This column seeks to profile important events in the history of sports.
Considered one of the greatest head coaches of all time (and an even better announcer), John Madden’s legendary status is not unwarranted. As the head coach of the then Oakland Raiders, Madden picked up 103 wins with the team in nine years and brought a Super Bowl to the city in 1976. On Nov. 5, 1976, 42 years ago this past Thursday, Madden achieved his hundredeth win as a head coach, becoming only the thirteenth coach to ever reach that number at the time.
Madden’s love of the sport began as a player. As an offensive tackle, he earned all-conference honors at California Polytechnic State University and was even drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles to play the position. Playing was never in his future, however, as knee injuries plagued his short football career. He injured one in college, requiring surgery, and during his first training camp in Philadelphia, he injured his other knee, ending his career on the offensive line before it ever really began.
He refused to quit on football, though, and he started his coaching career as an assistant coach for the Allan Hancock College Bulldogs in 1960 and after two years was promoted to head coach. It only took him another year for a bigger school to target him, and he was hired by San Diego State University (SDSU) as a defensive assistant coach in 1963 until 1967, where the success of the SDSU Aztecs was noticed by Raiders owner Al Davis, who hired him as a linebackers coach. His first shot at an NFL head coaching job followed the departure of then head coach John Rauch, who took a job with the Buffalo Bills instead. With no better options, and with the high opinion Davis had of him, Madden was given the job in ’69.
Madden’s record speaks for itself. Only missing the postseason twice in his nine year career with Oakland, his regular season win percentage hit .763 by the time of his retirement as a coach — for reference, Madden’s team won over three quarters of the regular season games they played. Sixty-six percent of his seasons ended in their division placing first, and in 1976, he won a Super Bowl for the team. As a coach, Madden was known for making risky decisions to try and seal victory as quickly as possible, regardless of what they might have cost the team. Current Washington coach Ron Rivera says he picked up the “gambling” style of coaching from Madden himself.
Madden’s hundredth win came in his last year as the Raiders’ head coach. Though it was one of Madden’s worst coaching years — the team went 9-7 and missed the playoffs — Madden put himself in an elite class of coaches that very few can claim. On Nov.5, the Raiders played the 2-7 Kansas City Chiefs, and nothing about what happened on the field was particularly spectacular. It was an easy victory — the score of 20-10 does not look too much like a rout, but the Chiefs never took a lead, and the closest they got to being ahead was at 7-3 in the second quarter.
What was significant was the achievement. This success brought Madden into company with coaches like Tom Landry and Bill Parcels at the time, as he was one of 13 coaches at the time to ever see 100 or more wins in their careers. This victory seemed like enough for Madden, who retired the year after and headed into broadcasting. He was famous in Oakland, but Madden was never more beloved than on TV and radio.
He worked for almost 30 years, and, in that time, became one of the biggest names in sports commentary ever — in 1994, he was making two million dollars a year and was statistically both the highest paid and most popular commentator at the time. He did work for CBS, Fox, ABC, NBC and the radio and consequently won 16 Emmy Awards for his excellence in the business. Massive money was basically guaranteed for him for as long as he wanted it, but he quit in 2008 to spend more time with his family. After all, associating yourself with the biggest NFL-based video game in the world is not too bad a legacy to leave behind.