Hated Madden turned into beloved Madden
Fire up the Telestrator, please. It's time to explain my feelings about John Madden as he enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame:
OK, here's this fat guy on the Oakland sidelines (circle the big man in the black shirt); he's the coach. And there's this kid over here (circle the 9-year-old wearing the Broncos jersey); he hates the fat guy. He'll end up loving the fat guy, but not now. No way. Right now, that seems impossible.
Mostly he hates the fat guy's team (circle the Raiders logo), because it's the 1970s and his team can't beat the fat guy's team under any circumstances.
Here's how the kid remembers the typical game between the two: Denver is winning by less than a touchdown (circle the scoreboard), late. And here's the fat guy's left-handed quarterback, Kenny Stabler (circle No. 12). He's dropping back and -- boom! -- there's Art Shell and Gene Upshaw stuffing Lyle Alzado and Ruben Carter (circle the offensive line). And there's Snake throwing the ball to Fred Biletnikoff (circle skinny No. 25), who has stickum on his sock (circle the stickum) and who perfected the sideline catch and who always -- always -- made big plays when the Raiders were trailing the Broncos. If it's third-and-six, Biletnikoff makes the catch for seven (circle first-down marker). Every time.
And now -- whap! -- there goes Upshaw lead-blocking for Marv Hubbard (circle gaping hole in Denver defense). And there goes Stabler throwing deep to Cliff Branch (circle No. 21, loose in the Denver secondary). And -- bam! -- there's Stabler throwing the winning touchdown pass to Dave Casper (circle the kid in agony).
So the kid's in tears because the fat guy's team has done it again to his team (circle the AFC West standings, which eternally show Oakland ahead of Denver). And the kid's team has never made the playoffs -- not once since it was formed in the old AFL in 1960 -- and the fat guy's team makes it every year and tortures the kid's team along the way.
At one point in their history, the Raiders beat the Broncos 17 out of 18 times. The 18th game was a tie. Total ownership. Most of that occurred when the fat guy was coaching the silver and black.
But nothing was worse for the kid than the last game of the year in 1973, when the Broncos had their first-ever winning season and needed one lousy win to reach the playoffs. And they're playing the fat guy's team in Oakland, and they're down 14-10, with the ball at midfield in the fourth quarter.
And then the Broncos' coach, John Ralston, tries a fake punt. So they snap it to the upback (circle Joe Dawkins, who had a splendid year up to his very moment), and -- boom! -- a hole big enough to drive a Greyhound bus all the way to Omaha opens on one side of the line.
And so Dawkins runs the wrong way, of course. To the other side of the line, where there's a hole big enough to drive a needle with a jackhammer. (Circle Dawkins being enveloped short of the first down).
And now you know what happens next. Boom! Whap! Raiders drive for the clinching touchdown in three plays. (Circle Stabler throwing TD pass to Mike Siani.) Denver comes back to score, but there's not enough time left. Fat guy's team moves on, kid's team is done. Again.
Not that it stuck with the kid or anything. But when he grew up and had a chance to interview Ralston one day in 1992 about other things, he asked him one last question at the end.
About the fake punt.
"Was the hole on the other side as big as I remember it?" the kid asked.
"Oh, you bet it was," Ralston said.
Great. (Circle the kid agonizing anew, 19 years later.)
So the kid hated the fat guy until the Great Catharsis of 1977 (circle bottle of Orange Crush). That demystifying season began the big change.
One of the great days of the kid's life as a fan was when the undefeated Broncos pounded the fat guy's team 30-7 in Oakland, rubbing it in with a fake-field-goal-touchdown-pass to ancient kicker Jim Turner. Linebacker Tom Jackson spoke for the kid and a million other Broncos fans when, late in the game, he bellowed directly at the Raiders coach, "It's over, fat man!" (Circle Jackson yapping.)
The fat guy's team would win the rematch in Denver, but the Broncos won the rubber game in the AFC title showdown, reaching their first Super Bowl. The kid watched it in a state of sustained anxiety in the family room, and wound up conflicted when his team scored a key touchdown that wasn't -- rewarded a score when in fact running back Rob Lytle had fumbled short of the goal line and the Raiders had recovered. (Circle Lytle being popped by Jack Tatum.)
The kid would begin to thaw out his feelings on the fat guy shortly after that, when the fat guy was hospitalized with ulcers. (Circle the fat guy's stomach.) Supposedly he couldn't get over the fumble that wasn't called.
And then -- boom! -- two years later the fat guy was gone. Retired. And it's hard to hate people who aren't there anymore, torturing your team.
And a year after that -- whap! -- here he is in the broadcast booth. And football has never been the same (circle the fat guy circling a fat lineman on his Telestrator).
So the kid's journey from loathing the fat guy to loving him accelerated. Here was this guy who understood the game as well as anyone, and yet he could still have fun discussing it and analyzing it. He could teach a serious fan something one minute (circle the fat guy Telestrating a trap play) and make a casual fan laugh a minute later (circle the fat guy Telestrating mud on players' uniforms).
No one in the gassy history of color commentary -- in any sport -- has ever been so educational and so entertaining. His work with the gloriously succinct Pat Summerall made for the best booth in NFL history, maybe the best in broadcast sports history. (Circle the two doing any NFC championship game in the 1980s.)
The NFL in the '80s simply wouldn't have been as good without the fat guy. We wouldn't have appreciated the powerful cohesion of the Hogs without him (circle the fat guy Telestrating John Riggins running the counter trey). We wouldn't have grasped fully the sheer mayhem created by Lawrence Taylor (circle the fat guy circling No. 56 coming off the edge). We wouldn't have understood the impenetrable nature of the Bears' 46 defense (circle the fat guy Telestrating Mike Singletary filling a hole and crushing a running back).
And as much as Joe Montana's career deserved to be set to music, it was pretty splendid when set to the fat guy's sound track.
The fat guy understood the value of what happened in the trenches, and communicated that to a nation of skill-position watchers. He celebrated the overlooked fundamental arts of blocking (circle Erik Williams mauling a defensive lineman) and tackling (circle Ronnie Lott cremating a running back).
The fat guy made us eat our football vegetables. And made us like it.
The kid played football through high school, but still had the same bad habit as everyone else who watches the game on TV: following the ball first, and occasionally losing track of it in play fakes and other backfield deceptions. The fat guy taught him -- and millions of others -- how to be smarter football fans by following the offensive linemen.
They'll tell you where the ball is going, the fat guy said. Especially the guards. (Circle Joe Andruzzi blocking down on a nose tackle.)
With the fat guy Telestrating and rewinding the subtleties (circle the rush end's swim technique), replays became better than live action. With the fat guy's vernacular, cadence and mannerisms taking hold, poor-man imitators sprouted everywhere (circle Matt Millen and Bill Maas).
Soon the fat guy was bigger than he'd ever been as a coach - and as a coach he'd been tremendously successful. (Circle the fat guy being carried off the field after winning Super Bowl XI.) Soon, he was the most popular voice in the most popular sport in America. (Circle the eponymous EA Sports game.)
And then -- boom! -- one day at the Super Bowl a few years ago, the kid got a chance to ask the fat guy a couple of questions. The kid has interviewed plenty of elite athletes -- but this was different.
The kid felt a few butterflies (circle the kid's stomach), but he didn't feel animosity toward the fat guy anymore. And he refrained from asking about the fake punt.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.