Ryan Chartrand

In transit across picture-book America, you won’t find him traveling by American Airlines or Amtrak.

John Madden explained that some 50 years ago, when he was in his early 20s, at a fulcrum in his life, he went to college – which ended up being Cal Poly – influencing his now famous life.

When we spoke, he was in Tennessee traveling to Carolina for, surprisingly enough, a football game. He recalled what he said “was a great place to go at that time.” Madden speaks with his blue-collar attitude in his regular booming, larger than life, blunt, no shortage of emphasis added, familiar voice.

Strange, at first, to be talking to a live icon, often heard boisterously coming from a television via video game. What did a sports idol, known for both coaching and color commenting, go through while at Cal Poly? The usual, of course.

College choice is based on varying motives. Madden “lived in the Bay Area, over in the peninsula in Redwood City” and remembered that Cal Poly “was away from home but it wasn’t that far away from home, a good distance, good school, with a good football program.” He said he “wanted to go to a place, you know, that wasn’t a long way away. I wanted to stay in California because I knew I was going to be a coach, and I wanted to graduate from a California school so that I could go into coaching in California.”

Already passionate about his future plans, he wouldn’t have presumed what a preening pedigree of paramount prosperity would charge on, without fumble, with time.

The fundamentals of college: an appetite for tri-tip from Firestone Grill, enthusiasm for dancing at “the Grad,” and promised partying on Hathway Street. Favorite hangout places are a fundamental part of college life. However, Firestone Grill and The Graduate were not around decades ago, and Hathaway was much more barren.

Madden said that his favorite places have “probably all changed.” Something we can all relate to, he “didn’t have a lot of money anyways,” neither did he “have a car.” In such a predicament, Madden “kind of stayed pretty close” being “in the dorms.” When asked which dorm exactly he stayed in, Madden said “dual dorms, right next to the cafeteria, so life was kind of the dorms and the football field – the dorm was right across the street from the football field, so it was kind of the dorms, the football field and the cafeteria.”

Later, he asked whether dual dorms are still around, me strangely replying “no,” giving him the pleasure of a cheeky chuckle, emphasizing his point of how different the school is now.

Since Madden’s years of strolling the Cal Poly campus have ended, these days the majority of his time is dedicated to traveling across the country to interject his witty, often humorous and knowledgeable word on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. Traveling on the esteemed “Madden Cruiser,” he has experienced many memories while crisscrossing the United States.

“Super Bowl week is always very memorable,” Madden said. “Once football season starts,” his job entails commenting on “a NFL game every weekend, so he could never come to a game or a homecoming or an alumni day at Cal Poly.” However, he does tell me that he “used to go back over a 10-year period” because he “had a fundraiser golf tournament.” In the celebrity golf tournament, Madden bestowed his name, time and drive to raise scholarship funds for Cal Poly student-athletes.

Turning the clock forward, on Aug. 5, 2006, Madden welcomed a bid from football’s most prized fraternity. He became one of six to be inducted into this year’s class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Madden’s personal friend, Julie Nostrand, said “Madden was so busy during Hall of Fame week, we only saw him a couple of times.”

She described the events as a hectic and busy pseudo-wedding, with Madden being “the groom,” filled with dinners, parades, induction ceremonies and even a football game he would broadcast the following night.

In his Pro Football Hall of Fame acceptance speech, Madden mentioned his coaches throughout his lifetime, including his Cal Poly coach, Roy Hughes. On what stood out in Madden’s mind from his Cal Poly days when being inducted into the Hall of Fame, he said “you take a lot of people on your shoulders, and you know they go in with you, so you kinda go through your whole career, your whole life and if it weren’t for Cal Poly, I wouldn’t have had a chance to play college football, to graduate, get my master’s degree, to get into coaching; I mean all those things, they’re always with you, so you kinda go through your career, through where one begins. Cal Poly not only gave me the football playing experience but also gave me the education all the way through.”

Largely, family, mixed with sports has been instrumental in Madden’s development. Cal Poly was a blend of the two for Madden, meeting his wife, Virginia, at Cal Poly, his eldest son, Mike, being born on the Central Coast, and playing both college football and baseball.

Currently, he is always busy, “having games to watch, watching everything sports, watching the World Series, Sunday Night Football, Monday Night Football.”

“I mean you are what you are!” Madden said.

In his acceptance speech, Madden notes that as he looks back on his “coaching career, I think of my family.”

His two sons, Mike and Joe, he is so proud of. They are “not only my two sons, but they’re my two best friends,” Madden said. When talking with son, Mike Madden, Harvard graduate, Mike said his dad is “recognizable because he has been in the limelight for so long.

“What makes him unique and what seems to get lost or misplaced is simply how damn smart he is. I remember my senior year at Harvard when somebody was commenting on how many smart people are involved in the Harvard community, students, professors – but in my four years there I never came across anybody who I believe was an intellectual equal or superior to my dad. Through the booms and bangs, and the six-legged turkeys, and the “every-man” qualities, the intellectual firepower is what makes him unique, and what sets him apart.”

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