A few years back in my marketing career, I purchased media for different accounts.

I bought ad spots from KCBS and had a long relationship with them. One of the perks was that I was invited to many events. Two of my favorites were the Annual John Madden Barbecue and the John Madden Bocce Ball Tournament. Why? Because of John Madden. I’m not particularly knowledgeable about football but I listened to the “Daily Madden” religiously because of the way John did sports. Like Yogi Berra before him, Madden had a knack for nonsensical phrases that arrived with an air of great wisdom.

For example:

  • “Hey, the offensive linemen are the biggest guys on the field. They’re bigger than everybody else, and that’s what makes them the biggest guys on the field.”
  • “He was standing in the hole waiting for something to develop …. and WHAP! He got developed.”
  • “Don’t worry about the horse being blind, just load the wagon.”

And about training for the Bocce Ball tournament:

“Concentration and visualization,” John Madden told the KCBS morning crew. “Just visualize success… You don’t want to visualize anything bad, so you take all bad things out and you don’t visualize them.”

Steve Mariucci prepares differently to play on his team. “I went over to courtside and worked on my abs a little bit,” the former 49er and Cal coach said. “And then last night was a little carbohydrating with spaghetti.” 

The BBQ was held annually in Pleasanton at the Madden sports media compound.

He prepared for each BBQ for months, from growing the pig, to details on what sauce belonged with which meat. I never saw so much meat in my life. The whole roasted pig, roasted goat, barbecued chicken, sausages, marinated cross rib, beef, lamb, tri-tip, and the much-talked-about-turducken. 1,500lbs of meat, no this is not a typo. I soon found out that this was the appetizer portion of the event.

After about an hour of every variety of barbecue imaginable, the doors opened and we were ushered into a white table cloth luncheon. I was astonished; how could anyone eat another bite? During the luncheon, anyone could go up and talk to John. He was a giant man, he was 6’4” and when he was coaching he weighed in at about 250lbs, he was the gentlest of giants. Self-deprecating and kind, he took time to chat to anyone who approached him. I was representing Smuin Ballet at the time, and we talked about how ballet is used by professional athletes. He always remembered me after that and made sure I was invited to other events including one memorable Super Bowl at his studio where we watched the game on a movie theater sized screen surrounded by 8 other screens. Only about 10 people were there; we won’t forget that, ever! 

His foundation gave to many charities, small and large.

If he saw a wrong, he tried to right it. If some high school kid invited him to the local football game, he went, and he thanked them for inviting him. That’s who he was.

“He was the greatest broadcaster, bar none, that the NFL has ever had,” my friend and avid ballet fan, retired KCBS Radio sports anchor Steve Bitker said. “He brought so many people into the NFL as fans that otherwise wouldn’t have been there. And since he retired, so many tried to copy him, even when he was still working, and nobody ever really came close. He was one of a kind.”

Thanks, coach.