By: John Molori
August 09, 2006

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THIS WEEK:

- Madden's musings
- Troy's talk
- NBC entrance

Hall of Fame speeches bring out best in NFL analysts; Madden thanks players; Aikman reflective; NBC's triumphant return

CANTON, OH - NBC "Sunday Night Football" analyst John Madden is seldom at a loss for words. Be it a game, commercial or interview, talking seems to be as vital to Madden's existence as breathing.

Being in Canton, Ohio this past weekend and watching Madden's Hall of Fame induction speech on Saturday shed new light on the robust veteran coach-turned-broadcaster. With great fame and a boisterous persona, Madden has become almost a mythical figure, to some, even a caricature. His speech showed that he is indeed real.

Madden was inducted into the Hall as a head coach of the Raiders from 1969-78. His presenter, Raiders owner Al Davis, reminded those in attendance how Madden more than matched up to his fellow sideline legends.

"John coached against many who are enshrined in this Hall of Fame," said Davis. "Don Shula, Chuck Noll, Tom Landry, Weeb Ewbank, Sid Gillman, Hank Stram, Bud Grant and others who are enshrined in this Hall of Fame.

"In his 10 years of coaching against these great legends, he won more games than he lost against every Hall of Fame coach in this great shrine. His record was 36-16-2 against those great coaches."

Davis also noted that Madden's Raiders were 11-1-1 on ABC's "Monday Night Football" and reminisced about Davis's sideline presence stating, "He loved the game. He loved the Raiders. You can see it today in everything he does with his games and his TV work.

"The chill goes through my body seeing John prowling those sidelines, yelling at officials, that flaming red hair, those arms moving left and right, screaming at Raider players, and most of all, winning football games."

Master of Ceremonies Chris Berman of ESPN aptly said of Madden, "He has made fans of football people who might not be fans of football."

Madden was somewhat dumbfounded at the Hall of Fame experience. He stated, "Right now, I'm numb, you know, a tingle from the bottom of my toes to the top of my head."

An emotional Madden glanced at the Hall of Famers on stage and tossed them into the spotlight. "I was reading the NFL stats and history book," said Madden. "When you don't fly, you read big old thick books like that. The first page in the chapter of history was a list of the Hall of Famers. I said, "˜ That's right, they got it.'

"The players that played before us, the players that played when they didn't have face masks, when they had leather helmets, the players that played in smaller stadiums, they laid the foundation for this great game, and we should never forget it.

"Sometimes we tend to get caught up in the players now. Honor your history. Bring back the Hall of Famers. Let the fans show their appreciation to the history."

Straying from the here and now, Madden conjured up a whimsical view of the Hall of Fame. He stated, "I started thinking about this after I got voted into the Hall of Fame. The more I think about it, the more I think it's true.

"I think over in the Hall of Fame at night, there's a time when all the fans and all the visitors leave the Hall of Fame. Then, there's just the workers. It gets down to there's just one person. That person turns out the light and locks the door.

"I believe that the busts talk to each other. I can't wait for that conversation, I really can't. Vince Lombardi, Reggie White, Walter Payton, we'll be there forever and ever talking about whatever. That's what I believe and no one's ever going to talk me out of that."

Madden's affection for Lombardi surfaced before his induction speech when I asked him his reason for leaving coaching in 1978 at just 42 years old.

He answered, "I coached for ten years and won a championship (Super Bowl XI). My idol was Vince Lombardi and he coached for ten years and won championships. I thought that's just what you do. You coach for ten years, then move on."

While football is known as a blue collar, working man's game, Madden said that work has never been a part of his life. "When I was like a sophomore in high school, I was playing on three or four different teams. I told my dad I'm going to drop a couple of these because I want to get a job to make some money.

"My dad said, "˜I'll give you a couple bucks, go caddie, make a few loops, you'll be OK. Don't work. Once you start work, you're going to have to work the rest of your life.' My dad worked hard. He's up there laughing right now because I listened to him and I continued to play, and I have never worked a day in my life. I went from player to coach to a broadcaster."

Madden referenced his broadcasting career stating, "My years at CBS and FOX were pretty good with Pat Summerall, then I go to ABC and now NBC with Al Michaels. I'd say I'm the luckiest guy in the world."

In a funny moment, Madden asked his former players in attendance to stand up. Very slowly, the 30 or 40 former Raiders began to rise. In response to their lack of speed, Madden stated, "30 or 40 years ago, they were ready to hit anything. Let's go to the party. Let's do all this. Now they want to sit down."

Outside the broadcast booth, Madden's most memorable TV moment might have been in the aftermath of his Super Bowl XI win over the Vikings when he was carried off the field by his players.

Remembering this moment on Saturday, Madden said. "I was told it took five or six guys to lift me up, then they dropped me, but that's OK. You carry him off for a while, boom, you dump him on the ground.

"Today feels like the second time in my life that I'm being carried off the shoulders of others, hundreds of friends, coaches, players, colleagues and family. This has been the sweetest ride of them all." Amazing Aikman

Known as a staid rock of stability as a Cowboys quarterback (1989-2000) and as an analyst on Fox, Troy Aikman's Saturday induction speech included several moments where he was moved to tears. Clearly, Aikman's veneer of the chiseled stoic icon was overcome by the emotion of the moment.

Aikman got emotional when he called his presenter, former Dallas offensive coordinator Norv Turner, the big brother he never had. He also wept as he introduced his wife and family.

