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Monday, April 20, 2021

it's in the game
Even accounting for the off-the-cuff spirit of the radio interview he was doing, Al Michaels declaring his now-retired broadcast partner John Madden as the most important figure in National Football League history is rather curious.

Why? Let’s disregard Madden’s gold-standard videogame franchise and, at least partially, his Hall of Fame coaching credentials, and isolate the heart of Michaels’ argument:

But what he’s meant to the game over the past three decades as a communicator, not just a broadcaster, but as somebody who could make people more interested in the game, more excited about the game. He brought far more entertainment value to the game than anybody I can think of…

Here’s a guy who just cuts across every demographic. It’s too much of a cliche, I think, to call him an everyman. Yes, John was able to relate to every man, but John was also one of the most intelligent, book smart human beings I’ve ever been around. And a man who I think was a great observer. In a world where there was a lot of self-absorption, John was just content to sit in a lobby or sit in a restaurant and have dinner with a group of people and observe and listen to everything everybody else had to say. He was a curious man and of course everybody knows that he traveled across the country and was in contact with the kinds of folks you just don’t get to see when you make a 3,000-mile round trip in an airplane.

When news of Madden’s retirement from the broadcasting booth hit, among my first thoughts were how he compared with Howard Cosell. Not to directly compare Madden and Cosell, as they were about as opposite in onscreen demeanor as is possible in sports television. But think about it: Madden was more or less Cosell’s inheritor. Just as Cosell, in the ’70s and much of the ’80s, was synonymous with “Monday Night Football”, the NFL’s showcase TV presence (next to the Super Bowl), Madden became the face of NFL television shortly after Cosell retired and kept that position from the ’90s through this decade.

And Michaels? He happens to be the common link between Cosell and Madden, having worked with both on the national network broadcast stage on Monday (and Sunday) night. Obviously, he’s in a unique position, given his personal and intimate work experience with both these icons.

That’s why it’s so curious that Michaels would praise Madden as he did above, in those words. What comes across is a folksy, populist figure that the viewing audience loved to love, and that by extension loved to football as he interpreted it. That’s the basis for arguing that Madden superseded everyone else in popularizing the NFL.

That characterization also happens to be just about the antithesis of what Howard Cosell was. By no stretch could you call Cosell an everyman — he cultivated an elitist mien, and used that to engage the audience. He achieved his NFL success in just about the opposite manner of Madden, and yet, he also did a lot to popularize the game. (Not that Madden didn’t have his haters, but nothing on the scale of Cosell.)

It’s worth noting that the differences between Madden and Cosell run even deeper: Madden came to television after a career as a coach, while Cosell arrived via what had been the more conventional route of sports journalism. And that’s perhaps the most telling indicator of Michaels’ praise of Madden — in effect, it endorses the sports media “jockocracy” charge that Cosell railed against during his life. Obviously, Madden is a product of that jockocracy — and, according to Michaels, who had a bird’s eye view of each, the gold standard in NFL on-air analysis.

In effect, Michaels has picked a winner in the long term, and it’s Madden, not Cosell. The jockocracy is triumphant.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 04/20/2009 03:07:36 PM
Category: Celebrity, Football, TV
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  1. Deep Posts: The Vikings have a crush on Pat White…

    … - What Al Michaels did and didn’t say about Howard Cosell when he lavished glorious praise upon John Madden……

    Trackback by Shutdown Corner - A Y! Sports Blog — 04/22/2009 @ 06:06:39 PM

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