Lots of people loved him and probably just as many couldn't stand him. Many of the latter were my friends, actually, but I never hated John Madden and I rather liked him in his earlier years. When he started broadcasting, paired with silky smooth, unobtrusive Pat Summerall (yeah, I know he was drunk half the time, but honestly, I'd rather have a drunk Pat Summerall over a sober Greg Gumbel any day), he explained the game without talking down, he gave us a peek at what made teams tick, he spent an unprecedented amount of air-time talking about line play and his love of the game was obvious, punctuated with grunts, stammers and the occasional "BOOM!" (although those kinda became annoying in later years.) Over his long career, he slowly and painful morphed from John Madden, the smart, funny, big, fat, sloppy, lovable former NFL coach to JOHN MADDEN, the franchise, the legend, and the cliche.
I lay a large portion of the blame for the dismal Monday Night and Sunday Night eras at the feet of Madden's broadcast partner, Al Michaels, another guy I used to like, until he was eaten by his behemoth of an ego. Like everybody else, I loved Michaels for the 1980 "Do you believe in miracles?!" call but as my friend the Deadhead astutely reminded me, his work during the 1989 World Series was stratospherically great, too: "Remember the earthquake at the Series? I thought Michaels was great that night. Hung in there, gave great reports, should have gotten an Emmy if he didn't. I think he has been slowly transforming since."
When Madden announced his retirement last week, I felt unexpectedly sentimental. I also started to think about which announcers I really hate. Who are the ones who have made me turn off a sporting event in disgust? More importantly, I thought about what trait, or traits, do they all share in common to drive me bats in the belfry crazy?
For me, the worst offenders are: Phil Simms, Nancy Lieberman, and Tim McCarver. There are more, to be sure, but those three are at the top of my hit list, and I have to tell you, I spent a tense 24 hour period in terror that the powers that be at NBC would tap Simms to fill Madden's SNF spot. I honestly believe that years of listening to Simms covering NFL games has already dropped my IQ by double digits. If I continue to listen to him for a few more years, I'll rank the Bret Michael autobiography as one of the great works of literature and consider American Idol to be the height of culture. (Hey, can I twitter, vote for American Idol and host tea-bagging parties all at once?)
Yappy Phil Simms, Liebernuts and McCarver all commit the number one cardinal sin for a color analyst: they all bring pre-ordained scripts to each game and no matter how the game actually unfolds in front of them, they will not deviate from that script. Their anticipated version of a game is way more important than what they see with their own eyes. Implicit, of course, is that they are bigger than the game. This is the most annoying trait for any announcer in any sport at any time.
I know Madden had his pet players, but I never got the sense he was scripted like the above Trio of Morons. Sure, he talked about Brett Favre the way Doris Kearns Goodwin discusses Abraham Lincoln and he clearly had a ginormous man crush on Hines Ward, but he did let the game unfold. In fact, he held the game itself in highest esteem. At least I got that sense.
The other sin committed by Liebernuts, et al, is that they simply talk too much. Here's a handy clue kids: you all work in in television, so the people listening can actually see the game, too. It's okay to STFU and you can trust that we mere mortals won't be so confused by the quiet as to rend our garments and run naked in traffic. Nancy Liebernuts is women's hoops royalty, but she so enrages me that I want to throw up, throw things at the television, turn the sound off, and walk out of the room in disgust. All at the same time. Tim McCarver alway thinks he's the smartest guy in the room, despite all evidence to the contrary. His pomposity has been abundantly documented through the years. And I really have muted the telly from time to time to give myself a momentary respite from Simms' inane prattling.
All three comment on the game as though they are paid by the word. I think they think we watch the games to hear them. No, you idiots, we watch the game to watch the game. I think Madden understood that. Although Michaels often tried to lure him into blithering in recent seasons.
Critics will point to Madden's biases, for certain teams, certain players, and certain coaches. For me, I can live with an announcer having biases. Heck, if ESPN hired me to do women's hoops, I'm sure I'd evidence a distinct Big East bias, no matter how hard I tried to tone it down. It's just part of who I am. I think that Madden's biases were as organic as that. He favored tough guys to the point of hackneyed reverence, but there's nothing wrong with giving the beat up ham and eggers a long the line a little love. Maybe he was over the top, maybe he was beyond annoying sometimes, but Madden's take on the game seemed genuine to me, even when I thought he was WRONG! (tm, Smiley.)