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Opinion: Remembering John Madden the NFL icon, broadcaster, hotel owner and friend

·5 min read
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  • John Madden
    John Madden
    American football player and coach
  • Anthony Muñoz
    American football player

Like pretty much anyone and everyone who crossed paths with John Madden, I was struck by a bolt of sadness upon learning of his passing on Tuesday.

Then came a flashback.

A little more than two years ago, I saw Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz at an event and found the former tackle absolutely giddy, telling me about the trip to the Bay Area he had planned that weekend. Munoz spent an entire Sunday at Madden’s home in Pleasanton, California, watching football with the legend.

“He was slowing down, wasn’t traveling much. And quite frankly, I don’t think there’s anyone who didn’t love being around him talking football and just talking,” Munoz reflected for USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday, a day after Madden died at 85.

“I sat there for hours in his big chairs, just engaging about the game, about life."

What will you always tell people about Madden?

“Well, they’re going to have to have a little bit of time to sit down and have me talk,” Munoz, 63, replied. “All these young people, you say, ‘Madden’ and they’re like, ‘Let’s go down to the basement and play Madden.’

"For us, you think that but also that he was a crazy-great coach with the Raiders. And then with a lot of people, you think Madden-(Pat) Summerall. The guy probably had more impact on the game than anyone.”

Munoz has a way of connecting the Madden influence. “I joke to some of these young coaches that they must’ve learned how to coach playing Madden," he said.

I told Munoz about the time several years ago when Madden urged me to stay at The Rose, the boutique hotel he owned in downtown Pleasanton, the next time I was in the Bay Area. I’m regretting that I never stayed at the elegant place, but I did manage to have dinner at his hotel’s restaurant.

When I called Madden the next day, he pressed for details about the setting, the service and the food – all of which elicited rave reviews.

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Of course, Munoz stayed at The Rose when he visited Madden in 2019. And it wasn’t the first time. More than a decade ago, Munoz was in the Bay Area for a golf tournament. He didn’t realize the hotel was Madden’s property until he checked in at the front desk and asked why Madden’s photo was on display.

The woman at the front desk told Munoz that if he wanted to see Madden, he could find him there the next morning. Like clockwork, Madden’s routine was to have coffee and read newspapers in the lobby.

“So the next morning, I come down and I hear his voice,” Munoz said. “That was his hangout."

After he retired, Munoz worked for Fox Sports, and although he was primarily a game analyst, he drew two assignments each year as a sideline reporter on the Madden-Pat Summerall crew. He was struck by Madden’s presence during preparation for the games, which included the Saturday night production meetings.

“He was the head coach in that production meeting,” Munoz said. “He did not miss one thing. It just blew me away. If you didn’t go into those meetings and take notes listening to Madden, something was wrong. You weren’t taking your job seriously enough.”

Munoz was a shoo-in, first-ballot Hall of Famer who spent his entire 13-year NFL career with the Cincinnati Bengals. For 11 consecutive seasons, he was named All-Pro and selected to the Pro Bowl.

“For someone who made the Pro Bowl every year, that was great, but it was, ‘OK, when is the All-Madden Team coming out?’ " Munoz said.

Then there are flashbacks that are uniquely Maddenesque.

“I remember we were at dinner one night, talking about cooking,” Munoz reflected. “My mom raised five kids, so we had to cook. We learned to cook. I said, ‘I used to take a potato…’ and I was using my hands like I was cutting it.

“He goes, ‘Hey, hey wait. I know you cook.’

“How do you know?

“ ‘Because most people when they’re talking about cooking, if they’re not going through the motions of what they do when they are cooking, then they’re not cooks. But you’re cutting it with your hand, so I know you can. That’s proof.’ "

Munoz let out a hearty laugh as he recalled how Madden brought a mundane task to life with keen observation. That’s classic Madden, which is why he was so beloved by those who knew him – and those who enjoyed how he could break down the nuances of offensive line play or other elements of the game with a human touch.

“You knew he was so intelligent and knew the game so well, but he didn’t come across like he was talking down to you,” Munoz said. “He was talking with you. He was speaking right to us. When he analyzed it, it was in terms that you could understand.”

And we loved to listen, loved to let it all soak in.

“I know there are a lot of people with some amazing memories of the phenomenal man he was,” Munoz said. “He could relate so well.”

Which is why Madden will be missed dearly … but never forgotten.

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: John Madden memories: NFL icon, broadcaster, hotel owner and friend