To those who remember him leading the
To those who best remember him as a broadcaster, he's John.
To the millions who play his football video game, he's Madden.
Regardless, at 79, the Hall of Fame coach, broadcaster and pitchman remains a relevant figure in the
Madden spends part of his time in San Francisco and has a condominium less than a mile from where NFL owners just had their annual May meetings. He sat down for an hour with The Times this week and weighed in on a wide array of topics:
How does the NFL aim to make football safe?
The game is never going to be safe. It's a violent game. Big, strong, fast guys running into each other with equipment on. I think what we can do is always try to make it safer. But I think there's a lot more to be done. The right rules, the right culture, watch the culture so we're not bringing in a lot of that headhunting and spearing when guys are on the ground. That's the part that we can get rid of.
The owners voted this week to move back extra-point kicks; what's the next competitive issue the league should address?
I don't know when they'll ever do anything about this, but you know those gloves receivers wear? It's making it very easy to catch a ball. You see more one-handed catches where guys are pushing off with the other hand. No one looks at those gloves. I saw them when I was at a meeting in Indy. They passed them around and somebody made the comment that, "Pretty soon, these gloves are going to be able to catch a ball without a hand in them."
You've talked about this being a good era for tall receivers. Why is that?
It used to be a guy would make a move, get separation and get open. Now, they get very little separation. The quarterback has to get rid of the ball quickly, so there's not a lot of time to make moves to gain separation. So when they lost that, they did something in lieu of that, and that was to go up. So that's where we are today.
What other trends do you see emerging?
They took the tight end/blocker damned near out of the game, and with him they took the fullback out. So you don't have that power anymore. Now they move the tight end all over, and those hybrids don't necessarily block. Like when I had Dave Casper. When I needed a blocker, Casper was an offensive lineman. When I needed somebody to catch a pass, he was a receiver. They don't make many guys like that anymore.
Which positions are affected the most by all the restrictions on full-contact practices these days?
The No. 1 position it affects is the quarterback. In high school football, you can make up a little of that with these seven-on-seven leagues. And then the next one is offensive linemen. There's no way to develop them. You can't develop them as run blockers, or as anything but two-point-stance guys.
Do you see that lack of development in today's NFL?
Yes. Dallas was probably the last team that was a great power team, when they had Moose Johnston and Emmitt (Smith) and that line. We don't have offensive lines like that anymore. If I asked you, "Which offensive lineman in the NFL today is going to be in the Hall of Fame?" That used to be an easy one to answer. You'd say, "Oh, Larry Allen,
That will torment him forever. Winning one game is hard. Getting to the Super Bowl is hard. Then getting that close and losing has to be tough, because we only remember the winners of the Super Bowl. One of the biggest gaps in sports is the difference between the winning and losing teams of the Super Bowl. They don't invite the losing team to the White House. They don't have parades for them. They don't throw confetti on them. Does it haunt you? Hell yes, it haunts you. I'm still haunted by some championship games.
What changes will Deflategate bring?
The league will change some protocol about the handling of game balls. Here's the thing that's bigger than that: there's a lot of people that have jobs that can affect the game, winning and losing, that are dayworkers. I think the game has gotten big enough now that we have to start eliminating some of these part-time guys and make them full-time guys. The guys who handle the footballs, the guy who handles the clock, the chain gang. We're big enough now to have full-time officials too.
How much does
There was one time during the season there was talk that Peyton Manning was the MVP. He's going to work his tail off to be good, and he has so much pride. I would never bet against Peyton Manning. You know about the age and the neck and the strength. But I had George Blanda, and as he got older, he got smarter, and he just got rid of the ball quicker. I watch Peyton and I see George Blanda.
Speaking of being able to perform late in your career, what are your thoughts on Arizona Coach Bruce Arians, and his winning two of the last three coach-of-the-year awards?
He reinvented himself. The Bruce Arians I knew isn't the same Bruce Arians I see now. Some guys never get their chance. He was ready for his chance. The thing that I always respected about Bruce Arians was, when he was at Pittsburgh, he let
How is Jim Harbaugh going to do at Michigan?
He'll do well. I have all the respect in the world for him. It's not will he do a good job for them, it's how long will he do a good job? How long before he wears out his welcome? But he'll learn that too. Because he knows how to coach football. He knows how to get guys to play.
Finally, are the Raiders going to turn the corner under their new coach?