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A Uni Watch Look at John Madden

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John Madden died yesterday at the age of 85. Long before he became famous as a broadcaster, video game namesake, and aerophobe, he spent 10 seasons (1969-1978) as the coach of the Oakland Raiders, during which time he had a very uni-notable quirk: He always wore his sideline-access pass on his belt loop. As a uni-aware kid growing up in the 1970s, I noticed this right away and was mildly fixated on it. No other NFL coach publicly exhibited his pass like Madden did. Something about it seemed very Official, and also very unpretentious, both of which I liked.

For the most part, I liked Madden as a broadcaster too. Unlike so many other former coaches who picked up the microphone, he truly seemed to enjoy broadcasting for its own sake and rarely sounded like he was trying to coach in absentia from the booth. He was able to convey genuine insights without sounding like an insecure control freak, and I learned a lot about the game from listening to him. His chemistry with Pat Summerall seemed genuine and added to his appeal.

Madden also Got It™ about a lot of things. Back in 2015, I wrote a Uni Watch post about how he assigned theoretical football uni numbers to public figures (Marilyn Monroe and Donald Trump were both No. 32) — a really fun concept. I’m fairly sure his taste in uniforms would have aligned fairly closely with mine.

All of that said, Madden also had his weaknesses and blind spots. As his broadcasting career moved on, his vocal tics (“Boom!”) increasingly felt forced and veered toward self-parody, especially when he reprised them in endless TV commercials for Ace Hardware, “tough-actin’ Tinactin,” and others. What once seemed authentic began to feel like shtick.

In addition, while Madden wasn’t macho in the traditional sense of the term (he was downright cuddly compared to some of his coaching contemporaries like Tom Landry, George Allen, and Forest Gregg), he nonetheless advocated for a he-man/lunch-bucket conception of football — and of the world — that has not aged well. For years he named his picks to the “All-Madden Team,” an honor whose logo was a leatherhead helmet — fun if you care about old-timey football nostalgia, not so much fun if you care about brain injuries. I wonder what players like Jim Otto, who sacrificed their bodies and brains while playing for Madden, would think of showcasing an inferior helmet as a symbol of toughness. (Update: Reader/commenter Chris Hamilton points out that Madden had a good record of advocating for safe coaching methods for kids, and also included concussion-awareness features in his video game. Moreover, as early as 1993, Madden said on the air that a player who had a concussion shouldn’t return to the game. I didn’t know that, and that’s on me. He deserves more credit in this area than I initially gave him. Mea culpa.)

I don’t mean to sound overly critical of Madden. I’m just saying that his persona, while undeniably appealing on some levels, was occasionally problematic on others. Nothing unusual or shameful about that — like most of us, he was a complicated character. Unlike most of us, he was also a beloved character, and deservedly so.

(I’m not a video gamer, so I can’t say anything knowledgeable about Madden NFL or Madden’s relationship with EA Sports. If anyone has any insights about that, feel free to post them in today’s comments.)

Finally, it’s worth noting that Madden suited up for the Eagles in 1958 (he was a 21st-round draft pick out of Cal Poly):

A knee injury in training camp ended his pro career before it could even get started, so those photos are all we have of him in uniform. He’ll be missed. R.I.P.

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Speaking of death notices: Former U.S. Senate majority leader Harry Reid died yesterday as well. He played high school football for Basic High in Henderson, Nev., and was also an amateur boxer:

Reid was 82. R.I.P.

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But will they go NNOB? Virginia Tech yesterday announced that they’ll wear the Yankees’ interlocking “NY” logo on one side of their helmet for today’s Pinstripe Bowl. (The other side will have the Hokies’ standard “VT” insignia.)

Tech’s announcement said that the move was made in appreciation of the Yanks’ “longstanding relationship with the Hokies, as well as the many gestures of compassion that they have extended to Virginia Tech over the years.” The relationship between the school and the Yanks dates back to to the 2007 Virginia Tech mass-shooting massacre, in which 32 people were killed and another 17 were injured. In the aftermath of that senseless tragedy came the following:
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• In May of 2007, the Yankees donated $1 million to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund.

• On the night that the donation was announced, the Yanks wore Tech’s “VT” logo on the side of their caps and put a memorial ribbon graphic on the field.

• The following March, the Yanks played an exhibition game against Tech. The Yankees once again wore the “VT” logo on the side of their caps, while Tech wore pinstriped unis with a maroon/orange treatment of the Yankees’ “NY” logo on their caps — similar to the helmet treatment they’ll be wearing today. (The Yankees themselves wore the Tech caps for pregame activities.)

