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Voice of the 'Fan

A legend walks away

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"You've got to know when to hold 'em,
Know when to fold 'em,
Know when to walk away,
And know when to run"

The first half of the chorus to Kenny Rogers' 1980 hit, "The Gambler", sums up in a nutshell my sentiments on NFL Hall of Famer John Madden's decision to retire after 30 years of broadcasting. Madden chose to walk away on his own terms, rather than run the risk of being forced out to appease the growing chorus of detractors who believe that he is losing his master's touch as a game analyst.

Madden won 1 Super Bowl in his final season as coach of the Oakland Raiders, then opted to step off the sideline and into the broadcast booth. There have been others who've followed, coaches & players both, but no one has been able to duplicate Madden's ability to hold an audience's attention in describing the action on the field.

Perhaps the closest in that regard may be the man who is succeeding Madden on NBC in the fall, former Bengals wideout Cris Collinsworth, who is leaving the comfort of NBC's New York studio to work with Al Michaels. Collinsworth has already built a reputation as a solid analyst, so the transition should be smooth, much more so than the challenge of writing a new theme song for Sunday Night Football.

I never quite got the idea of why people were turning on Madden after all these years. Was it the fact that he was seemingly everywhere with his commercial endorsements over that time (i.e. Ace Hardware, Tinactin)? Was it the fact that he was perceived to be losing a step or two in the booth, and parodied by impressionist Frank Caliendo to the point of nauseum? Madden was inducted into the Hall of Fame a few years ago, but that was largely because of his body of work as a broadcaster, not as a coach. He only coached the Raiders for 10 seasons before walking away from that gig. Al Davis has never been able to duplicate the formula since then, even though the Raiders did win again after Madden left.

It's going to be different on Sunday nights this fall, to be sure, not hearing Madden go "Boom!" every time a running back busts through the defensive line and breaks off a big run. An era has ended, and now it's NBC that has to hope the formula still works with Collinsworth sitting in Madden's chair.

I think I've heard ESPN's Tony Kornheiser mention that he, like Madden, is afraid of flying. Maybe he should consider buying the Maddencruiser.........!


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