John Madden: I'M Just a Guy

Don't let JOHN MADDEN kid you. This self-described "big, fat, redheaded" guy is making millions as a professor, giving weekly lectures on America's most bewildering game

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Huge celebrity, accompanied by great wealth, can occasionally befall an odd character, especially when television is involved. But has there ever been a more unlikely national figure than John Madden, the animated elephant who used to coach the Oakland Raiders and now instructs the country in its most bewildering sport? Though he won more than 100 National Football League games in only ten years and directed his team to a Super Bowl victory in 1977, Madden was obscured in Oakland by autocratic Owner Al Davis.

Retiring abruptly in 1979 (at just 42), not really because of his ulcer, not precisely because his fear of flying was nearing a frenzy, Madden reluctantly accepted CBS's second or third offer of a commentator's tryout and hesitantly began jumping through paper hoops in Miller Lite beer commercials. Nine years later, his network stipend is crowding $1 million a year, and the rewards from his myriad motor-oil and antihistamine accounts may be two or three times that. He has written two best-selling memoirs (Hey, Wait a Minute, I Wrote a Book! and One Knee Equals Two Feet; Villard Books), and is at work on a third. Over the next few weekends, as pro football's best teams meet in the playoffs, Madden's audience will approach 50 million people a broadcast. Like a rock star, he travels the country in a customized bus, the benefit of a glad-handing deal with Greyhound, and while in New York City, lives at the Dakota, the realm of Leonard Bernstein and Yoko Ono. He likes to hang out in front of the building in untied tennis shoes with pushed-in heels or to squeak along Columbus Avenue communing with the town. "The people," he says, "are the best theater in New York."

At big prizefights, his favorite entertainment ("I enjoy being at a fight, I think, more than anything. The simplicity of it: two guys, no zone defenses"), Madden stirs more ripples of recognition than the actors and actresses, along with a surprising level of affection. "There aren't a lot of big, fat, redheaded people like me," he shrugs. Madden does a good deal of shrugging. For an analyst, he is not very analytical about himself. "I've ! never been caught up in that stuff. If you start believing you're somebody special, you'll start acting that way, and pretty soon you'll be a phony. I'm just a guy. I don't tie my shoes, and I don't go out to fine places. If you don't tie your shoes, that eliminates a hell of a lot of fine places. I don't know why any of this has happened. Probably because none of it was planned. All I'm doing is being myself."

Growing up in Daly City, near San Francisco, Madden heeded his father's advice to resist formal work as long as possible. (In fact, forever.) Earl Madden, an auto mechanic, knew from experience, "Once you take a job, that's it." In constant cahoots with his best pal at Our Lady of Perpetual Help grade school, the present Los Angeles Rams coach John Robinson, young Madden tried the pool halls and bowling alleys before settling on the caddie house as his preferred den of iniquity. There he learned about shuffling cards, pitching nickels and living life. He recalls, "I shagged balls for Ken Venturi," who would win the U.S. Open and end up a CBS commentator. Among Madden's less renowned golfing clients, all highly successful men, he could discern only one sure denominator: college.

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