In their song, “Live Free,” Son Volt sings, “The season has changed; I want to see you in it; The lights that shine are caustic without you.” As a deeply religious and spiritual person, seasons are important to me. Because I’ve lived in various places where seasons come and go in different ways, I often look to other seasonal markers that are familiar to most of us, the crack of the bat, the first tailgate (be it in warm or cool weather), daylight savings time…. For me, the voice of John Madden served as one of those seasonal markers, and to rework Son Volt, a season has changed…permanently.
Hall of Fame coach and commentator John Madden announced his retirment earlier today. My appreciation of Madden transcends his coaching accomplishments and longevity as a broadcaster, even though these inform that appreciation. In a very real way, Madden was not just the voice of professional football, but the voice of Thanksgiving…of Fall. Unlike other sports, I will watch a “bad” matchup because I love football. I would watch an exceptionally bad Monday Night Football…and later Sunday Night Football…event because I knew Madden would be broadcasting. Sometimes, I’d just have the game on in the background…Maddenisms a soundtrack to reading, writing, or studying.
Madden represents a dying breed of sportscasters and commentators whose pure love of the sport transcends their attempts to be cool, hip, or “in” with both athletes and fans. Madden’s career as a broadcaster was always in service to the sport and never distracted from it (intentionally). Dick Vitale exhibits a similar enthusiasm, but occasionally, one gets the sense that he has become something of a caricature of himself. Nevertheless, it’s hard to find two men who have been such ardent ambassadors and educators of and for their respective sports.
My friends and I, in true 21st century fashion, have already speculated on appropriate replacements. But such a discussion is all too premature. For John Madden, like seasons, is irreplacable. With his retirement, a season has changed, and, unlike Son Volt also sings in the same song, it’s hard to believe that “the rhythm of the river will remain….”