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John Madden, NFL Hall of Fame coach and iconic sports broadcaster, dies at 85

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Pro football broadcaster Al Michaels once said of his colleague John Madden, he was a man lucky to have football, but football was luckier to have John. Madden died yesterday at the age of 85. The sports world is mourning a man whose impact on the NFL endured for more than 50 years, as NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The sports world is filled with one-name legends - Michael, Tiger, Serena. John Madden was a one-word legend.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN MADDEN: ...From the outside, and boom - two up the middle.

GOLDMAN: Say boom to any football fan of the last half-century, and they know who you're talking about. But Madden went way beyond that. He was a man of many words in his 30 years of NFL broadcasting at all the major networks - words of insight about a beautiful and violent game and words that had nothing to do with football and everything to do with making you laugh. Here he was with longtime partner Pat Summerall discussing then-Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MADDEN: And you noticed, Pat, Troy Aikman is trying to grow a beard. And he just can't do it. Blond-haired guys - a lot of them have trouble. But I can't even - I'm looking as close as I can, and I can't see any beard. But he's been - that's a four-day beard.

PAT SUMMERALL: It's a passive attempt.

MADDEN: Very, very passive.

GOLDMAN: His personality grew his fame beyond football. "Madden NFL" has made him an icon among video gamers to this day. But before it all, underpinning it all was Coach Madden. He took over the Oakland Raiders in 1969. The image of him riding on his players' shoulders after the Raiders won the Super Bowl in 1977 - that was Madden's crowning moment. But there were painful moments getting there.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED BROADCASTER: And his pass is broken up by Tatum, picked off. Franco Harris has it.

GOLDMAN: None more painful than the so-called Immaculate Reception. Pittsburgh's Franco Harris caught a deflected pass and ran for a winning touchdown in a 1972 playoff game against Madden's Raiders. Often, Madden also had the answer to his team's rough-and-tumble reputation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MADDEN: I mean, they want to say the Raiders are dirty. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we're dirty. What are you going to do about it?

GOLDMAN: But along with the toughness, there was smarts and a thoughtful, collaborative approach to coaching. In a statement after Madden's death yesterday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Madden was a sounding board to many and, quote, "will forever be indebted to him for all he did to make football and the NFL what it is today." Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.