Two other notes here: First, the “NY” that Tech will be wearing is the Yankees’ cap logo, not the jersey or helmet logo.

And second, remember that a version of the Yanks’ “NY” also appeared for several seasons on the Knicks’ shorts. So some iteration of the Yanks’ mark has now appeared on the baseball diamond, on the basketball court, and — as of this afternoon — on the football field.

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The Ticker
By Lloyd Alaban

Baseball News: A Milwaukee restaurant has remade the Brewers’ Barrelman logo into a bloody Mary swinging a meat stick (from @BallparkHunter).
 

NFL News: The Bengals are going orange jersey/black pants/orange socks vs. the Chiefs this weekend (from our own Phil Hecken). … Also from Phil: A designer has submitted some modern uni concepts for the USFL. … The Ravens lit their stadium this week to celebrate Kwanzaa (from Marcus Hall). … Here’s a look at the WFT’s private jet livery (from @VictoryCB).

College Football News: Mono-white for Tennessee for the Music City Bowl tomorrow (from multiple readers). … Mono-white for Utah in the Rose Bowl (from Phil). … Also from Phil: Green/green/white for Michigan State and yellow/white/yellow for Pitt for the Peach Bowl. … Mono-blue for Kentucky for the Citrus Bowl (from @Kentuckyfan859). … Mono-yellow for Arizona State’s appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl (from @boobieboyd). … Six Clemson players will wear a master’s hood decal on their helmets for today’s Cheez-It Bowl (from James Gilbert). … A writer has reimagined CFP playoff team uniforms to appear in blockbuster movies (from Robert Behrens). … Cincinnati DB Coby Bryant, who usually wears No. 7, will wear No. 8 in the Cotton Bowl to honor the late Kobe Bryant (from @BurnerGSmith). … Oregon’s uniform for the Alamo Bowl includes an unusual patch placement (from @ThatTallGuyB).

Hockey News: Fans attending the Kings/Wings game in L.A. on Jan. 8 will receive a Kings/Lakers hybrid tank top (from @atgarms).
 
 

Basketball News: Here’s a really good look at the creative process behind the Thunder’s court design (from Michael Kimball). … Cross-listed from the college football section: University of Cincinnati football DB Coby Bryant, who usually wears No. 7, will wear No. 8 in the Cotton Bowl to honor Kobe Bryant (from @BurnerGSmith). … With Covid continuing to cause lots of NBA roster changes, Etienne Catalan has all the latest uni number assignments. … Cross-listed from the hockey section: Fans attending the NHL game between the Detroit Red Wings and L.A. Kings in L.A. on Jan. 8 will receive a Kings/Lakers hybrid tank top (from @atgarms).

Soccer News: Inter Miami, responding to fans’ requests, is adding more pink to its kits.
 

Grab Bag: Blue vs. blue for the Otago Sparks and the Auckland Hearts of New Zealand’s Women’s Super Smash, a cricket league (from Peter Freudenberger). … Ron Ruelle was staying at a hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, where the pool had these fun depth markers. The little bubbles around the fraction are a particularly nice touch. … New 75th-anniversary logo for Ferrari.

Comments (64)

    Paul,

    You asked what players who sacrificed their bodies thought of Madden and his All-Madden team stuff. This might give some insight. From Pro Football Talk this morning.

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    Thanks, Sean. Actually, that article does not say anything about what the players thought of the All-Madden iconography. It says what they thought of him as a coach. (His players were indeed fond of playing for him — no dispute there!)

    Perhaps not, but in worrying about the iconography, your writing feels dismissive of who he was as a person. I know we’re all here to obsess over the details. We get it. But that seems too deep into the minutiae, even for me.

    I disagree, Paul. The article showed Madden’s kindness and compassion for just those players you referenced in the article. You using the leather helmet thing to insinuate that perhaps he didn’t give a damn about his player feels hollow and unnecessary.

    I’m not trying to attack you, Paul. I’ve been a reader for a long time. Nobody is above reproach, but this one feels like miss.

    Interesting because Madden the game catered to us uniform geeks. We were able to create new and unique unis and also mix match current ones. I remember going crazy with the Panthers set before they did that in real life.

