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John Madden offers five decades of reflection on the NFL

Q AND A

In a wide-ranging interview with The Times, the recently retired broadcaster says he has no plans to get back in the NFL as a coach, owner or consultant.

May 19, 2009|Sam Farmer

John Madden has answered to three names over the course of his five-decade career in the NFL.

To the people who remember him leading the Oakland Raiders to a Super Bowl victory, he's Coach. To those who know him best as a broadcaster, he's John. And to Generation Xbox, he's Madden.

But who is he now?

Madden, 73, surprised the football world last month when he called it a career, retiring after 30 years in the broadcast booth -- and with three years remaining on his contract with NBC. He said it wasn't a health decision, or that his passion for the game had diminished at all. He simply said it was time.

In the immediate aftermath, he spoke about his decision on his Bay Area radio show and also to the Contra Costa Times. Other than that, he said, he hasn't done any interviews since. On Monday, he talked by phone from his Pleasanton office to Times NFL writer Sam Farmer about what he plans to do this season, the effect of Bill Walsh's death on his decision and whether he plans to return to the NFL in any capacity.

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You've had three distinct chapters in your NFL life, as a coach, broadcaster and video game personality. Is there a fourth avenue?

You know how people say, "You have to let it come to you"? I think that whatever is going to come up is going to come to me, and it hasn't yet. People say, "How do you feel now that you're retired?" Well, I'm really not retired yet because this is my normal off-season right now. When I'm really going to feel the effect of retirement is when August comes and I miss that first game in Canton, [Ohio], and then I miss the preseason games, and then the regular-season games. That's when retirement starts.

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Can you see going to an NFL team?

No. I can't see going to a team. I have too much respect for the game and where it is today that there's no way that I'd think I could go to a team, because I wouldn't want to go full time. There's no other job in pro football that's not a full-time job. You're either in it and you're playing, or you're a coach on the sideline watching. There's no place on a team for someone like me.

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How about as a consultant?

A consulting position might work in another profession, but not in pro football. There's no such thing. They give a guy a parking spot and put his name up as a consultant, and in six months they erase the name. Guys are working 16, 18, 20 hours a day. You can't come in and say, "When they go to cover 6 on that side, you ought to run a bob trail and then go play-action . . ." They're not going to listen to that B.S.

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How about buying a team?

That used to be fun. Remember back in the day when owners enjoyed it and they had fun with it? I'd go to those owners meetings back when I was coaching, and I'd say, "Someday if I could own a team, I'd love to do that." But not now. I wouldn't want to be an owner now.

Around every corner there's something to do. They need a new collective bargaining agreement. They have to extend the television contract. You need a new stadium. You have to get bonds, you have to win an election. There's so many things that take you away from football and make you just a businessman in a pretty tough business environment. I don't know that I want to be a part of that, either.

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Legendary San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh did a lot of searching to find his niche after the NFL. Did you ever talk to him about that?

Bill never found it. I was with him the day before he died and we were talking about the old days and decisions he made in his life. He knew he was going to die. And he said at that time that the biggest mistake that he made was retiring after winning the Super Bowl. He said that he was just tired and drained and didn't give himself enough time. He did it too quickly, and then when he wanted to come back it was too late.

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Did you think about that when you retired?

That's why I did what I did. I said I was going to give myself two months, and after two months I said, "I'm going to get out." And I was thinking of Bill the whole time. Don't do it too quickly. Don't do it on the emotion of a Super Bowl or whatever. Just hold off, and that's what I did.

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Do you see the idea of the Raiders and 49ers coming together to play in one new stadium as an idea that could work?

I think it's a possibility. But I think in this economic climate, I don't know how you could get a stadium started. You have to start the whole process now -- who's going to pay for it, how are you going to pay for it, and then getting the land. It would be a long way off.

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What are some of the economic challenges football faces?

Sports has always been a pass-through. You pay for something, and then you pass it through to television, you pass it through to advertisers, or you pass it through to season-ticket holders, luxury boxes and then the fans. Then it all adds up and you take in more than you pass out.

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