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The Ultimate John Madden Story

AMAC Exclusive by Robert McConnell

John MaddenCBS will re-air a documentary, many columns will be written, and stories exchanged.

Here, for my own fun I share one personal story about a time with John Madden.

Setting and background –

I was the Vice President of CBS-Washington (corporate office) and wanted to do something special tied to the tremendous rivalry game between the then-Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys. This was in the late 1980s when who won the Washington-Dallas series usually won the NFL East (and beyond).

I wanted to have John Madden and Pat Summerall come to Washington to have an in-person pre-game event – Summerall presenting the story and a video of the long-time rivalry and Madden presenting pre-game analysis.

Calling Neal Pilson, President of CBS Sports (which at the time had the NFC broadcasting rights), I told him of my idea. The conversation:

  • If we can get them to do it, where would you have it?
  • One of the major hotels.
  • Can you assure Madden can always be on ground floor?
  • What?
  • You know he won’t fly and always travels in his bus?
  • Yes.
  • Well, he does not like any kind of height and wants to be on the ground – he is very particular.
  • What about his working in the press boxes around the league, they certainly are not on the ground!
  • Do you have any idea what we do so that he can imagine he is on the ground?  We put down artificial turf in the press box, bring in trees and plants – we create an environment for him.
  • Let me see what I can do.
  • Also, Bob, if you work this out and Madden has that telestrator he uses to diagram plays, if anything happens to it, it will be on your budget and that thing is really expensive! (At that time I think it was the only one in use for television.)

With that I went to work with my staff – primarily my wonderful assistant Susan Platt — and we secured permission to have the event in the parking lot at RFK Stadium – that was ground, not even a single step up, asphalt, dirt!!!

Then we arranged for a circus tent and Madden and Summerall agreed to come. We had the entrance to the tent facing the tunnel through which one could see the RFK field – lots of dirt and real grass there.

For the event to be catered – we had a buffet of hot dogs and Reubens and an ice cream sundae bar.  Why that menu?  Because the invitations we sent were exclusively to the children of Members of Congress and various Executive Branch officials. (You can’t do that now – ethics rules have just gotten silly.) We did tell our invitees they could bring their parents.

I believe the event was on the Friday early evening (kids) before the Sunday game. Summerall arrived with a crew, and a small stage (on the ground) was created with microphones, lights, and Madden’s telestrator together with a huge TV screen where his diagrams, etc. would appear.

Then, probably an hour or two before the event “the bus” —the Madden Bus—arrived and pulled up right next to the tent and Madden joined us.

But he didn’t stay long. He left, and I asked Summerall if something was wrong.  “No, before something like this John has to prepare, psych himself up to perform.”

Then, right on cue, as the children started arriving (mostly with their dads) here came John, friendly, chatty and fun – all focused on the kids – they were his audience.  He left the officials to Summerall.

Madden started taking the kids on tours of his bus a small group at a time.  No parents – not a single senator or congressman – got on the bus.  But I believe before everything was over, every kid had a personal tour of the Madden-Cruiser.

Once the crowd had all arrived, I introduced the program and Pat, using a really wonderful video, told the history of the great football rivalry (the Cowboys getting rights to the Redskins fight song, various pranks by early Redskins owner George Preston Marshal and so on).  Then Madden took over and started telling what should be expected on Sunday and using the telestrator to show how the offenses would do this-and-that, and how the defenses would counter this-and-that.

Then I remember, he picked a boy of maybe 8 or 9 and brought him up asking if he would like to try the telestrator!  Next to me Neal Pilson’s heart audibly skipped a beat. But on-and-on the show went – fabulous entertainment and genuine history and analysis.

It was a night to remember and big John was the star – whatever he did walking around the parking lot to get “up” for the performance, it surely worked.  But I must admit, I selfishly would have liked to have seen the inside of that bus.

We got them to do it again the next year but, as far as I know, it was never done again after I left CBS.

Postscript from Madden’s driver.

They came to Washington from New York driving down I-95.  At some point the driver was called on his CB by a driver of an 18-wheel rig (no cell phones – imagine!).  The trucker asked if Madden was really on the bus and the driver told him he was.

The trucker said that his son was a huge Madden fan and asked if there was any way they could pull over so he could get an autographed picture for his son.

The trucker was told they had an appointment they needed to get to and couldn’t stop – but that he should pull in behind them and make sure he went through the next toll booth right behind the bus.

When the trucker arrived at the toll booth the attendant had an autographed picture of Madden to hand over.

John Madden had his fans were everywhere and he took care of them.

Oh, and I stopped by the press box which was right next to the CBS Washington office seats at RFK.  Yep, artificial turf, potted trees, and plants and maybe some mulch somewhere for aroma.

John Madden – May God bless and keep him.

Robert McConnell is a former Assistant Attorney General in the Reagan administration and former CBS Vice President in charge of the Washington D.C. office.

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13 days ago

My favorite Madden times were when he gave a turkey leg to the MVP of the Thanksgiving day game!!

14 days ago

Thanks John Madden………you were quite the guy! Bless you.

Mario Capparuccini
14 days ago

Great story about a legendary coach and great human being.

Stephen Russell
15 days ago

Honoring Madden:

Sports Area
Team Madden XYZ
Betting Center
HS, college playing field
Hwy, Rd, Ave, St, Ct named for him
Coaching Center
Sports Bar

15 days ago

I was a hotel sales manager in Denver when Madden and the crew stayed at our hotel. I had Madden and Summerall booked in suites. John asked me for a room on the ground floor and I had to tell him that the first 4 floors in our hotel had no sleeping rooms and 4 floors were all meeting space. Mr. Madden sighed and said, “I guess I’ll just have to keep the curtains drawn.”

Pervsgo down
15 days ago

yes the real john madden.. “loving” children.. gross.. knew it, just knew it.

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