirement for Friday's newspaper. With that task completed, here are some personal reflections on Madden and his farewell from game-day broadcasts.
* * * Thursday's announcement * * *
As the sun rose Thursday morning over Madden's home in Pleasanton, a statement declaring his retirement appeared on NBC Sports' Web site. Just after 8:15 a.m., Madden explained his rationale further on his daily radio show on KCBS 740-AM, starting off by saying: "I recided, I decided to retire. Heck, I can't even say it."
There was no satellite hookup or no glamorous press conference, be it here or in New York, where he maintains a second home (with a third in Carmel and a fourth in San Francisco).
There was no Madden sighting, not even at his Pleasanton office, where phone calls flooded in from well-wishers.
Madden took a low-key approach in exiting one of the most high-powered careers ever in sports broadcasting. That's so Madden, so common-guy like.
"I haven't talked to a lot of people," Madden said. "I've gotten a lot of calls and a lot of texts though."
* * * Raiders/49ers connections * * *
Madden made sure to point out that he reached this decision before the NFL released its schedule this week. That schedule revealed no games in California for "NBC Sunday Night Football," meaning Madden likely would spend yet another season away from home (unless the Raiders and 49ers do something remarkable to warrant a switch to that prime-time show thanks to NFL's flex scheduling.)
"The main problems here, unfortunately, the Raiders, the 49ers and football on the West Coast is not as strong as it was," Madden's agent Sandy Montag said in a media conference call. "And John, who lives in the Bay Area, never gets home during the season. When you're 73 years old, your priorities change.
"He has a life, he has a family, he has a great wife, great grandkids, great kids, and he wasn't seeing them. At 73, you decide I want do some other things. When you don't fly and can't get home between games, you can't do all those things. The world of football will miss John Madden. He's meant a lot to different generations."
For Raiders fans in the 1970s, Madden-coached teams meant a shot at the Super Bowl. The Raiders won their first when he guided the 1976 team past the Minnesota Vikings at the Rose Bowl, a moment Madden classified as his greatest during that 1969-78 run as Raiders coach.
Al Davis, who met Madden when he was San Diego State's defensive coordinator in 1966 and hired him as the Raiders first linebackers coach in 1967, would benefit a lot if Madden felt compelled to return to the Raiders in an advisory capacity.
But as helpful as Madden might be with scouting talent or running the downtrodden franchise, he isn't planning on taking on that task.
"No, uh uh," Madden replied when asked if he's interested in becoming a consultant for the Raiders.
As for succeeding Davis and owning the Raiders: "No, uh uh. As an owner, no. As a fan, I'll be able to go to more games."
* * * Family time * * *
Madden loves being with his family, and he always has a smile when talking about his five grandchildren. So, again, it's not surprising he's ready to seize his patriarch role and set down the NBC microphone.
One obvious way he can stay in touch with football is by watching his son Mike coach the Foothill High School freshman team. But don't except father to become his son's assistant (a la the Kiffin family at the University of Tennessee).
"I'll be more active in it," John said. "I'll be at all the games and catch a couple practices. As far as coaching, that's his deal."
Speaking of Mike, I saw him and his two sons at a Pleasanton fast-food joint a couple weeks ago, and, no, there was no mention of John's imminent retirement. But the grandkids impressively blurted out details of their grandpa's coaching career with the Raiders, from nicknames of players to insightful descriptions of plays. Ah ha, maybe they'll carry on their grandfather's broadcasting legacy.
John and his wife Virginia will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary on Dec. 26, and now they won't be spending it in Washington D.C. on the eve of NBC's scheduled matchup between the Redskins and Cowboys. (Personal note: My wife and I are celebrating our 10th anniversary tomorrow. She just gave me a new plasma television as a gift, to which I jokingly responded: "But haven't you heard John Madden isn't on TV anymore.")
* * * Bus stop? * * *
Madden plans to continue his cross-country travels, just on a much scaled-down version. "I'm going to keep my bus and still have drivers and stuff. I just won't travel as much. Now I can travel when I want to. Obviously I will go to the Hall of Fame. That'll be the big date every year, and I'll go enjoy the whole week of festivities and then maybe head on to New York for an East Coast swing.
"There are two types of people: Stay put or on the move. I'm 'On the move.' I can't stay put."
* * * Video-game input * * *
Madden envisions himself contributing more to "my game," also known as EA Sports' "Madden NFL Football" that has sold over 70 million copies in its 20-year history.
"I started working on it five years before it ever came out," Madden said. "Before video games, it was going to be a computer game and a computer-teaching tool. When video games finally came out, we developed software for it."
Peter Moore, President of EA SPORTS issued the following statement:
"John is a true sports icon who has made an indelible impact on the sport of football which will be felt forever. His prolific coaching and broadcasting careers, as well as his distinct role in shaping the EA SPORTS football experience have redefined how multiple generations have come to know and love the sport with unrivaled passion. We're excited to see his legacy live on in the 21st year of Madden NFL football, and well beyond. It's been a privilege for EA SPORTS to have had the strong relationship we've had with John for more than two decades and one that will continue into the future."
Madden NFL 10 will be available on August 14th, 2009. As for the Madden "cover jinx," perhaps there's another chapter in its lore. After all, Brett Favre was last year's cover boy before coming out of retirement. Now Madden is retired. Coincidence? Hmmm.
* * * KCBS stint continuing * * *
There was a bit of an awkward silence when Madden finished up his Thursday morning show on KCBS 740-AM as the audience was left hanging on whether or not he was retiring from all broadcasting, not just his television duties. Fear not, he'll still be on KCBS, and for the same reason he's had all these years doing the show.
