Third in a series looking back at the seven Super Bowls held in the Los Angeles area:
The late John Madden reached the summit of three separate careers. He was a Hall of Fame coach of the Oakland Raiders who won Super Bowl XI, the country’s most popular NFL analyst, and he helped create the “Madden” video game franchise that has generated more than $7 billion in revenue.
Virginia and John Madden had two sons, Mike and Joe. Mike spoke to Los Angeles Times writer Sam Farmer recently and talked about that triumphant 1976 season, when his father guided the Raiders to their first of three Super Bowl championships. This was the first of five Super Bowls played at the Rose Bowl.
It was 45 years ago, but I still remember it clearly.
My dad, John Madden, was coach of the Oakland Raiders, and two days before Super Bowl XI against the Minnesota Vikings, he came by to visit us at our hotel after the Friday practice. The team and coaches were staying in a different hotel, getting ready for Sunday’s game at the Rose Bowl.
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The family had connecting rooms and there was a sitting area between them. He sat down at a little dinette table there and says, “We’re going to kill ’em. We’re going to whip these guys. All I have to do now is not screw it up.”
Dad never talked like that. I was worried he might jinx it, seeing as the Raiders had already lost in one Super Bowl and six conference championship games.
Then he told me the reason he felt so confident. It had rained the night before the Friday practice, and my dad didn’t want Snake — our quarterback, Ken Stabler — throwing a heavy, waterlogged ball. So he had Dick Romanski, the equipment manager, break out four dozen brand-new footballs.
Every time the ball hit the ground, Romanski was to pull it and give Snake a new ball. Well, the team went through a whole practice and the ball only touched the ground once, when Carl Garrett dropped a punt.
Snake completed every single pass in a passing practice. Dad said, “I’ve never seen him sharper. We are so ready it’s crazy, and we’re going to kill ‘em.”
As a kid, you don’t forget that.
There was so much about that season and that whole Raiders era that was unforgettable for me and my younger brother, Joe. We were a true football family living in Pleasanton, where our mom was a sixth-grade teacher and our dad coached the pride of Oakland.
The Raiders really belonged to the city. It was all about civic pride. It was the mid-1970s, the A’s had done their thing, San Francisco didn’t have a lot to be proud of athletically at that time, and the Raiders were at the top. Silver & Black, Pride and Poise, Commitment to Excellence. You come in our house and we play a tough brand of football. We’re good. We’ve got some renegades. All that stuff was real. It wasn’t manufactured. It wasn’t to be cool. It’s just the way it was.
For me, it’s all I knew. I didn’t grow up in Pittsburgh and wave the Terrible Towel. I wasn’t in Miami waving the White Hanky. We were the Raiders.
I can still see those seagulls circling around the Coliseum in the fourth quarter because they’re going to dive bomb and get all the popcorn after the game’s over. The fourth quarter, the sun comes down, the shade gets cast and all of a sudden the seagulls are circling. That’s Oakland.
Saturday morning practices were the best. Dad would start us off at Denny’s on Hegenberger on the way in to the Coliseum really early, like 6:30 or 7 a.m. He’d get his corned beef hash and two poached eggs, and Joe and I would get whatever we wanted.
We’d go to the Coliseum and “Romo,” the equipment manager, would hand us a crappy old kicker’s ball. I was 13 at the time, and we’d been doing this for a few years. There was a security guard there named Prentice and he knew all the neighborhood kids. He’d allow them to jump the fence so we could play a little pickup football game. Then, once the first Raiders player came out, Prentice would hit his whistle and these kids would sprint and jump back over the fence. They had to get the heck out of there.
“It seemed like Dad was a Pro Bowl coach every year. The coaches who lost the championship games were the Pro Bowl coaches.”
— Mike Madden
Then the team would come out. My dad ran a long practice, what you’d call a walk-through today. It was like two hours. The players were in their black sweat pants, black sweat shirts and helmets. Or gray sweat shirts. One side wore silver, the other wore black. They were just cotton 1970s-issue sweats with their numbers on them.
If there was someone to watch out for at those practices it was Ray Guy. He’d be punting from sideline to sideline. That was kind of interesting because Dad was a big stickler on always going with the lines, always practicing from inside the hash.
But Ray Guy. If you’re walking around watching practice and you’re not paying attention, a ball would whack you in the head if you weren’t careful. You always had to know where Ray Guy was and where he was punting.
I never got hit by one. I tried to catch them a couple times and I dove for cover in the last 10 feet like, “I can do this. I can do this. I got this … Oh no, it’s coming down too fast!”
Just stay out of the way. These were the Raiders of Jack Tatum, Ken Stabler, Art Shell … Everybody was nice but I had been told, “No, stay out of the way. Don’t get hurt. You can watch what you want to watch, but stay out of the way.” I was in junior high that year and playing tight end, so I’d watch Dave Casper.
