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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

John Madden's hot fun Sunday

The former coach/broadcaster's idea of retirement is pretty much a football fan's dream: watching all the games, all the time.

October 05, 2009|SAM FARMER

PLEASANTON, CALIF. — Welcome to plasma paradise.

Nine massive flat-screen televisions with a cinema-quality movie screen in the middle. A different NFL game on each screen, with the sound coming from the big one in the middle.

Plus six experts, the fathers of eight NFL quarterbacks.

Who but John Madden could watch football that way?

Call it what you like -- Hut-Hut Heaven, Sunday Click-It, Temple of BOOM! -- just don't call it the Man Cave. Not within earshot of Madden, at least.

"I hate the words 'man cave,' " he said. "I don't know what I want to call this place, but I know what I don't want to call it: man cave."

The most reinvented man in sports -- from Super Bowl coach, to ubiquitous broadcaster, to video-game maven -- is trying something new this season: retirement.

Or something like that. Actually, aside from his casual khakis, untucked Oxford shirt and San Francisco Golf Club cap, Madden is in game mode. He's every bit the master coordinator as he welcomes us out of our dream taxi -- the luxurious Madden Cruiser bus -- and onto the dimly lit sound stage at his Goal Line Productions, about five minutes from his Pleasanton home. In his hand is a "play chart" of sorts, a map of which game will be shown on which TV. DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket has helped complete his vision.

"I've had a season all my life. I wasn't going to go away and not watch football," Madden said. "I still love football. We started talking about this" concept of a viewing complex.

On one side of the room is a buffet table, complete with an omelet chef. On the other side, a technician working a control board, making sure the games are on the right screens -- a big play might warrant a game being switched off a 63-incher and onto the nine-by-16-foot screen -- and to ensure no one is ever watching a commercial.

"He gets fired if he ever puts a commercial up there," says the sports world's No. 1 pitchman, only half-jokingly. "Never watch a commercial. Never do it."

Because this was only Week 4 of Madden's new fall routine, he's still working out a system. Sometimes, he has friends and family watching with him. Sometimes, it's more of a corporate endeavor, as was the case Sunday when DirecTV flanked him with the six fathers of quarterbacks: Archie Manning, dad of the Indianapolis' Peyton and the New York Giants' Eli; Bill Palmer (Cincinnati's Carson and Jordan); Andy Edwards (Buffalo's Trent); Chip Brees (New Orleans' Drew); Don Hasselbeck (Seattle's Matt), and John Stafford (Detroit's Matthew). Each dad was outfitted with a headset, allowing him to listen to his son's game.

It takes a novelty such as watching football with Madden for these dads to alter their Sunday routines. To them, this is a never-miss-a-moment business.

"I've had friends call and say, 'Hey, maybe I can come over and we'll watch the Colts.' Naw," Manning said, shaking his head. "Sometimes the phone will ring [during a Colts or Giants game] and I'll just look at the caller ID. Who does that? Not everybody knows."

When he's watching from home, Manning will wear a Colts T-shirt when Peyton is playing, and changes into a Giants shirt for Eli's game. When both sons are playing at the same time, dad layers the shirts.

Andy and Fran Edwards have worked out a system for watching their son when they attend Bills games. Dad will watch the thrown ball, and mom will watch Trent to make sure he didn't get clobbered. Then they'll switch assignments.

When Carson Palmer led the Bengals to a 23-20 overtime victory over Cleveland, his dad could finally exhale. Bill Palmer tilted his head back and sank deep in his chair, getting backslaps from all the quarterback fathers around him.

"It was just draining," the elder Palmer said later, joking: "I hate this game. Why couldn't he be a golfer?"

At Madden's place, the dads watch quietly, contorting in their leather office chairs on pivotal plays, their eyes locked on the wall of screens.

Madden sits in the middle in an ornate wooden chair, a low-slung throne.

"I had a guy here last week with me that could watch all nine screens," he said. "Any time something happened, he'd say, 'Whoa! They scored over there!' And I never saw it . . .

"I said, 'Man, I don't know how you do it.' And he said, 'Well, I have attention deficit. I don't think about it.' He's a bright guy, big businessman, and he says, 'My mind pops. It doesn't focus in.' When I'm watching something, I focus in on it -- 'What's the defense doing? What's the coverage like?' -- so I have to learn how to do this."

His agent, Sandy Montag, certainly finds no fault in Madden's ability to watch and process.

"He sees things that most mortals don't see," Montag said. "With football, he's one of the few people who can see and evaluate what all 22 people on the field are doing. His perception, vision and inquisitiveness are unparalleled."

Madden was recently appointed special assistant to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, a job the old coach is taking very seriously. He's in contact with Goodell's office on a weekly basis, not on issues such as labor and discipline, but on what happens on the field.

"I'm a great one to start a sentence, 'Hey, you know what we ought to do . . . ' " Madden said with a laugh. "Like last week, those uniforms, that was wrong. . . . Who OK'd that? I watched Houston with red jerseys and red pants. That's our brand. Seattle is the next one . . . terrible. [The day-glo green uniforms were] embarrassing. That's not NFL football. Where they got that, I have no idea."

So really, retirement isn't retirement at all. Madden still has his opinions, his vision, his kingdom.

All here at Turduckingham Palace.

--

sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LAtimesfarmer

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