John Madden, legendary football coach, analyst, and color commentator for the NFL, has a fear of flying. This was not always the case, as Madden flew on commercial flights until 1979. Those who like to dissect the cause of his fear of flying have developed some theories.
Was it the deadly crash involving Cal Poly’s football team?
One theory about the cause of John Madden’s fear of flying involves the 1960 plane crash where 22 people died, including 16 Cal Poly football players. Madden had graduated from Cal Poly just two years prior, and some of his friends died in the crash.
Another theory is that his fear of flying came from a panic attack he had on a flight from Tampa. However, according to Imagine That, Madden says his aversion to flying comes from claustrophobia. He also finds flying negative because when he’s in the air, he can’t enjoy the beauty of our country.
How did Madden become a football coach?
Madden’s coaching career began at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, California. In 1962, the college promoted him to head coach. Then, San Diego State hired him as an assistant defensive coach. The team became a “top small college in the country” under his leadership.
This led Al Davis to hire Madden to coach the Oakland Raiders, reports the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Raiders played in Super Bowl II that year. When head coach John Rauch resigned, Madden took his job. At the time, Madden was the youngest head coach in pro football.
From 1969-78, Madden was head coach of the Raiders. During the first seven years, the team reached but lost five AFC games. In 1973, just when it seemed the Raiders would win the SFC championship over the Steelers, Franco Harris’ “Immaculate Reception” put the Raiders on the losing side of football lore.
It wasn’t until 1978 that the Raiders, led by Madden, were able to win a Super Bowl. The beloved coach decided to go out on top, leaving the job the next year.
When did Madden start traveling by bus?
When Madden stopped flying in 1979, he began traveling by Amtrak. Madden hosted Saturday Night Live in the early ’80s, and the show did a short video of him traveling by train to NYC.
In 1987, the Greyhound Bus Lines made a deal with Madden. In exchange for promoting Greyhound, they supplied him with a customized bus. It became known as the “Madden Cruiser.” In the first year in use, Madden logged over 55,000 miles.
The “Madden Cruiser” had a private bathroom and bedroom with a queen-sized bed, two TVs, a state-of-the-art communications and entertainment system, and a full kitchenette. Madden traveled by bus during his entire broadcasting career. Because of this, he never worked the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, nor did he ever call any preseason games outside of North America.
What famous people joined Madden on his bus, and where is the bus now?
Over the years, many CBS broadcasters, like Pat Summerall, rode with Madden. Even CBS top brass Laurence Tisch and Neal Pilson hitched a ride. After the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, Madden offered Olympic Champion ice skater Peggy Fleming a ride to Los Gatos, California from New York because all flights were grounded.
Oddly, the person closest to Madden, his wife Virginia, did not enjoy riding in the Madden Cruiser. Instead, she flew to Madden’s destinations.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame “inducted” the Madden Cruiser in 2018. It made its official trip to the Hall of Fame with the new Vince Lombardi Trophy onboard. The museum displayed the trophy for a few weeks before heading to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII.
However, the Cruiser is permanently displayed at the Pro Football Hall of Fame for all NFL and John Madden fans.