Week after week, I keep waiting for John Madden to wear out his welcome. He talks—and sometimes shouts—a whole lot. He fills the screen with "Boom!" and "Whack!" and other verbal mischief. He just keeps coming, like an oversized Energizer bunny. He even shows up during commercial breaks of his own CBS broadcasts to endorse Ace Hardware and assorted other entities.
In short, carrying the burdens of a large voice, an imposing presence and constant exposure, Madden, the network's No. 1 NFL analyst, certainly could have gone the way of Chia Pet by now. But each week during football season I can't wait for Madden to welcome himself into my wearisome home.
In the tedious clutter of commentary that sports television has become, Madden, 56, remains forever fresh. His insights are unmatched, his humor is original, his manner is unaffected. Yet, for all his down-to-earth dazzle, he seldom overshadows a game. When the outcome is in doubt, he analyzes; when the game is a rout, he amuses.
Analysis sample: After the Cowboys' Issiac Holt brought down the Eagles' Keith Byars, Madden said, "There's no one in the world who has power in their ankles, so if you're going to tackle a powerful guy, get him by his ankles."
Amusement sample: After CBS cameras showed 49er safety David Whitmore sitting casually on the bench near the end of a game, Madden said, "I think there ought to be a rule that you can't cross your legs on the bench if you're a defensive player in the NFL."
Madden still discusses helmets and jerseys and pads and cleats better than anyone else—he should consult for Calvin Klein. And no one's better than Madden on linemen and line play and uniforms and domes and turf and dirt. He has done more for the word doink than Burger King has done for the word whopper.
He even draws the best circles on that CBS Chalkboard. On the other hand, someone has to take away Madden's Coaches' Clicker. It's a toy to him; it's no joy to us. You can get seasick watching the big fella go back and forth with it on replays.
Yes, Madden has occasional lapses, and his usually steady play-by-play partner of 12 seasons, Pat Summer-all, has had an alarming number of them lately. Still, watching CBS's top team is the best way to catch football on weekend afternoons.
On other broadcast teams you'll find countless Madden wannabes—former coaches like Dick Vermeil and John Robinson, former players like Randy Cross and Matt Milieu—overwhelming your senses. As Madden himself might put it, "There's a lot of bad stuff that happens out there" when these imitation Maddens get near a microphone. There's only one John Madden; the others are just maddening.