There are few storytellers in the world of sports more compelling than Al Michaels. Forget his actual in-game calls, from the Miracle on Ice and countless World Series and Super Bowls. Michaels sitting down for an interview, regardless of topic, is must-see TV.
And few in the sports broadcasting world can offer greater insight into the personality and professionalism of John Madden than his Monday Night and Sunday Night Football partner for the final decade of Madden’s broadcasting career.
And, sure enough, last Sunday night, Michaels went on NBC’s broadcast of the Green Bay Packers-Minnesota Vikings game and added yet another chapter to the Madden legacy with an example of how much Madden loved to learn about new things and grow his knowledge base.
But as he spoke, for the vast majority of those watching and listening, there was the moment Michaels revealed a little detail about himself. It left us wondering. Al, do you believe in vegetables?
Madden loved to teach the game, and he had a college course at Cal-Berkeley to prove it
We know him as the Super Bowl-winning head coach of the Oakland Raiders. We know him as the Miller Lite pitchman. Then the broadcaster and video-game titan. As Bill Belichick said after Madden’s passing, his wasn’t just a life well-lived, it was like five lifetimes.
And that doesn’t even include that one year of “Professor” Madden.
Between leaving the Raiders and joining CBS in 1979, Madden took his passion for football, and the teaching of the game, literally to the classroom. The institution was Cal-Berkeley, and the course was “Man to Man Football,” a breakdown of the why of football, for those who wanted to understand more deeply – and just to understand at all – the x’s and o’s that came together to make the game we all watched on Sunday afternoons.
As explained in the Fox documentary, “All Madden,” “Man to Man Football” actually catered mostly to women who wanted to learn the sport, and Madden was in his element explaining the intricacies of the game, with chalkboard diagrams that he would soon bring to the biggest virtual classroom the world had ever seen.
Madden brought that teacher’s mentality to the broadcast booth, and, boom, he was a sensation
It would be fair to say that in his Cal classroom, Madden created the soul of the Telestrator: The use of a chalkboard apparatus to vividly demonstrate how a play was developed, why certain players went in various directions, or threw their blocks or were acting as decoys.
Madden was a maestro at maximizing the effect of the Telestrator technology – they called it the “CBS Chalkboard” when Madden first began deploying it – and soon it became a staple of all color commentating in the NFL. That Madden would punctuate his scribbles with a “Boom!” only made the technology seem more three-dimensional and transfixed the audience as it followed Madden’s every word.
You know what a pooch punt is because Madden taught you. You know one knee equals two feet because you attended his Sunday (and Monday) classes.
Only John Madden could Telestrate the inner workings of a turducken or Troy Aikman’s failed attempt at growing a beard, and have it all seem totally appropriate and vitally important.
But wait, Al, what’s the deal with the non-onion French Onion soup?
We can’t end this particular Madden tribute without going back to the story Michaels told on Sunday night. Forgive us for burying the lead. But in case you were not already aware, Michaels has a life-long aversion to all things vegetables.
That’s right. He might Believe In Miracles, but Al Michaels does not believe in leafy greens. And it is his uncompromised disdain for vegetables that set up his example of Madden’s insatiable desire to learn.
Turns out, one night in Green Bay, Michaels ordered the French Onion soup at a restaurant – without the onions.
Try to picture Madden busting through the wall in a Miller Lite ad and you’ve probably gauged his reaction to Michael’s bizarre order. Madden was so perplexed, he asked the chef to come out and explain how such an order is prepared.
Ah, the fertile, ready-to-learn mind of John Madden, Michaels marveled. Somewhere, that chef probably has a different read on that take.