    In the older Maddens I would always give them a blaze orange alternate since 3/4 of Lambeau’s stadium was wearing it in late November – January in real life…

    The one thing I know about Madden and his involvement in the development of the video game series is that when the first game was being developed in the 1980s, Electronic Arts was looking to have it be a simplified game of six or seven players on each side, due to technical limitations. Madden refused to put his name on a game unless it was a proper 11-on-11 affair. They eventually overcame those limitations and the PC game proved to be a big hit. Of course, the series didn’t really take off until it hit the Sega Genesis in December 1990.

    An FYI: until the reorganization of Minor League Baseball, the Yankees had a single A farm team in Pulaski, VA, which is very close to the Virginia Tech campus.

    Inter Miami needs to change its shade of pink with this uniform change. Needs to be more vibrant. Their pink looks like white material that was washed with reds. It should contrast more with white.

    Actually, Jim, I never said I was upset; I said it hasn’t aged well. That’s all.

    If you feel differently, that’s fine. We can agree to disagree.

    Well, no, it’s not a reach because it makes perfect sense to me. I wasn’t “reach[ing]” for anything — it was right there in front of me.

    It may not make sense to *you,* Mike, and that’s a discussion I’m happy to have. But it’s not a “reach” — it’s a simple point I was making in good faith.

    I totally agree. Kind of felt a bit forced, but I will agree to disagree with Paul on this one.

    Leather helmet logo observation is a joke. I read every day and never commented before. Great job spending more time in the lead being “critical” of Madden the day after he passed.

    Actually, I clearly spent more time/space/etc. lauding him than being critical of him. Why would you post something so self-evidently and demonstrably false? Please don’t do that again. Thanks.

    Please check before you want to criticize someone who literally passed away yesterday. Extraordinary bad taste and disrespectfuly. Why would you post something so demonstrably false? Please don’t do that again. Thanks.

    If you’re suggesting that an assessment of a public figure’s life can’t include any form of critique, we’ll have to agree to disagree on that point. (I also expressed misgivings about certain aspects of Muhammad Ali’s life when I wrote about him after his death: link)

    As for this particular issue, I’ll have more to say about it tomorrow.

    Other old-timers have suggested that helmet changes, especially facemasks, changed how the game was played. Ditka in particular comes to mind.

    The Nationals wore Virginia Tech caps after the 2007 mass shooting.

    The WFT private jet used to have the old team name. I wonder if it got renamed

    I interpreted the All Madden logo as not a fondness for inadequate protection of players, but for the history of the game. I’d also be curious as the nature and severity of brain injuries in the leather helmet days vs once they shifted to the more modern helmet. That is to say, having played football and being a youth coach now I can definitely say that the modern helmet gives a false sense of security to players that leads to a lot of injury causing big hits rather than proper tackling. I am wondering if the flimsy leather helmets made the more cautious in those days.
    Also I think his fondness for “macho” style football was routed in what was going on at the time, the old fashioned running game was less glamourous, less attention seeking than the passing game, no doubt we have seen loads of outsized personalities at wide receiver. I always got the sense that was where Madden was coming from. The old style was more team oriented in his opinion.
    His signature phrases definitely became parody towards the end, but at the same time I found it humorous still. Especially if you played the video game, and the way the AI controlled his announcing in the game, Madden-isms just became funny football talk you could reference with your friends.

    I interpreted the All Madden logo as not a fondness for inadequate protection of players, but for the history of the game.

    Oh, for sure! It’s not like he was *celebrating* brain injuries, and I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that.

    What I said, and what I will repeat, is that this mindset hasn’t aged well, knowing what we now know about concussions. If a youth or h.s. coach gave out a leatherhead award today, that would be tone-deaf, right? It would be false nostalgia that glossed over risk and trauma. So I think it’s worth remembering that “old-school,” which was basically Madden’s credo, isn’t always better. That’s all.

    I’ll be honest, I agree with the others here. I think the leather helmet talk should’ve been omitted from the article. Feels forced, feels like it’s digging for something negative to say about the man. I look at the leather helmet and see it as a harmless symbol of the roots of the game, not something that we need to find “problematic” (a word that has become greatly overused, might I add. Feels like everything these days is problematic to the woke crowd). Madden was a universally beloved figure who left an incredible impact on the game, I think that the comments made about his vocal tics were more than fair, but comments about leather helmets is a big stretch.

    Thanks for the feedback, Jim. FWIW, I can assure you that I was absolutely not “digging for something negative to say.” The All-Madden/leatherhead thing is something I’ve long thought, so I included it. But I understand that others may feel differently — and a bunch of you obviously do!

