The NFL is poorer already for the absence of John Madden, who announced his retirement today.
His appearance belied his ability. He was larger than life and a winner at seemingly everything he touched.
You could dress him in a network blazer and style his hair. A couple of minutes later, he'd be rumpled. He looked like a guy in a bar after work, sleeves rolled up, his attention riveted on the game.
He didn't wear his football heart on his sleeve; instead, it oozed out of every pore.
Madden was an American original who lived the life of every fan who thinks he (or she) knows more than the coach or the announcers working the game.
"I always felt I was the luckiest guy in the world,'' said Madden.
"I remember telling John Robinson at the Hall of Fame, 'This isn't bad for a couple of dufuses who used to hang around at The Relish Bakery in Daly City.'
"This will be the first time since I was a freshman in high school that I'll have a football season off.''
He'll be missed, especially by his NBC Sunday Night Football partner Al Michaels. "John will always have a unique place in the history of pro football," Michaels said Thursday. "No one has made the sport more interesting, more relevant and more enjoyable to watch and listen to than John. There's never been anyone like him and he's been the gold standard for analysts for almost three decades.
"On a personal note, I'll miss working with John on many levels. As a broadcast partner, I could always count on him -- no one ever came to work more prepared. As a friend and confidante, loyalty has always been paramount to John. And all in all, he was simply just great company.
"As John said today, ''it was time.' That's John -- succinct, pithy and right to the point. Working with John for the last seven years has provided memories I'll always treasure. My only regret is that it wasn't 27.''
Michaels wasn't the only one singing Madden's praises on the heels of the announcement.
"I am still in shock about John's announcement," said FOX Sports Chairman David Hill. "He may well be 73, but he has the drive, enthusiasm and mental agility of a 24 year old. John is, and has always been, a powerful force of nature. A heady mix of wisdom, football lore, and boyish glee -- an insatiable curiosity, and the God-given ability to utilize his teacher training skills from so long ago to impart what we see, but don't see, on the football field. He always spoke as a knowledgeable friend, always speaking with and to the viewer, never at the viewer.
"When we started FOX Sports, he joyously embraced the credo Same Game -- New Attitude, and everything we did. Computerized scoring, the Fox Box, the close up audio -- everything we brought to the mix. The first down line, which has become the most necessary part of a broadcaster's tools, was a John Madden idea. I loved listening to him on FOX, I loved listening to him on NBC -- just as I had loved listening to him on CBS. My bet is this retirement will be short, and that amazingly agile mind will be dreaming up new things to do!"
Said former Cowboys quarterback and current analyst Troy Aikman: "John and I first met when I was player and our friendship grew closer when I went into broadcasting. He was always available and had great advice. My induction into the Hall of Fame was made even more special because we went in side-by-side. John's the guy you want to sit next to during a game and, for 30 years, he essentially was. During a broadcast, you'd think he was talking directly to you. I, along with millions of other fans, will miss hearing an old friend on Sundays."
Here's what others are saying:
• FOX Sports President Ed Goren: "John is an original. He's been the face of the NFL for three decades and by far and away the number one sports analyst on television. Amazingly, he's been so dominant that he's never been challenged. John's impact on the way television covers the NFL is a legacy that will last well into the future. During the time I worked with him at CBS and FOX, he wasn't just a lead analyst, John was always our 'head coach.'"
• ESPN and ABC Sports President George Bodenheimer: "John Madden is a true legend and Hall of Famer who has put his imprint on the NFL in so many ways as a coach, broadcaster, ambassador, and as the face of the popular video game that bears his name. We thank him for the years he spent on Monday Night Football, and I personally thank him for his friendship. We will all miss his signature calls, his passion for the game and seeing him in the television booth each week of the NFL season, but his impact on the league and its fans will continue to be felt. I wish him all the best in his retirement."
• FOX NFL analyst Howie Long: "Millions of football fans have come to know John as a media icon who redefined not only NFL broadcasting but sports broadcasting across the board. John's presence at a game came to signify that the game had great meaning to both the viewing audience and more importantly to the players who were participating in the game. Multiple generations of young football fans came to know the game of football and John through his video game. Trust me, I had many a late night waiting for one of my three boys to get home at 1 a.m. because the newest Madden game was being released at midnight. But the thing that I think of when I hear the name 'John Madden' is great coach, Hall of Fame coach. To me, that's truly what defines who John is. He is a teacher and a coach and always will be. NFL Sundays just won't be the same."
• Dick Ebersol, chairman NBC Sports and Olympics, told the story Thursday of how Virginia Madden flew to New York last December, planning to celebrate Anniversary No. 49. It looked as if the NBC "Sunday Night Football'' crew would be staying in New York for two consecutive weeks.
Unfortunately, it was decided at the last minute that the final regular-season telecast would be Denver-San Diego instead of Miami-N.Y. Jets so Madden had a day with his wife in New York before heading West again on "The Madden Bus.''
"I basically left home in the bus in August and didn't come home until January,'' said Madden, who doesn't travel by airplane. "I loved the games, the players, the coaches, the film, the travel and everything about it.''
"At some point you have to do this [retire]. I got to that point.''
Before February's Super Bowl XLIII, which would turn out to be his final game, the Wall Street Journal struggled mightily to pick some nits with Madden's game presentation.
"I wish I'd been as sharp at 40 as he is at 73,'' said the 61-year-old Ebersol. "That article was bull----. He was and is the best. I was in the [production] truck for every game but one that he's done in three years [at NBC]. I heard his attention to detail in off-air exchanges. Anyone who heard him and Al in the pressurized fourth quarter of the Super Bowl knows that he deserved the rave reviews they got for the game. And he was the same way every week, even in a game that turned out to be a slaughter in October.''