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John Madden, legendary NFL broadcaster and Super Bowl-winning coach, dies at 85

Madden, a recognizable face and voice of pro football for decades, became the franchise name of a hugely popular football video game.
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/ Source: NBC News

John Madden, the Super Bowl-winning coach of the Raiders and a legendary NFL broadcaster, died unexpectedly Tuesday morning, the league announced. He was 85.

Madden was one of the most recognizable faces of football during his broadcasting career, and lent his name to the wildly successful NFL video game series. During his tenure with the Oakland Raiders, the team never had a losing season.

“We all know him as the Hall of Fame coach of the Oakland Raiders and broadcaster who worked for every major network, but more than anything, he was a devoted husband, father and grandfather,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a written statement. “On behalf of the entire NFL family, we extend our condolences to Virginia, Mike, Joe and their families.”

Madden was hired as the Raiders’ head coach in 1969, when he was 32, and he held the position until after the 1978 season. The team had a 103-32-7 regular season record over 10 seasons.

The Raiders made it to the playoffs eight times and won the 1977 Super Bowl, after the 1976 season.

“Nobody loved football more than Coach. He was football. He was an incredible sounding board to me and so many others,” Goodell said in the statement. “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.”

Oakland Raiders' coach John Madden holds the game ball high in the air as he rides the shoulders of Otis Sistrunk (60) and Gary Weaver (52) following Raiders 28-26 victory over Miami, in 1974.Bettmann Archive file / Getty Images

After retiring from pro-football, Madden became a color commentator and analyst, first at CBS in 1979, and later at Fox, ABC’s “Monday Night Football” and NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.”.

“No one has made the sport more interesting, more relevant and more enjoyable to watch and listen to than John,” NBC play-by-play announcer Al Michaels said at the time of Madden’s retirement.

Michaels, who worked alongside Madden on “Sunday Night Football” and “Monday Night Football,” said in a written statement Tuesday working with him was “like hitting the lottery.”

“He was so much more than just football — a keen observer of everything around him and a man who could carry on a smart conversation about hundreds and hundreds of topics,” he said.

In his broadcasting career, Madden was known for exclamations like “boom!” and a down-to-earth style and ability to explain a complicated game in terms anyone could understand.

Madden did not like flying and was known for traveling to games in a converted Greyhound bus, called the “Madden Cruiser.”

He famously helped bring the “turducken” — a chicken stuffed into a duck then stuffed into a turkey — to the nation’s attention, and would designate the “turkey leg award” for the most valuable player in the Thanksgiving game, starting in 1989.

Madden announced his retirement from broadcasting in 2009 after 30 years.

The Raiders, now in Las Vegas, said in a statement Tuesday that few people were as responsible for the popularity of professional football as Madden.

“A brilliant coach. A loyal and trusted friend. A Raider,” the team said, recalling the words of team owner Al Davis at Madden’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.

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Madden was raised in Daly City, California, and graduated from what is now California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, where he played football for both offense and defense.

He was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1958 NFL Draft but a knee injury ended his chances at a playing career.

He became a coach at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, California, and then was defensive coordinator at San Diego State University before joining the Raiders as the linebackers’ coach in 1967.

When he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Madden said of his life and career: “It’s been a great ride. I want to thank everyone who has been along for any part of it.”

Many teams, both in the NFL and other sports, expressed their sadness at Madden’s death and offered condolences.

“When I think of a person of sports who is worthy of the term, ‘larger than life,’ I have always thought of John. And I always will,” Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement after Madden’s death.

Former NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol in a statement called Madden “arguably the most impressive man I’ve ever met.”

“Sunday Night Football is what it is today in part because he came over to NBC,” Ebersol said.

“He’ll be sorely missed by every American sports fan who ever invited John into their living rooms,” he added.

Fred Gaudelli, coordinating producer with Madden on “Sunday Night Football” and “Monday Night Football,” called Madden “an American treasure.”

“No one loved football more than he did and he lived to make it better every day,” Gaudelli said. “It was an absolute honor to work with him and share a 20-year friendship. Like football fans everywhere, I will miss him dearly.”

Madden’s survivors include his wife, Virginia, and two sons, Joseph and Michael. John and Virginia Madden’s 62nd wedding anniversary was two days before his death.

Information about a memorial service will be released when it is available, the NFL said. 

This story first appeared on NBCNews.com.