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John Madden will forever intertwine generations

By Levi Edwards | Digital Team Reporter

It's rare to find someone who has the same level of significance to people over a span of five decades.

But whether you're a boomer, Generation X, a Millennial or even Gen Z, there is an overwhelming chance you've experienced the legacy of John Madden.

John Madden was on my father's television screen in Birmingham, Alabama, frequently when he was a child. My father grew up a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, cheering for teams that became a thorn in the Oakland Raiders' side for the majority of the 1970s. Madden clashed with the Steelers 11 times as the head coach of the Raiders, including five playoff games. It's easy to forget now given Madden's success, but the Steelers handed Madden and the Silver and Black heartbreaking losses in the playoffs three times – the most notorious, of course, caused by Franco Harris' questionable catch.

"It really took a lot to persevere after the Immaculate Reception," my dad says now. "Once he came back from that, everything else was easy for him. Those battles with the Raiders made the Steelers who we are and the Raiders who they became."

The passion and heart Madden's Raiders played with was too infectious not to respect.

And finally, in 1976, they smashed through. One season after having his Super Bowl dreams shattered once again by the Steelers – Madden and his Raiders rolled off to a 13-1 regular season and got proper revenge over my dad's Steelers with a convincing 24-7 victory in the AFC Championship. The subsequent 32-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI sent a message that rang through all of sports.

"John had some disappointing seasons, but he persevered to the point where he didn't care about all the losses and was just determined to be champion," said my dad. "He's the quintessential example of someone who's willing to go through difficult times and trials to overcome what he did to get to the top. John stands for all of those people who are persistent, and that persistency led to other things."

That win, and Madden's retirement from coaching in 1978, opened up a world of broadcasting where Madden's legacy could live on. Fast forward nearly 30 years after Super Bowl XI, and I'm watching Super Bowl XL — the first NFL game I can remember — in my family's living room in Davidson, North Carolina. Watching the Super Bowl in my household was always a tradition, but this year was special. This was the first time my parents let me stay up past my bedtime to watch the game.

My dad's Steelers were facing the Seattle Seahawks, so obviously the stakes were high. But it was who was in the booth that caught my ear. Listening to Al Michaels and John Madden that night was the first time I could put a face and a voice to the name I knew vaguely from the video game series. And even though I knew nothing about football, never cared about football, never watched football – John Madden hooked me. The vigor and excitement of the way he described the game was second to none. He not only had the expertise, but those anecdotes... those sound effects... it kept a viewer drawn in.

Especially a certain seven-year-old in Davidson, North Carolina.

He made the game simple. He made the game fun.

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Of course, I saw and heard Madden call many more games — even if I didn't understand his significance as a former head coach until my adolescence — and I remember the last game the legend announced vividly: Super Bowl XLIII. Santonio Holmes made my dad, once again, a happy camper that day. And John Madden's legendary broadcasting career, consisting of 16 Emmy Awards, came to a close.

Madden hasn't coached a football game in 43 years. He hasn't commentated a game in 12 years. But his legacy lives on in this and future generations in large part to his namesake video game series. EA Sports reached out to him for his endorsement and expertise to the game, and Madden insisted that they make the video game as realistic as possible. That insistence paid off. The video game series now has more than 30 installments and has made more than four billion dollars since its inception.

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My teenage and college years have consisted a lot of Madden. I'm not going to cap; I'm not the best player, but I've given a lot of my friends the work in Madden, and I'll still give anybody the smoke on any console of their choice.

Anybody except Pavan Lakhat.

Lakhat is a professional eSports gamer who is the No. 4-ranked Madden Pro of all-time. He's also the Raiders' 4x Club Series Champ in Madden with more than $260,000 in winnings. Like myself, he became a fan of John Madden and the game of football through his father with whom he would watch Raiders games with as a child.

"As someone who never got into playing athletics or even football, playing Madden taught me so much of the game I'd watch every Sunday," says Lakhat. "I've built endless memories and connections through the Madden scene, and overall Madden is a part of me. Just like me, the younger generation of Madden players have a great chance and opportunity to make a career or even build a name upon our community with how the scene of eSports is today. I have made an amazing career from simply playing, learning and loving the game of Madden.

"Many others will have similar success in their time playing Madden."

I have a seven-year-old little brother named Eden. He's the same age I was when my parents let me stay up late that February night. He's also in the same position I was, as he's slowly falling in love with the game of football. One day, we'll sit down together in my living room as I put on Madden NFL for us to play. Even though it will be his first time playing the video game, I don't plan on taking it lightly on him. That's what big brothers are for.

Children are very curious though. And eventually he will wonder, along with a generation of children like him, 'Why is this football game called Madden? What's a Madden?'

And with those questions will come a multitude of answers. The achievements, the legacy, the contributions he made to the game of football... all of that will carry on to my little brother's generation and beyond.

John Madden will essentially become timeless.

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