    As someone who’s spent plenty of time in southeast Ohio, my mind immediately went to Nelsonville-York High School, who wears the NY logo on their helmets (though they typically stick with the jersey logo). link

    John Madden made it fun. That he passed away and we can’t go without having a food fight about about CTE is why we can’t have nice things. (And it kind of sucked all the fun out of it.)

    Random observation; Madden was then briefly a teammate of Tom Brookshier, the man he replaced as Pat Summerall’s partner.

    A case could probably be made that if players still wore leather helmets, brain injuries might be reduced because they wouldn’t use their heads as weapons and tackling styles would be different. If anything, maybe Madden was at the forefront of advocating for player safety and brain preservation!

    I’ve long wondered whether this might be the case. There are good apples-to-apples studies now comparing brain injuries between football and rugby, and the results are mixed. In terms of injuries per player per game, a metric that allows for apples-to-apples comparisons, rugby is the only sport yet measured with a higher incidence of brain injury than gridiron football. The rate is 3.0 per 1,000 players per game for rugby vs 2.5 for gridiron football. But! The severity of brain injury and the rate of chronic injury is higher for gridiron football. So all told, if brain injury is a concern, we’re better off with nobody playing either sport, but if mitigation is our goal, moving gridiron football more toward the implicitly rugby-ish model of the leather helmet is probably a sound idea.

    On a different note, Madden would stop at Chuy’s in Van Horn, Texas. At some point in the 1990s or 2000s, they created a mural in their restaurant.

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    Another mural was created recently for the Blue Origin launch.

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    There are other murals as well:
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    Chuy’s! It’s been too long since I dined at one. I know there are mixed feelings about the place, including among the Texans in my life, but the Chili Rellenos were mind-blowingly good back when I used to visit Texas with some frequency in the 1990s & 2000s.

    That cocktail isn’t swinging a straw, it’s meat stick that’s a common accoutrement for bloody marys

    Also, for what it’s worth, this article brought up Madden talking about CTE and kids and how it’s reflected in the Madden video game: link

    Wow, that Jim Otto interview was very sad. Here is a link to an SI article about Madden. There is an interesting part about the hit that paralyzed Darryl Stingley. Stingley’s family got to know Madden and his wife very well. Stingley speculated in his autobiography that the hit may have led to Madden’s retirement as a coach. link

    Man, that Virginia Tech New York Yankees helmet looks beautiful. Preteen me would have wanted one so badly! I’m a Yankees fan, I liked Michael Vick a lot (so dynamic and I had never heard of Virginia Tech before Vick came up…mind you I grew up in New Orleans), I also was fond of Beamer Ball (it seemed like those teams were exceedingly well rounded), and those colors are so unique and some of my favorites.

    But as a Uni Watcher…despite its beauty I can’t help but think it’s kind of stupid. It just doesn’t need to exist. I’m not sure why Boston University borrowing Red Sox fonts for an outdoor game at Fenway is unabashedly awesome but VA Tech with a Yankees logo is stupid for my tastes…maybe the line in the sand would be crossed if the Terriers had a hanging socks patch. Meanwhile thinking about borrowing design elements but not logos, Notre Dame had pinstriped pants which looked hilariously terrible but I understood the gesture

    In case you didn’t know, the Chuy’s in Van Horn is not related to the Chuy’s chain, which is now throughout the United States. link

    USFL concepts:
    They are ok but I really hope (though I’m not optimistic) that the actual uniforms don’t deviate too-too much from the originals, except for the Stallions…they were essentially cut from the same cloth as the Stars-they alone should ‘own’ the gold and red in this new iteration.
    It’s disappointing that the Breakers logo update will negate the possibility of a straight-up revival of those wonderful wave helmet decals.

    Regrading the legacy of the Madden games: as a kid growing up in the 90s, the Madden games were HUGE in my early uni-watching days. I vividly remember scrolling through the different teams and comparing the different logos and colors, and thinking about they contributed to each team’s personality. You could even see each team’s historical logos and uniforms, and track how their identities changed over time! Later games would even let you mix and match various uniform elements from a team’s history to allow you to create the teams “perfect” uniform combo. A huge step in my “getting it ™” as a kid!

