Madden, who died on December 28, 2021, loved making Thanksgiving games. He awarded turkey thighs to players who played an outstanding game on the holiday, a tradition that evolved throughout his career.
NBC had a halftime package, narrated by Mike, John Madden’s son, at halftime, but also aired the Patriots coach by Bill Belichick Thoughts on Madden in the first half.
Belichick, who considered Madden a friend, said:
“When I think of John Madden, I think of the word big. John was a big man. Great personality. Hall of Fame coach, really a Hall of Fame broadcaster. He has done a lot to promote the love of soccer. He was a special, special man, one of the great ambassadors in the history of football.”
Belichick gushed about Madden on December 29, 2021 at his first press conference after Madden’s death. This is what he said:
Opening statement: “I will start with our condolences to the Madden family. It’s a huge loss for the NFL and professional football. John is just a great person to be with. I think we all probably set out to try to have a good professional career. John had about five of them. He set the standard for training in his day. They had the best record, best teams, championships and all that. Raiders had a great style of play that was very, I would say, engaging. He certainly did a lot for the league and the league’s competitiveness. He was a big supporter of minorities and minority exploration. Some of the great players they had with the Raiders from the smaller black universities, he and [Al] Davis brought the organization. He then went on to streaming and undoubtedly increased the popularity of the game quite a bit, singlehandedly. I don’t know how you would measure that, but I think that everyone who liked football enjoyed John’s comments. Many people who probably didn’t even care about football found John entertaining and watched football because of him. He attracted a lot of people to the game. He brought a perspective to the game that was very unique. Loved by all. I had a great opportunity to spend a lot of time with John. It seemed that he and Pat [Summerall] we cover our games with the Giants every week. It was like a weekly broadcast team. Going out on John’s bus and just spending time with him there and over the years, right up to Super Bowl XXXVI, all the other things he’s done for the league… I especially enjoyed the top 100 conversations with John. There were about five or six of us watching some of the players from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s and those eras, decades. We had a lot of great conversations about the games we watched, the players we watched, the way the game played, comparisons, feedback, etc. John did a lot for the safety of the players. I know he was on various league committees, advisors, etc., and he studied game safety, player safety. I know he’s instrumental in a lot of those changes, improvements to help player safety, specifically defenseless receivers and quarterback protection, things like that. He was simply a very complete person who had a great love for life, love for soccer, love for the history of soccer. He was always a nice person to be around and talk to, unless you were standing in front of him in the field. That was a bit of a different story. So it’s a sad day for all football fans and of course the Madden game has to be one of the most popular things. I think most of today’s players of this generation know John Madden through that and that’s a big part of it. Certainly, the popularity of soccer through the Madden game is also quite prominent. He put it all together. Great person. Multiple great runs. Most importantly, just a huge influence on football and professional football. He was a good friend.”
On what made John Madden so impactful in football:
Belichick: “You can probably ask everybody that question. I think it was his enthusiasm and love for soccer. He just had a great perspective on the left foot point, the right foot point. He had so many things that were just obvious, but when he brought them out, he did it in a fun but educational way. He always seemed to say the right thing and had the right mix of what the situation called for, be it emotionally or analytically. No matter what he asked of himself, he always seemed to have the right words, the right perspective, and he did it in a way that was easy to understand, concise, and, as I said, many times, funny.”
On whether he’s ever listened to John Madden’s analysis of Super Bowl XXXVI again:
Belichick: “I feel like my career intersected with John’s several times. Probably too many to count, but then again, every Giants game, Giants Super Bowls, I think he made my first or second game in Cleveland. I forgot what it was. It was a preseason game. It was a national game. He came in and did that, so early on in Cleveland. Then through Cleveland to, like you said, Super Bowl XXXVI and all that. Then, as I mentioned, the Top 100 and all that. I have talked to John on many different levels and have had many different experiences and conversations with him. Everything’s fine. I feel like I have had the opportunity to see a lot, learn a lot and experience a lot the year I was in Denver. We played them a couple of times, and that was a little different to see him in the same division and see him through that lens as a real competitor on the other side of the field. I mean, I had a really minor role in it, but still, going up against Al Davis, John Madden, the Raiders, there was a certain mystique or charisma that they had. I’m glad I experienced it.”
On whether anyone has had as big an impact on the game as John Madden:
Belichick: “I don’t think it’s really my thing to rate them. I think the comments I made at the beginning represent how big of an impact it had. Whether he had more or less than someone else, I don’t know. Whatever it is, it affected several generations. Again, I think he’s unique in the different ways that he was such a big part of the game, from training to playing Madden, streaming, being involved in rule changes for player safety, more diversity in the Hiring, that kind of thing. He touched on a lot of areas and all of them really, I think, start with game improvement. Obviously, as a coach, you are trying to help your team. You’re not trying to help every other team, but what he did with the Raiders and what he accomplished during his tenure there was remarkable. He was a Hall of Fame coach and then everything else that came on top of it… what a man! What career!”
On whether John Madden had any influence on him as a coach:
Belichick: “I think every time he spoke, I listened. Whether it’s in a private conversation, a group meeting, or a forum where other people spoke. For example, at a rule change or something like that or a conference call with the Top 100, I always wanted to hear what he had to say. He always had a good perspective. Even if, perhaps, you didn’t quite agree with exactly where it came from, you could certainly see where it came from. Maybe there were other reasons that could override an opinion different from his, but you could always see where he was coming from and always, I felt, what was best for the game and a very disinterested view. He presented it that way and I think that’s why he was so respected, because his motivation was the game, the fans, the entertainment, the safety and all the good things about football. That is what he stood for. There is obviously a balance somewhere. Sometimes those things go together and conflict a little bit, but I thought his views and where he was at on things was really, for the most part, very good and wholesome. At the same time, John wasn’t around too…he wanted to hear what everyone else had to say. He wanted to hear the other opinions. He might change his mind a bit, like, “Hey, that’s a good point. He really hadn’t thought of it that way. There is something to that. He was very, I would say, open-minded and a good listener. When you stream the game, you are the one doing the talking, not the one listening. I think, perhaps, that was understood, as it should. That was his role as the announcer, but like I said, in the rules discussions, the top 100 discussions, and even in the private discussions, he asked a lot of questions. He was always interested in hearing what the point of view was. Sometimes, I was okay with that. Sometimes he didn’t, but I know that in our conversations there was a lot of mutual respect. I could see where he was coming from if he was perhaps a little different from the way he was thinking and vice versa. I think that’s healthy. It’s very healthy, but he was a great listener. I would say that I always enjoyed the production meetings with John because his vision of his game was very good. Many of the questions he asked, at times, were very deep. Maybe it was something he hadn’t given much thought to. He noticed it and said, “Hey, what’s up with this?” or “What’s up with that?” You start thinking about it and you say, “Well, that’s pretty observant. I might have even missed that.” Maybe it was something one of our opponents was doing, why he was doing it, or how we were doing something. So, that stimulated another line of thought. He was great to work with and he loved soccer, he loved soccer. I think he loved every aspect of it: training it, announcing it, improving it, making it a better game, making it more exciting, making it better for the fans, making it safer, making it more entertaining, and the presentation of that. in an entertaining way too. Just a wonderful man with a great perspective who did a lot for the game.”