John Madden was the face of football for decades. Players, teams and dynasties came and went, but Madden remained. From 1979 to 2008, Madden called football games on all four major networks and at one point worked 476 straight football weekends. Existing almost entirely before the Internet and Twitter could tear him down, Madden remains universally beloved. For nearly 30 years he's been the namesake of the most popular sports video game series of all-time.
Madden retired from coaching after the 1978 season, two seasons removed from a victory in Super Bowl XI. He then went into broadcasting with CBS and by 1981 was paired with Pat Summerall. He became so big, so fast that by the time FOX first won the rights to broadcast football, they signed Madden to a staggering 4-year, $32 million contract ahead of the 1994 season. With inflation, that's equal to about $14 million per year which is around what Tony Romo will probably get when he becomes the "highest-paid" sports broadcaster of all-time.
Maybe even more impressive than his unprecedented salary is the fact that Madden was originally offered the role of Coach on Cheers, a fact that he revealed during a 1994 Entertainment Tonight interview during the filming of Little Giants.
Imagine a world where Madden accepts that job. What if he was just as good as Nicholas Colastano and the Madden football games are never fully realized? Or what if Madden had been bad and Cheers had failed and all those careers were derailed and Fraiser never existed? As if this timeline couldn't get any darker.
Had Madden taken that role, he might have never introduced the world to so much art on the telestrator. Like when he explained that two Gatorade buckets had somehow birthed a third bucket during Super Bowl XXI in January 1987. It was quintessential Madden.
While he missed out on Cheers, Madden did end up appearing on one of the other greatest shows of all-time, The Simpsons. Madden and Summerall voiced themselves in the episode "Sunday, Cruddy Sunday," which aired following Super Bowl XXXIII.
Madden stayed at FOX until 2002 when he moved to ABC to do Monday Night Football alongside Al Michaels. The duo then moved to NBC in 2006, where he stayed until retiring following the 2009 Super Bowl. He called games for all four major networks and did color for 11 Super Bowls between FOX, NBC and CBS.
He was also a fixture at Thanksgiving, celebrating Turducken and handing out turkey legs to deserving players and sometimes taking us aboard the Madden Cruiser.
The Madden Cruiser was almost as famous as Madden, who chose land transportation over air travel for most of his career.
On January 30, 1982, nine months before Cheers would debut without Madden, he hosted Saturday Night Live, fresh off calling Super Bowl XVI. In one of the clips, Madden takes a camera crew with him from Michigan to New York City and explains how you use the bathroom in a sleeper car and tells the same story to anyone who will listen.
Eventually, Madden switched from a train to a bus. Peter King chronicled a trip across country in the Madden Cruiser for Sports Illustrated in 1990.The original Madden Cruiser was donated to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018. You could tour it as recently as last summer. In 2009, Jalopnik took a look inside the last version of the Madden Cruiser which was sponsored by Outback.