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John Madden calls it quits.

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I'm going to miss the guy. :(

Only one Madden, then, now and forever

April 16, 2009

By Ray Ratto

John Madden's retirement from broadcasting will be linked at least for the moment to Harry Kalas' passing in that two veterans of a changing (and not for the better) art will no longer help define its development.

But the two were so disparate in their broadcasting styles that it seems almost jarring to combine them even chronologically. Madden was the first true national arm-waving, sound-effect-creating figure, the one who spawned Dick Vitale, who spawned Bill Raftery, who spawned a series of unconvincing clones who did not, do not and will not have the chops.

Who will be the next John Madden? C'mon -- the original is, well, an original. (US Presswire) Kalas was under-understated, a man who could make a multi-syllabic surname last longer than the first chapter of Little Dorrit. His languid pace fit the Phillies, and later NFL Films, because he belonged to the Phillies, first last and always. He was that greatest of broadcasting complements, the perfect match for his town.

Madden, though, made America his town, and at his best, his presence alone told you that the game he was doing was the most important event that day. True, it didn't take long for him to be assigned to the best game on the schedule, thus making it a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, but he elevated the best game each week nonetheless.

And if he grated on sensibilities raised on the calmer tones of Paul Christman, he also had one other gift -- he could see all 22 players at once, and discern when something was out of whack, or exemplary, and deliver the information and its context by the end of the play. He was in that way a physical freak, and you know how we are driven to people who can do extraordinary things.

Plus, when he was asked to lend his name to a football video game, it quickly became the defining product of the industry, not because of the technology but because of his stamp of authority. He became a universal surname in the same way that Cher, to use a dated example, became a universal birth name. It's as if he didn't need a first name.

He left the Raiders coaching job at the right time, having done 10 years for Al Davis, which is 30 years in Earth time. Conversely, he left the booth just a hair late for many folks, but the change between his apex and last year was minimal. He was superb for a lot longer than nearly any of his broadcasting contemporaries, and that too makes his retirement worth noting.

To lament his passing as the end of an era, though, makes one wonder what era is next. There are no giants to replace Madden (Vitale is easing back after a difficult year with his throat), and there does not seem yet to be someone to fill the cultural void.

And there may be no void to fill anyway, given that Madden broke in when there were three sports carriers, not hundreds. We have replaced authoritative voices with cacophony because we have democratized the airwaves, at least insofar as we now have access to every broadcast of every baseball, basketball, football, hockey and major college football and basketball game that can be reasonably found. There is not one voice, but hundreds, and most of them are, well, not Madden. They work for the teams, and you can't be a national figure that way.

Yes, there is Jim Nantz, who does CBS' big-ticket items and as such is its designated "respected voice." He is as close as it gets at this point. Al Michaels and Bob Costas still have some throw-weight at NBC, but for different sports, and NBC has receded from the NFL. ABC sports is actually the Eighth Route Army of ESPN, and Fox has specialists for each of its sports. TNT is Ernie Johnson, even though it is really Charles Barkley.

For the most part, though, Madden smashes a huge hole in the broadcasting firmament that won't be filled by a similarly larger-than-life figure. Whether this is good is beside the point, and wishing that the past could be the future isn't really working in any industry these days. You just nod, give out a little whistle of admiration for the body of work and cultural importance, and let him enjoy retirement. It is the most civilized and respectful thing we can do for the man who changed broadcasting, and football appreciation, and children's leisure habits, and Thanksgiving diets.

Yes, a Super Bowl ring placed alongside a turducken, a game console and foot spray. This is the mega-legacy of John Madden, a man who was a major figure in America's two real pastimes -- football and commercialism -- for 40 years.

Try that sentence on anyone else. We dare you.

Ray Ratto is a sports columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.

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I'm probably in the minority here, but I was never a big fan of listening to him ramble on when he was in the booth. Don't get me wrong, I think he was very informed and knew what he was talking about, but I think his voice just annoyed me. Once again, probably in the minority. I do wish him all the luck in whatever he does next...

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He was one of the better color commentators the game has seen.

I'm now wondering??????????????????

Will there still be Madden video games??????????

Maybe Al Michaels '10 ?

Collinsworth '10?

Doesnt quite have the same ring to it......

How does Tony Kornheiser '10 grab you?

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