On a hot and humid Ohio afternoon, Aikman was the last of six inductees to speak. He was gallant in giving credit to those in attendance stating, " I'm very pleased to see all the people who have stuck around here today.

"I know it's been a long day. I know it's hot. I know a lot of you have come to watch other inductees and have reason to leave, but you stuck it out, and I appreciate that very much."

Of fellow inductees Madden, Warren Moon, Reggie White, Harry Carson and Rayfield Wright, he offered, "It's an honor to be a member of a Hall of Fame induction class that includes five men for whom I have such admiration and respect. I would have loved to have had any one of them on my team."

Aikman also singled out CBS reporter Lesley Visser, the first female recipient of the Hall's Pete Rozelle Award for media. "She brought respect and professionalism to the field of journalism for her work in print and broadcasting," said Aikman. "It makes me proud to be in her company today."

Aikman lauded owner Jerry Jones, coach Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer and his fellow Dallas "Triplets" Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith. However, like he did with the sweltering crowd, he gave credit to lesser renowned talents.

Said Aikman, "I had a chance to play with, guys such as Jay Novacek, the irreplaceable and unsung hero of our franchise, Daryl "Moose" Johnston, the blue collar guy who I'm not ashamed to say was better at his job than any other player on the team was at theirs, including myself.

"I was also protected for many years by one of the best offensive lines of all time, Mark Tuinei, Nate Newton, Mark Stepnoski, John Gesek, Erik Williams, Larry Allen, and Kevin Gogan. As talented as all of these players were, however, they were even better teammates."

A visibly moved Aikman closed by doing what so many more professional athletes should do. He acknowledged the fact that he has been blessed with such a good life.

"When times were tough," said Aikman with his voice crackling. "Or the grind and the rigors of the season were beginning to take their toll on me, Norv Turner would say, "˜Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that these are the jobs we've always dreamed of having.'

"All I ever wanted was to play pro sports. A lot of kids want that, but very few actually get the chance. I was able to live a dream. I played professional football. That I was able to do so and wind up here today with all these great men in gold jackets, well, it's almost too much to believe. I am humbled to be welcomed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame."

Madden and Aikman were simply terrific in their speeches. The same can be said for the Hall of Fame's VP of communications and exhibits Joe Horrigan and his staff.

From press conferences to events to information and stats, Horrigan, information services manager Pete Fierle and a host of communications personnel deserve credit for their support and expertise.

Back in business

NBC made a dazzling return to the NFL stage with Sunday night's Raiders-Eagles Hall of Fame Game. Madden, still visibly giddy about his induction on Saturday, was his usual booming self. Many critics say that Madden has lost his touch in the booth.

I think the phrase "familiarity breeds contempt" applies here. Madden remains a comfortable and still knowledgeable broadcasting presence, someone I like inviting into my living room each week.

Andrea Kremer's debut as NBC's sideline reporter was smashing. I was on the sidelines and observed Kremer work her craft, talking to people and chasing down unique angles. Watching the broadcast later, I saw the fruits of her labor.

She had a terrific interview with Donovan McNabb and was not afraid to discuss ex-Eagle Terrell Owens. Mid-interview, the broadcast returned to the game, but Al Michaels then went back to Kremer and McNabb. The Eagles QB told Kremer that, post-Owens, the team wants to get back to playing "family football, where you trust the guys around you."

Kremer also did a fun interview with 6'6" Cowboys' inductee Rayfield making fun of the height difference between the reporter and the legendary offensive lineman. Her best work came near the end of the game when Eagles running back Bruce Perry was injured and lay motionless on the field for several minutes.

Perry was eventually stabilized and taken off the field on a stretcher. Shortly thereafter, Kremer reported that Perry had lost feeling in his arms and legs for a time, but regained motion and had been diagnosed with a concussion.

Kremer brought an air of experience and calm to the sidelines. All too often, sideline reporters try too hard to dig up anything just for the sake of airtime. Kremer's segments were high quality.

During Perry's injury, Michaels and Madden were effectively subdued. Madden did not reference the paralyzing preseason injury that Patriot Darryl Stingley suffered against Madden's Raiders in the 1978 preseason, but the air was eerily similar.

Overall, NBC's production was top-notch. The network placed its in-game score and time graphic at the bottom of the screen, preferable to the top-screen mode that other local and national networks employ. The network also interspersed the game with highlights of the Hall of Fame inductees' speeches.

At NBC's field level anchor desk, Cris Collinsworth interviewed inductee Warren Moon and delved into Moon's role as the first African-American QB to be enshrined. Director Drew Esocoff nicely cut away to shots of Donovan McNabb and Aaron Brooks, two men for whom Moon paved the way.

A highlight of the broadcast came when Collinsworth said he expects inexperienced Chargers' quarterback Philip Rivers to have a great year in his first season as a starter. "He is not a rookie," said Collinsworth. "He has a couple of years under his belt."

Madden challenged Collinsworth stating, "Has a couple of years of doing what?" If the Hall of Fame Game is any indication, NBC will make a seamless and quite welcome return to the NFL television landscape.

John Molori's columns are published in The Boston Metro, Patriots Football Weekly, ColdHardFootballFacts.com, Boston Sports Review, New England Ringside Magazine, Boston Baseball Magazine, Methuen Life, TheRemyReport.com, PatsFans.com, BostonSportsReview.com, BostonPressBox.com, BostonSportsMedia.com and BostonSportz.com. Email John at MoloriMedia@aol.com.


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