Football lost one of its most iconic figures Dec. 28 with the passing of Pro Football Hall of Famer John Madden. He was 85 years old.
Madden had an incredible life in football – a life that made him say he never worked a day in his life, and that he was “the luckiest guy in the world” during his Hall of Fame induction speech. He is one of the greatest NFL coaches of all time and one of the greatest football broadcasters of all time. He is arguably one of the most famous, beloved and influential figures in football history.
“Nobody loved football more than Coach,” stated Commissioner Roger Goodell. “He was football. He was an incredible sounding board to me and so many others. There will never be another John Madden, and we will forever be indebted to him for all he did to make football and the NFL what it is today.”
Madden never appeared on a football card, but did become part of the early 1990s collecting craze when his All-Madden Team became the focus of a series of annual trading card sets–one that drew on his experience as a former coach.
From Player To Coach
After graduating from Cal Poly, the Philadelphia Eagles selected Madden in the 21st round of the 1958 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, a knee injury before camp ended his career before it started. While he was rehabilitating his knee, he would watch game films with Eagles quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, who would break down what was happening,
Madden got into coaching in 1960 and served as an assistant coach at Allan Hancock College and then San Diego State, where he coached under Don Coryell. Raiders owner Al Davis met Madden while watching a practice and would hire him as the Raiders’ linebacker coach in 1967. He was named the Raiders’ head coach after the 1968 season. At just 32 years old, he was the youngest coach in the NFL at the time.
Madden coached the Raiders for 10 years, becoming the youngest to reach 100 regular season wins, and he retired with the highest winning percentage among coaches who have coached more than 100 games. Although Madden’s teams lost the AFL/AFC championship game six times in his career, he is most often remembered for winning Super Bowl XI over the Minnesota Vikings in Jan., 1977.
Madden joined CBS as a football color analyst in 1979 and worked with play-by-play men Vin Scully, Dick Stockton and others. In 1981, he was paired with Pat Summerall, and the pair became the netowrk’s top broadcasting pair.
Madden and Football Cards
Madden was childhood friends and former teammates with NFL coach John Robinson. In 1984, Robinson advised Madden that he should create an “All-Madden Team”, which would include players who represented the game of football the way he thought it should be played. The first All-Madden Team was a hit, and featured football’s toughest players, unsung heroes and team-first, selfless stars.
The first John Madden Football video game appeared in 1988 and was a game exclusively for computers. It could be played on the Apple II and MS-DOS platforms. It was a hit for any football fan with a Commodore 64. It was produced by a San Francisco-area company founded in 1984 called Electronic Arts. As EA Sports evolved, so did the Madden football games.
At the same time as Madden’s video games were in their infancy, the football card market was taking off. Pro Set and Upper Deck became two of the big players in the market. Action Packed, a football-only card company making unique embossed cards, also emerged on the scene.
From 1990-95, Action Packed produced All-Madden Team cards. The 1990 set was a 58-card issue that featured the company’s unique embossing technology. From 1991-94, Action Packed produced both All-Madden and All-Madden 24K Gold sets. Today, boxes and singles are generally in expensive. Hundreds have been sold on eBay in the wake of Madden’s death.
The All-Madden cards got a lot of mainstream media attention, and the person responsible for the attention was Laurie Goldberg, a long-time public relations executive who worked for Action Packed at the time. Goldberg was instrumental in generating hype around Action Packed’s All-Madden cards at a time when the hobby was at its peak.
Although Madden was not always easy to work with, Goldberg has fond memories of working with the legendary coach and promoting a trading card set built around the All-Madden Team.
“I’m not sure who had the idea to do the All-Madden set,” she said. “Action Packed started with just football, so we really tried to own the sport.”
The thick, premium embossed cards with gold foil stamping were revolutionary at the time. Finding niches like the All-Madden set were key to the company’s success.
“We had a set of Monday Night Football cards also,” Goldberg said. “It included Howard Cosell and the gang wearing their hideous yellow jackets.”
Madden, by this time, was well-known for his bus, the Madden Cruiser. He was claustrophobic and also had anxiety issues with flying. In 1960, a plane carrying members of the Cal Poly State football team crashed. Sixteen players, a student-manager and a booster were killed in the crash. Madden was close to several people who lost their lives in the crash. He would later say that it was claustrophobia, not the crash or a fear of flying, that caused the anxiety attacks he began to suffer in 1979.
Goldberg said that the Madden Cruiser became a key part of Action Packed’s PR plan.
“John Madden had a lot on his plate and he wasn’t available to do press events for us, so I used the bus driver,” Goldberg said. “He became the most famous bus driver since Ralph Kramden.”
While the former coach loved the Madden Cruiser, it was not for everyone.
“I found out from others that no one liked riding the bus,” she said, “other than Madden.”
Goldberg became a vice-president at Pinnacle when the Dallas-based company purchased Action Packed. They had also purchased Donruss-Leaf and had become a juggernaut in the hobby. Goldberg was responsible for hundreds of national media hits for the company, leveraging her relationships with USA Today and other key outlets in the pre-internet, pre-social media era. She was responsible for the Score Baseball poster that was pinned to the wall above George Costanza’s bed in Seinfield episodes.
After Pinnacle’s demise, Goldberg moved to Atlanta to become VP of Cartoon Network. She would cross paths with Madden again.
“I never expected to work with him again,” she said. “But he was great on our Super Bowl parody.”
Action Packed was not the only card set featuring Madden. In 2002, Upper Deck had a 35-card EA Sports Madden Bowl insert set. In 2006, Topps had a 20-card EA Sports Madden insert set. Playoff/Panini worked with EA Sports for 2007 Donruss Gridiron Gear – EA Sports Madden (28 cards), a 10-card Donruss 7-Eleven Madden 09 promotional set, and a 2010 Panini Madden 11 Drew Brees autographed card serial numbered to 50.