Super Bowl LVI is warmup act for John Madden’s Raiders memorial Monday

NFL All Super Bowl Winners 1967-2018
NFL All Super Bowl Winners 1967-2018

Oakland, CA February 5, 1969 - New Raiders coach John Madden talks to his team on the sidelines. (Russ Reed / Oakland Tribune Staff Archives)

It’s Super Bowl week again in Los Angeles, where, after a 29-year break, a Lombardi Trophy coronation is coming Sunday night.

“That’s the ultimate, winning the Super Bowl,” the late John Madden once said.

Madden won his one and only Super Bowl 45 years ago at the Rose Bowl. Sunday, it will be the Rams’ Sean McVay and the Cincinnati Bengals’ Zac Taylor vying for their first Lombardi Trophy at SoFi Stadium.

In fact, the previous seven Super Bowls in the Los Angeles area made first-time winners out of Pro Football Hall of Fame coaches Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Joe Gibbs, Bill Parcells, Jimmy Johnson and, of course, Madden; Chuck Noll won his fourth and final there.

Once Sunday night’s winner is crowned, the NFL world won’t exactly recess. Coaches and players, from past and present, will join Raider Nation and other fans on Monday night in Oakland at the Coliseum to celebrate Madden, who passed away Dec. 28 at age 85.

“His love of the game never waned,” Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday in a phone interview.

Rivera is among those invited to talk Monday night, along with Steve Mariucci, Art Shell, Andy Reid, Matt Millen, Lesley Visser and Stan Bunger, the latter of whom accompanied Madden’s morning hits on KCBS 740-AM. Video tributes and classic replay footage also will be part of the program.

In true Madden fashion, local youth will benefit from proceeds off Monday’s $32.14 tickets – a cost symbolic of the 1976 Raiders’ 32-14 win over the Vikings in Super Bowl XI at the Rose Bowl.

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Madden had no need for a big speech prior to his biggest win, and he had no doubt it was coming.

“I just said, ‘Hell, we’re ready for this,” Madden recalled clear as day, albeit 40 years, in an exclusive interview with this newspaper before his 2006 Hall of Fame enshrinement.

To understand what this week was like 45 years ago for him, here is how he retold it in that interview, along with what Al Davis recalled in a separate sitdown:

Madden: “I really believed the whole time that if this was going to be the best time in your life and you’re going to look back at it for the rest of your life, that this was the highlight of your career, it’s going to be the Super Bowl, and it’s only going to be winning the Super Bowl. It’s not going to be losing the Super Bowl. So if that’s going to be the highlight of your life, then act like it and get ready to play the best game of your life and get ready to enjoy it.

“I remember practicing on Thursday (at UC Irvine) and we went out there and it had been wet, it was raining. My thing was I wanted a bunch of footballs, because I never wanted my quarterback to throw a wet football, because it would slip out of his hands. I had all kinds of footballs.

“When you’re at the Super Bowl, you can get anything you wanted. That whole practice — we passed one-on-one, skeleton, team — only one ball hit the ground. One ball. It was a ball out on the left to Dave Casper. It went through his hands and hit the ground. So that was as perfect a practice I’ve ever been involved in. Stabler was as good as I’ve ever seen him and no one made a mistake.

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“So I remember walking off the field after that practice and I said to myself, ‘You’ve got to this point. They’re ready. Just don’t screw em up. Because they’re ready.’ I did a very little talk and I did very little. Friday we went through special teams, didn’t do much on Saturday.

“A big game like that, you don’t have to fire them up. We had so much confidence. We practiced at UC Irvine and stayed at Newport Beach. We just matched up so well with (the Vikings).

“I remember the night before I talked with Al on the phone. I said, ‘Al, we’re going to kill them.’ (Davis responded) ‘Don’t say that! Don’t say that!’ ‘We’re going to get them.’

* * *

Davis used to call Madden every Saturday night on the eve of games. He promoted a 32-year-old Madden in 1969, after two years as linebackers coach. Davis stuck with Madden despite the Raiders finishing a win shy of the Super Bowl in five of seven years, before they broke through in 1976.

Here is what Davis said in 2006 when recalling his Super Bowl eve phone call with Madden and whether he had any doubts of winning the first of the Raiders’ three Super Bowl titles.

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“No, I thought we could do it,” Davis said. “I thought personally we were going to win some other championship games. We just didn’t get it done. The agony of defeat is unbelievable.

“He told me, I don’t remember the exact words, ‘We’re going to kill them. We’re going to get these guys.’ That’s the way he talked. I thought we could get them, too.

“We had a defensive backfield that was pretty good. That God damn Willie Brown might be the best that’s ever played.

“(Madden’s) records are unparalleled. He had 10 years of greatness. We had adversity. We couldn’t get over the hump. We went several years where in big games we’d get beat at the end.”

Then came Jan. 9, 1977.

“That’s the ultimate, Winning the Super Bowl,” Madden said. “Then it’s, ‘What are you going to do next?’ ”

Madden coached two more seasons, and he retired from a 10-year stretch that featured a .759 winning percentage (103-32-7) that still ranks the best in modern NFL history. After that, he became football’s ultimate pitchman, from the broadcast booth to commercials, from a video game to philanthropic endeavors, from a consultant to current coaches to a doting grandfather of five.

Monday night will rekindle those memories at the Coliseum. A Super Bowl win may have punctuated his career but it was one day in a lifetime of Madden excellence.

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