Of all the many faces and voices that have influenced the NFL over the years, two stand out. Even though they are as different as they could be in their styles and personalities.
Bill Belichick and John Madden.
Belichick spent plenty of time during his Wednesday press conference reflecting on the Hall of Fame coach, the legendary broadcaster, and the video-game icon who died on Tuesday at 85.
“It’s a huge loss for the NFL and professional football,” Belichick said. “John is just a tremendous person to be around. 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 coaching in his era. They had the best record, best teams, championships, and all that. Raiders had a great style of play that was very, I’d say, captivating. He, certainly, did a lot for the league and the competitiveness of the league. He was a great champion for minorities and minority scouting. Some of the great players that they had with the Raiders from the smaller black colleges, he and [Al] Davis brought into the organization.
“Then he moved to broadcasting and, certainly, increased the popularity of the game, singlehandedly, by quite a bit. I don’t know how you’d ever measure that, but I think everybody that liked football enjoyed John’s commentary. A lot of people who probably didn’t even care about football found John entertaining and watched football because of him. He brought 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 quite a bit of time with John. It seemed like he and Pat [Summerall] covered our games with the Giants every week. It was like a weekly broadcast crew. Going out to John’s bus and just spending time with him there and through the years, all the way up to Super Bowl XXXVI, all the other things that he’s done for the league. . . . I particularly enjoyed the Top 100 conversations with John. There were about five or six of us that watched some of the players from the 20s, 30s, and 40s and those eras, decades. We had a lot of great conversations about the games that we saw, the players that we saw, the way the game was played, comparisons, comments, and so forth.
“John did a lot for player safety. I know he was on several committees in the league, advisory and so forth, and studying the safety of the game, player safety. I know he’s instrumental in a lot of those changes, improvements to help player safety, specifically the defenseless receivers and protecting the quarterback, things like that. Just a very well-rounded person that had a great love of life, love of football, love of the history of football. He was always such an enjoyable person to be around and converse with unless you were standing across the field from him. That was a little different story. . . . He put it all together. Great person. Multiple great careers. Most importantly, just a great influence on the game of football and professional football. He was a good friend.”
Belichick recognizes that Madden’s influence spans decades.
“He affected multiple generations,” Belichick said. “Again, I just think it’s unique in the different ways that he was such a big part of the game, from coaching to the Madden game, to broadcasting, to being involved in rule changes for the safety of the players, increased diversity in hiring, things like that. He touched a lot of areas and all of them really, I think, start with the betterment of the game. Obviously, as a coach, you’re trying to help your team. You’re not trying to help all the other teams, 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, all the other stuff that came on top of it . . . what a man. What a career.”
And that man was one of the very few who could captivate Belichick himself.
“I think any time he spoke, I listened,” Belichick said. “Whether that was in private conversation, group meeting, or a forum where other people spoke. For example, on a rule change or something like that or on a conference call with the Top 100, I always wanted to hear what he had to say. He always had a good perspective. . . . You could always see where he was coming from and it was always, I felt like, what was best for the game and a very unselfish view. He presented it that way and I think that’s why he was so respected, because his motivation was for the game, the fans, the entertainment, the safety, and all the things that are right about football. That’s what he stood for. . . .
“[H]e asked a lot of questions. He was always interested to hear what the point of view was. Sometimes, he agreed with it. Sometimes, he didn’t, but I know in our conversations, there was a lot of mutual respect there. I could see where he was coming from if it was maybe a little bit different from the way I was thinking and vice versa. I think that’s healthy. It’s very healthy, but he was a great listener. I would say I always enjoyed the production meetings with John because his insight into the game was very good. A lot of questions he would ask, sometimes, kind of had a lot of depth to them. Maybe it was something I hadn’t thought that much about. He noticed it and said, ‘Hey, what about this?’ or ‘What about that?’ You start thinking about it and say, ‘Well, that’s pretty observant. I might’ve even missed that.’ Maybe it was something that one of our opponents was doing, why they were doing it, or how we were doing something. Then, that stimulated another line of thought. He was great to work with and just loved football, just loved football. I think he loved every aspect of it. Coaching 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 it in an entertaining way as well. Just a wonderful man with a really great perspective that did a lot for the game.”
That’s a fitting tribute from Belichick, one of the most respected figures in the game. And Madden arguably is the most respected of all, for everything he did and the way he did it. His impact on the NFL extends from the past to the present to the future. That’s never happened with any other figure in the NFL, and it quite possibly may never happen again.