Thanks, Coach pic.twitter.com/wnv8W1pIjJ
— EA SPORTS (@EASPORTS) December 29, 2021
When one door closes, another opens – and for John Madden, the door that closed was a knee injury that practically ended his pro football career in his first year as a professional player. But rather than calling it a career-ending injury, perhaps it’s better to call it a career-starting injury, as it actually ended up starting Madden in his journey to become one of history’s greatest coaches.
John Madden passed away recently at the age of 85. You may know him as a Hall of Fame American football coach, Emmy-winning sportscaster, or through his video games series Madden NFL but you probably didn’t know that the start of Madden’s football career wasn’t an auspicious one.
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In 1959, in his first year as a pro football player for the Philadelphia Eagles, Madden suffered a devastating knee injury during practice. His doctor told him that he wouldn’t play that year, but maybe he could play the next. That didn’t sound very confidence inspiring to Madden, but he dutifully went through his physical therapy sessions with the team’s staff, which were held early in the morning so he could be out of the way when the players showed up to train.
It was during those early mornings that the then 23-year-old rookie Madden noticed that quarterback Norm Van Brocklin would come into the dark locker room to watch game films that he played on an old movie projector. Van Brocklin would watch and study the games for hours, and Madden would sit quietly in the back of the room to watch him watch the games.
One morning, Van Brocklin noticed the red-headed Madden and said, “Hey, Red. Come up here and watch it with me.” From then on, Madden would sit with the future Hall of Famer quarterback, and learn from him how to analyze the game of football at a deeper level.
The next year, Madden’s knee was still not fully healed so he went back to school to get his teaching credential. To earn some extra money while pursuing his degree, Madden took a job as a student-teacher at San Luis Obispo Junior High School. The high school was looking for an assistant football coach, so Madden’s first coaching experience was actually to teach 50 high school kids how to play football!
Reference: Madden: A Biography by Bryan Burwell and Pat Summerall