John Madden...

Angry Pope

All Raider
Feb 2, 2006
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John Madden's 'Heroes' not just for kids

By Allen O. Pierleoni

John Madden has been making more headlines than usual lately.
Let's see -- there was his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Aug. 5, 27 years after he was first nominated. Then there was the release Aug. 22 of "Madden NFL 07," the newest in his red-hot video-game franchise. The game grossed more than $100 million in its first week on the market.

But something else happened in between those two events, something that slipped under the radar. The 70-year-old broadcaster (he has 14 Emmys) and Super Bowl-winning former coach of the Oakland Raiders published a book on Aug. 17. It's "John Madden's Heroes of Football" (Dutton, $18.99, 80 pages, ages 9-12; written with Bill Gutman). It's a compact, selective history of NFL football, highlighting pivotal games, teams, players and coaches from 1920 to the present.

Last week, the publicity machine at his publishing house granted journalists 10 minutes each to talk with Madden by phone, though I managed to go into overtime and stretch the interview to 11 minutes.

Q: What is the point of "Heroes of Football"?

A: History. To know where we are, we have to know where we came from.

Kids today really aren't going to football games. Remember when it used to be that everyone had the story of the first game they ever went to? Those days aren't here anymore. Kids today learn (about football) by playing in fantasy leagues, watching television and playing video games. They know where the game is today, but no one knows where it came from. How did it get here? Who were the players before the players of today?

Q: This is an informative book that's written on a pretty sophisticated level. I'm surprised it's being marketed to "children ages 9 to 12." It seems more adult than that.

A: It started out as a book for children, but (evolved) into something for everyone. The parents of kids and even the guys playing the game could all get a lot out of it.

In my (Hall of Fame) induction speech, I said that teams ought to honor their histories more. You take these guys who were the great players, who are in the Hall of Fame, who really built the foundation of the game, and no one knows them. (Teams) ought to bring them back, introduce them at halftime, have reunions, invite them to preseason practices and let them mingle with the players. I just think we all ought to honor our histories more, including the clubs.

Q: The book mentions a lot of great teams and players, from yesteryear to the present. Could teams that ruled the '50s and '60s have competed with more recent champions such as the the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots?

A: Oh, yeah. That's the thing I learned (by doing) this book and the whole Hall of Fame thing, too.

I've heard so much (over the years) about the players of today being bigger, faster, stronger and better, and I started to say that. Now I look at those (earlier) games on DVD -- and the Raiders highlights films from our 1976 season and our Super Bowl game in 1977 -- and I see I was wrong.

The better players then would be the better players today. Johnny Unitas would still be a great quarterback. Joe Greene would still be tough to block. Terry Bradshaw would still be tough to tackle.

Then you take our (Raiders) -- (opposing teams) still couldn't cover Cliff Branch, he'd still run by them. Ken Stabler would still get rid of the ball. Fred Biletnikoff would still get open. Ted Hendricks and Otis Sistrunk would still sack the quarterback.

You give them the training, the equipment and the uniforms they have today, and (players from the past) would still be the best players.

Q: What was your working relationship with (co-author) Bill Gutman for the book?

A: We did a lot by tape. The advantage for me writing a history book at my age is I've been in and around (football) for so long -- from being a fan to coaching to broadcasting. (Madden was drafted as a player by the Philadelphia Eagles but never activated because of injury.) Before the 1950s, it was stuff I knew from reading and studying. Once we got to the 1950s, it was recollection.

Q: Will broadcasting games on NBC on Sunday nights be a whole different deal than co-hosting "Monday Night Football" on ABC? Those Monday night games were known for being wild.

A: It'll be the same thing. It's about night football and having all day to think about it, and it being the only game that's on at the end of Sunday. It's gonna be pretty good.

Q: If you could jump into a head coaching position right now, which team would you choose?

A: It would be between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. I'd like the challenge of coaching the two quarterbacks (Tom Brady and Peyton Manning). I'd have the chance to do some special things offensively. And then I'd work like hell on building better defenses.

Between the two, I would probably take the Patriots because of Tom Brady. He's such a good player.

Q: What kind of year will Peyton Manning have?

A: It's gonna be tough for Manning this year without Edgerrin James. They're gonna have a tough time being better than they were last year.

Q: Which teams will make the playoffs?

A: Maybe the best team in the NFC that people don't talk about is the Carolina Panthers. They're very good. Seattle's still gonna be good, and Dallas has the best defense I've seen in the preseason. In the AFC, I'd take the quarterbacks -- Brady and Manning.

Q: Who is the best all-around offensive player in the NFL today?

A: That would be tough. If we're talking about quarterbacks, I'd go with Brady. If we're talking about (other backs), I'd go with LaDainian Tomlinson (of the San Diego Chargers).

Q: What about defense?

A: There aren't a lot of dominant defensive players. That's the thing we don't have now. Some of the most dominant guys now are in the secondary. I'd probably pick Troy Polamalu (of the Pittsburgh Steelers). You can do so many things with him. He can be up at the line of scrimmage, he can blitz, he can drop off. If you're playing against him, he'd be a pain in the butt.

Q: Our time is up. Maybe we'll have dinner together again this year in Monterey.

A: If we had one like we had last time, that would be …

Q: Dangerous?

A: Oh, yeah.
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