This week I write in the memory of the career of sportscaster John Madden. Madden whose face created the commercial image of videogame football, retired after over 30 years of broadcasting on Thursday. His retirement was compared to that of comedian Johnny Carson because of his immense impact on American football and its boom in the televisual era. I personally remember him from the mid-nineties TV ads for “BOOM” tough-actin’ Tinactin, an athlete’s foot remedy using the raw style of Madden’s to describe its fast-acting relief. Those were the days of the Fox network’s team of Madden and modern football pioneer Pat Summerall, where I first watched broadcast football. Madden’s simple, powerful color commentary on the game matched perfectly with Sumerall’s knowledge of the modern game of which he was a central figure during its 1950s foundation.
In 2001, comedian Frank Caliendo first appeared on ‘FOX NFL Sunday’ as Madden in a segment called “Jimmy’s Pick’s” hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and unfortunately, (for Madden) was delightfully impressive in his caricature. Now, in 2009 Kimmel has his own late-night show, Frank Calliendo is the one making picks on ‘FOX NFL Sunday’, and Madden is only respected as an image. Friends of mine have told me how simplistic and stupid Madden’s commentary seemed, and I can only think that it wasn’t Madden’s fault he was so easily impersonated. The fact of the matter is that Madden did his job, he told the audience what was happening on the field and gave a colorful interpretation of the player’s feelings and emotions. Now, in an era of statistics ad absurdum people want more from an announcer. They want inference. The result sports ‘analyst’ Tony Kornheiser and his new style of announcing as part of ESPN’s “Monday Night Football”. Kornheiser has segments or ‘bits’ of material in the style of a “soft profile” of players and the game. These go on and the announcers will miss downs of football commentary and even skip coverage of punts altogether. I think this is an excellent place to point out the difference between Madden and Sumerall, and analysts such as Kornheiser: Madden had played the game. And coached, he had been in the grime and dirt, and felt what it was like. He knew the game because of his experience and this is why he could commentate football. A descriptive analyst such as Kornheiser has so much information on players and statistics, that he can’t help but bombard you to the point that the game itself has become irrelevant. John Madden was simple in his analysis because football is simple. The part that makes football hard is the emotion, the “BOOM”, the “WHAM”, the part Madden knew so well. A hero has finally stepped down, but year after his cause had been made obselete. His proscriptive approach to announcing football was seceded years ago to descriptive analysts seeking to improve the game with a more personal, statistical approach. For years I had known, now I can begin to mourn the loss.