Even then, you knew you were watching history. The Immaculate Reception was in our rearview mirror. The ’72 Dolphins were right there. To know your dad’s team, the Raiders, were competing with those teams. Yeah, you knew they were going to be mentioned in the history books.
After those Saturday practices we’d always stop at Fosters Freeze for banana shakes and burgers, and eat them on the way home. My dad drove a big black Chrysler Imperial with a hood about the size of a king-sized bed. From bumper to windshield it seemed like 15 feet. He’d drive with his arm out the window and pretty fast. Left lane all the way. A little impatient. He’d get on the horn rather than go around a guy.
It seemed like Dad was a Pro Bowl coach every year. The coaches who lost the championship games were the Pro Bowl coaches. So we went to a bunch of Pro Bowls. When he was there, Dad would talk to the Dolphins or Steelers about the Super Bowl, asking them what it’s like and what they did during the week of the game.
So he knew what to do. He told all of his players, “You’ve got to get the Super Bowl crap out of the way the first week. Get rid of all your tickets and handle your family stuff. The second week has to be all football.”
He wanted to practice what he preached, so he did that stuff too. So he’s hearing from long-lost cousins in Minnesota. We know they’re coming to root for the Vikings. They want tickets. My dad had an allotment. I remember him pulling out a stack of tickets probably two inches tall. I don’t know how many he had — 40, 60, 80, whatever. I remember him saying, “Here. Look at this. Take that to school tomorrow. You’ll be a hero.”
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My dad was born in Austin, Minn., so the old Madden cousins came out of the woodwork for the first and only time in our lives. I don’t know if they rooted for the Raiders or Vikings. I never met them.
It might not have been the spectacle it is now, but the Super Bowl was still the Super Bowl. It was a big deal.
Sometimes people would say the Raiders can’t win the big one. As a kid, you don’t know what the hell that means. Dad always said, “How many big ones do you have to win to get into the Big One?” You’re winning a lot of big games all the time. So that’s kind of an ignorant statement. We had to win four in a row to get in the playoffs in ’73, then you have to beat the Steelers to go down and play the Dolphins. So they’re all big games.
The “can’t win the big one” thing is phooey. Because if you’re not winning big games, then you’re not playing in other big games.
“Such great memories of my childhood. Great memories for my family. Great for my dad.”
— Mike Madden
My dad was a football coach. He gave it his all. We grew up the sons of a football coach. Fourth of July was kind of the end of the summer for us. We’d blast off neighborhood fireworks and then boom, he’d disappear for eight or nine weeks, go up to Santa Rosa for training camp.
As we got older, we’d come up to hang out at camp. Mom would not let us go up to spend time in Santa Rosa until we could cut our meat ourselves. “If you can’t cut a steak by yourself, you can’t sit at the training table.”
When we got to the Super Bowl in Pasadena we had what you’d call pretty good seats. We were about 25 rows up on the Raiders side, between the 40s. We were sitting there on the benches. There were 100,000 people in the Rose Bowl. Snow on top of the San Gabriel Mountains.
The game starts and the first thing I remember is Ray Guy has never had a punt blocked. The Vikings were great at blocking kicks. Sure as hell isn’t going to happen in the Super Bowl … until it does.
[Errol] Mann misses a chip-shot field goal, so you’re like, holy smokes it’s Murphy’s Law. Ray Guy gets a punt blocked and you’re just thinking here we go again. The Raiders are cursed in big games.
Then Phil Villapiano, Jack Tatum, they get the running back for the Vikings, Brent McClanahan, who fumbles inside the five. The Raiders recover, and then on third and seven, they run Clarence Davis over left tackle for 35 yards, they just started driving and the whipping began after that.
After the 32-14 win by the Raiders, it was euphoria. The euphoria was we’ve been to this mountain, we’ve been to this mountain, and now we’re standing on top of it.
My thing was, how do we get down to the locker room? The Rose Bowl wasn’t our home stadium. We didn’t know the security guards. We didn’t know the guys at the door. We didn’t know where we were going. Somehow, we made it down.
The Raiders were all cigarettes and Sprite in the locker room. Everywhere you’d turn there were sticks of Wrigley’s gum torn in half. The sticks were already out. It had to be the equipment manager’s thing to tear them in half. You had to grab two or three. Spearmint, Juicy Fruit, Doublemint. I was a Juicy Fruit and Spearmint guy, not a fan of the Doublemint.
Such great memories of my childhood. Great memories for my family. Great for my dad.
He always said that when you win the Super Bowl, no one can take that away from you. It says it right there on the ring: World Champion.
And anyone who knows anything about football knows the era in which the Raiders won. The Dolphins were still there. The Steelers were one of the great franchises in history. The Raiders won the hard way. That was obviously the pinnacle.
John Robinson and John Madden had known each other since the fifth grade. John Robinson talks about his relationship with the Hall of Fame coach-broadcaster.
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