"My mom (Mary, 92) listens every morning," Madden said. "I'm in my 70s and she still worries I'm a kid. When she hears me in the morning, she hears where I am, knows I'm OK, knows what I'm doing."
* * * Bocce tournament * * *
Interested in seeing Madden in action one more time? You've got a chance. He and former 49ers coach Steve Mariucci are teaming again to host their "Battle of the Bay" charity bocce ball tournament June 3 at Livermore's Campo di Bocce. Sponsorship opportunities are still available, meaning if you're willing to pony up $5,000 for a good cause, you get your own six-person team, food, drinks and a prominently displayed banner. Go to maddenmariuccibocce.com for more details.
* * * Madden on the tee * * *
Don't expect Madden to retire to the Shady Acres Golf & Country Club. OK, actually he's a member of Pleasanton's Ruby Hill Golf Club, but that doesn't mean he plays frequently.
"I'm going to have to find out. I haven't played in so long I don't know if I'm a golfer anymore," Madden said. "I'll try and get out there. But that's not going to be it. John Madden is not going to retire and play golf the rets of his life, I God damn guarantee that."
If the golf fails him, he does have other hobbies, including growing grapes and almonds.
* * * Full disclosure * * *
I wasn't shocked that Madden retired -- there have been rumblings for months, but none from him. I also wasn't stunned he called me at noon Thursday after he learned I was writing about his retirement.
Maybe Madden is my muse. When I must write, he helps inspire, or at least offer enough fodder to use some ink.
That's been the case since I started covering the NFL a decade ago.
That was the case when I did a lengthy profile on his coaching career upon his 2006 entry to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
That was the case last year when I was writing my first book, "The Best Bay Area Sports Arguments," for which he wrote the foreword (free of charge, even).
Of the thousands of sports personalities I've encountered in 20-plus years as a sportswriter, Madden doesn't just rank among the top, there's perhaps no other I feel I can relate better. We both are Bay Area natives (Madden: Daly City-bred; Cam: Cupertino-bred); we both went to Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo; we both got our professional starts in Santa Maria (Madden: Hancock College; Cam: Santa Maria Times); we both live in Pleasanton; we both have our own record-selling video games (Madden: EA Sports; Cam: Whoops, maybe we're not so alike.)
Heck, even Raiders patriarch Al Davis pointed out those similarities when he invited me to his office in 2006 to talk about Madden (and tell me he's studied my bio).
Anyhow, conversations with Madden have always had a nice, easy flow to them, which shouldn't be a surprise. Thursday's was, too, and after 15 minutes, I thanked Madden for his time on such an emotional day. His response: "Thanks for coming back from your vacation for this."
Now my response: Next vacation I'm going to ask for his bus.
* * * Not-so-secret admirers * * *
"John will always have a unique place in the history of pro football. 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. On a personal note, I'll miss working with John on many levels. As a broadcast partner, I could always count on him — no one ever came to work more prepared. ... As John said today, 'it was time.' That's John — succinct, pithy and right to the point." — Broadcast partner Al Michaels.
"There is one thing football fans have agreed on for decades: they all love John Madden. ... He had an incredible talent for explaining the game in an unpretentious way that made it more understandable and fun. 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." — NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
"I don't know that I've ever met anyone who loves the NFL, or cares about the NFL, more than John Madden. ... His influence on the sport was felt by everyone — the guys in the equipment room, the players, the coaches, the owners, and most importantly, the fans. He's going out on top — as the best we have — and the best we have ever had." —Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
"As a young head coach, he was very generous in letting me pick his brain about our profession and I will always be grateful to him for that. May we all push the 7-man sled as well as he had done in his 73 years!" — Eagles coach Andy Reid.
"John's the guy you want to sit next to during a game and, for 30 years, he essentially was. During a broadcast, you'd think he was talking directly to you. I, along with millions of other fans, will miss hearing an old friend on Sundays." — Broadcaster and Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman.
"Trust me, I had many a late night waiting for one of my three boys to get home at 1 a.m. because the newest Madden game was being released at midnight. But the thing that I think of when I hear the name 'John Madden' is great coach, Hall of Fame coach. To me, that's truly what defines who John is. He is a teacher and a coach and always will be. NFL Sundays just won't be the same." — Broadcaster and Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long.
"I am still in shock about John's announcement. He may well be 73, but he has the drive, enthusiasm and mental agility of a 24-year-old. John is, and has always been, a powerful force of nature. A heady mix of wisdom, football lore, and boyish glee — an insatiable curiosity, and the God-given ability to utilize his teacher training skills from so long ago to impart what we see, but don't see, on the football field." — Fox Sports chairman David Hill.
"John is an original. He's been the face of the NFL for three decades and by far and away the No. 1 sports analyst on television. Amazingly, he's been so dominant that he's never been challenged. John's impact on the way television covers the NFL is a legacy that will last well into the future." — Fox Sports president Ed Goren.
"We will all miss his signature calls, his passion for the game and seeing him in the television booth each week of the NFL season, but his impact on the league and its fans will continue to be felt." — ESPN and ABC Sports president George Bodenheimer
"It's a sad day but it's a happy day. For those of you that know John, he's going out his way. As Dick said, he's perfectly healthy, knock on wood. He's in the middle of a six-year contract where he's walking away right in the middle of that. He loves everything he does. He loves to travel. He loves the bus. He loves meeting people. He loves game film. He loves everything about it." — Madden's agent Sandy Montag
Look for Cam Inman's Web-only "Candid Cam" takes whenever there's a breaking sports story, or whenever Cam's got something to say _ in short, just about every day. You can reach Cam at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/CamInman.