John Madden was known to players for his kindness

Oakland Raiders
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John Madden, who died on Tuesday at the age of 85, was known to yell at players and officials during his days as the Oakland Raiders’ head coach. But he also showed, in quiet moments away from the TV cameras, a decency for the players who sacrificed their bodies for the sport Madden loved so much.

George Blanda, the Hall of Famer who played 26 seasons, longer than anyone else in NFL history, said of Madden in 1979, “Of all the coaches I ever slaved for, John Madden was the kindest and the most thoughtful.”

But it was one act of kindness in particular that many recalled about Madden after his death: The care he showed for Darryl Stingley, a New England Patriots player who suffered a life-changing spinal cord injury in a preseason game against Madden’s Raiders in 1978.

When Madden learned of the severity of Stingley’s injury after the game, he went straight to the Oakland-area hospital where Stingley had been taken. When Madden arrived he was angered to learn that Patriots head coach Chuck Fairbanks was flying home with the rest of the team, as Madden felt that Fairbanks should have stayed with Stingley until Stingley’s family could arrive. A 1979 New York Times article reported that Madden got someone at the airport on the phone and barked, “You get Chuck Fairbanks off that plane.”

A Sports Illustrated profile of Madden in 1983 reported that when Stingley’s family did arrive, Madden and his wife offered to let the family stay in their home and use their car as long as Stingley was in the hospital. Madden also took time away from the Raiders’ training camp to make regular visits to Stingley. After the Raiders played the Broncos in the regular-season opener that year, they flew home from Denver and Madden went straight from the airport to the hospital to see Stingley.

Madden retired from coaching at the end of that season, and although Madden never said so, some who knew him felt the distress he felt about Stingley’s injury contributed to his decision to step away.

Stingley would never walk again, and he died in 2007 at the age of 55. In his autobiography, Stingley wrote of Madden, “I love that man.” Stingley could have been speaking for the whole football world.

29 responses to “John Madden was known to players for his kindness

  1. Madden was a giant of a man. A man loved by many powerful and extraordinary men. A man who carried authority without being a bully. He shared his passions for teaching and for football with the whole world. Sharing your passion like that is a blessing, and his life and the memory of it, will be a blessing to us all

  2. I hope John gets an “Immaculate Reception” from the “Holy Roller amid a “Sea of hands” raised in his honour. RIP coach 🙏

  3. John Madden was worthy of immortality. This could very well be the most enormous loss in football history.

  4. It’s the things you do away from the cameras and spotlights that often have a big lasting impact isn’t it

  5. I don’t say this much as I think the word is ofer overused and misused but that’s class, man. To have that much empathy for a person he didn’t know and his family, that’s something. Could have easily went about his day and nobody would have thought anything different. Rest in peace.

    Also only a completely unrelated and separate note; this story of Madden’s interaction and care for Stingley and the late Charlie Murphy’s( story of his interaction with Stingley years later, makes for a slightly amusing juxtaposition. Rest in peace to all of them.

  6. This is an extraordinary story about Stingley, who was paralyzed on a cheap shot by George Atkinson in a preseason game. If Safeties Atkinson & Tatum had the same dignity Madden did, perhaps Stingley would still be on two feet?

  7. This is a head coach who’s players loved him and played like it. The closest I see to him in today’s game is Andy Reed in K.C.

  8. That is a great story. I was unaware of the Stingley connection. I now have even more respect for Coach Madden, if that’s possible. Thanks for sharing, Micheal David.

  9. What a great story. I always wondered why J. Madden walked away from coaching. RIP coach.

  10. Thanks for this great story about a great and good man. One of many, so keep ’em coming, please.

  11. Such a great story. Out of something terrible in a violent, at times cruel sport you see a leader of men be a man and demonstrate compassion and humanity in ways others are incapable. A great example that lives on.

  12. Wow,what a great story about coach and Stingley, I didn’t know the details. Shows what a true, sweet man and legaend he was. RIP to coach Madden.

  13. What a wonderful man. What I like about him is that he was like a good teacher….Didn’t need to bully anyone to command the respect of everyone in the room.

  14. Seems like he spent his life doing the things he could – mostly unnoticed things – that made the world, or at least a small part of it – a better place.

    That’s the measure of a good man.

  15. What a good story. Hearing about acts of kindness and decency never gets old. Thank you John Maddon.

  16. Life-long Pats fan, this is the first I’ve heard of Madden calling the airport about Fairbanks, and all his visits to Stingly, giving the family use of his home.

    Didn’t think it was possible to have more respect for the man, but he’s a class guy. We should all be more like John Madden.

    Would love to hear about his conversations with Bill Belichick!

  17. Last night, seeing him in the Gold Jacket next to his HOF bust…..those things didn’t even seem big enough to represent his stature in the game. It’s like a wing of the Hall of Fame should be named for him. Or the whole thing.

  18. always respected the man, he was one of if not the only member of the Raider Organization to visit Darryl Stingley in the Hospital after Tatum Paralyzed him. he was a good Man

  19. He was pure class within a pretty classless organization. The fact Tatum refused to spend any time with Stingley, is an NFL embarrasssment.

    It’s a testament to Madden as a person that you do the right thing as a human being.

    Great story.

  20. Madden was someone known throughout the world by everyone even if you didn’t follow football. Retired at 42, still to this day has the best winning % ever in the NFL. He managed to become an even bigger name after his coaching career doing a job he never imagined doing and one he said he never liked before taking it…but then he became the best at it. The voice of the NFL. Watching his documentary on Christmas felt like a eulogy for someone that had passed and sadly a few days later he did. It was awesome to see so many generations discuss him, how much he meant to them. He was universally loved and will be universally missed. Madden was football. RIP to a true legend. BOOM!

  21. There was nothing that was not great about John Madden. My condolences to his family and friends…

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