    The uniforms that Virginia Tech is wearing for their bowl game today (sans the NY logo) are the “Mike Vick” era throwbacks that they have worn previously this year and were a huge hit with the fans. I would not be suprised it they make these (or something similar) permamnent moving forward. The current set (with the “V” shoulder stripes and Hokie stone numbers) are already polarizing with fans, and many associate the set with the lackluster play of the team during the Fuente era. Tech has already moved away from the “grit” nose-bumper logo (also a Fuente thing) which, along with the choice of unis for today’s bowl game, signals to me the school’s desire to move away from the aesthetics of the Fuente era.

    Fun Madden note: he was a high school football teammate of former world champion wrestler Nick Bockwinkel.

    And Nick’s longtime manager Bobby Heenan was an honorary manager of the All-Madden team. You can find a photo online of The Brain wearing an All-Madden team satin jacket.

    When i was an infant we lived next door to Nick Bockwinkle. I remember none of it, but my Dad would tell tales of Nick talking about how TRULY injured was was getting doing “Fake” wrestling.

    I’m sure this has been covered multiple times, but the New York Yankee Football teams shared logos with the baseball team. No evidence of interlocking NY, though. :(

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    If the worst that can be said about John Madden is that he overused his catch-phrases and overplayed his nostalgia for old-school toughness with the All-Madden Team logo . . . well, we should all be so fortunate.

    I wish I had the video proof to back up my claim, but my favorite Madden moment came during a St. Louis Rams game (after they switched to the dark blue and gold) and the camera landed on the back of offensive lineman Tom Nütten. Madden joyfully exclaimed, “he’s got a couple of umlauts on there!” As we know, an umlaut has two dots, so technically Tom just had one umlaut on his NOB. In lieu of the video, here’s a Getty link with some images: link

    Leather helmets did not provide significant protection so players in that era used proper tackling techniques and didn’t lead with their heads. Modern helmet manufacturers, in the endless search for a safe model, are only creating a more dangerous weapon. It’s similar to modern hockey equipment in that the lighter, more protective plastic capped shoulder and elbow pads lead to an increase in concussive hits.

    The leather helmet logo criticism is the silliest take on Madden’s passing I have read all day, and I have read a lot of them. I am a huge fan of your page and have been for years, but tacking that observation on the end of your otherwise fine piece made me pause and sigh. I have to shake my head at how something as fun and harmless as an “All-Madden Team” using an old-style helmet for a logo can be deemed “problematic” for some. As far as Jim Otto is concerned, based on what he has gone through since his career ended, I am skeptical that changing the All Madden logo is on his radar of important things that must be done to protect today’s players, but maybe I’m wrong, maybe that will be his next crusade.

    I love your page, that paragraph just seemed forced and out-of-the-blue to me.

    If that’s the silliest take you’ve read about Madden’s passing, I take it you didn’t see this thread on Twitter (my apologies in advance):

    link

    Paul,
    I appreciate the update added to the article with the additional info. I also appreciate that you left in your original perspective, even though it sounds like if you were to write it over again, you might approach it a bit differently. Too many people would just update and pretend the original never happened, but I like that you leave it in there and let us see the progression of thought.

    This is a great point by Casey, I also like the way you updated it and appreciate that as well. You can see the whole story and context.

    Well to lighten things up around here…I had a dream last night involving Ken Stabler. Mind you, I had enchiladas for dinner and every time I eat Mexican or Italian I have vividly strange dreams. Must be the tomatoes. Anyway, I was tailgating at a football game. I noticed a guy a few spaces over wearing a Carolina Panthers jersey, number 0. Turns out it was Ken Stabler! Apparently he was now playing for the Panthers and to top it off he was now a kicker. Oh and he had shaved his head and was trying to sell the hair in a Ziploc bag. I wonder what’s for dinner tonight?

    Another interesting fact I learned about Madden is that (according to CBS sports radio), the now-ubiquitous first-down line on football telecasts was originally his idea. After being hired by Fox, he pointed out to the production staff that he often would use the telestrator to draw the first-down line before plays and he suggested that it could be used all the time. It’s hard to imagine a football broadcast now without it.

    Not the greatest tribute to an influential figure who just passed away. Maybe save the criticism for another column. By all accounts he was a great guy.

    I have no problem with criticism. And I admire your correction. But I hope this acts as a little reminder to double-check and research your positions first. Sometimes, and perhaps this happened with you, it’s easy to just go with what seems like a ‘good idea’ without checking to make sure it has any merit. You usually don’t do that, but this time, you did.

Comments are closed.