Cal Poly to honor John Madden in Rose Parade float

NFL legend and broadcaster John Madden celebrates his selection to the NFL Hall of Fame.
NFL legend and broadcaster John Madden celebrates his selection to the NFL Hall of Fame during a news conference on Feb. 4, 2006 in Detroit.
(Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)

John Madden loved Cal Poly, his alma mater, and the feeling was mutual.

In a nod to that, the two Cal Poly universities — San Luis Obispo and Pomona — made a last-minute adjustment to their annual Rose Parade float to honor the Hall of Fame NFL coach and broadcaster, who died unexpectedly Tuesday.

The school was known simply as Cal Poly when Madden was a student at the San Luis Obispo campus in the mid-1950s, starting on the offensive and defensive lines as a football player, and playing catcher on the baseball team.


The tribute to him in the parade will be subtle, but keen eyes will be able to spot it. The float is called “Star Grazers” and is a twist on the “Hey Diddle Diddle” nursery rhyme, only the engineering cows are building jetpacks to jump over the moon.

John Madden's name will adorn a football on Cal Poly's Rose Parade float.
(Jeff Armstrong)
Rendering of the Cal Poly's 2022 Rose Parade float which will honor NFL legend John Madden.
(Josh D’Aquisto / Cal Poly University)

Near the front of the 55-foot float is a scrap pile of failed rocket parts, which are modified milk cannisters — everything decorated with flowers, of course — and in the middle of that rests a small football that bears Madden’s name with the slogan “Ride High,” a reference to the university’s fight song.

“Learn by doing” is Cal Poly’s core philosophy, and between both campuses, 400-500 students work on the Rose Parade float every year. Constructing the float is a 14-month process, from the initial planning to the deconstruction, when the two halves of the chassis are returned to the individual campuses.

The Madden I know is to football what Mario and Luigi are to New York plumbers. Video games often boast celebrities, but Madden was among the first to lend his name, voice and persona to the medium.

Dec. 29, 2021


“To have a significant alumnus to be lost right at this period of time when we were finishing up this float, it felt right for students to find an Easter-egg way to honor him,” said Josh D’Aquisto, Cal Poly’s Rose float coordinator.

Madden earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at what would become Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, stepping stones to his legendary career as a Super Bowl-winning coach, broadcaster and commercial pitchman, and inspiration for the Madden video-game empire that has generated a reported $7 billion in revenue since 1988.

During Cal Poly’s virtual commencement exercises last June, Madden received an honorary doctor of science degree. He delivered an acceptance speech via video:

“John Madden is a true Mustang, a legendary role model for us all,” Cal Poly San Luis Obispo president Jeff Armstrong said. “Whether on the field, as a coach, a commentator or a husband, father and grandfather to his family. May he always lead the way and `’Ride High’ among the Mustang family for generations to come.”