by Julie Nostrand
For the past 25 years, when the football season ends and John Madden steps off his infamous Outback Steakhouse Madden Cruiser for the final time, he does so in Pleasanton.
Madden, football coach, broadcaster, businessman and newest inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, counts himself as a proud resident of our city. In fact, Madden has been calling Pleasanton home for 39 years.
Born April 10, 1936 in Austin, Minn., Madden spent most of his youth in Daly City. He attended and played football for Jefferson High School there, then played ball while pursuing a college degree at California Polytechnical State University, San Luis Obispo. A successful college athlete, Madden was drafted by the National Football League's (NFL) Philadelphia Eagles in 1958. A serious knee injury in training camp ended his playing days before he ever took the field as a professional.
The injury may have kept Madden off the field, but it didn't keep him off the sidelines. In 1959, while working on his master's degree, Madden started a string of collegiate coaching positions that took him up and down the field, on the sidelines.
Madden's move to Pleasanton coincided with a new job with the Oakland Raiders. In 1967, he was hired as an assistant coach with the Silver and Black. When the Raiders hired him, his sons, Mike and Joe, were young, and the new Raiders coach wanted to find a neighborhood with lots of kids.
He had looked in Oakland and Alameda, but they were too expensive. So he asked his wife Virginia to drive "over the hill" to investigate Pleasanton and Dublin. She liked Pleasanton, and soon they were owners of a home on Driftwood Way in what was then the new Highland Oaks development.
"I was looking for a house next to the family with the most kids," said Madden. "Our next door neighbors had five, and our sons could walk to school."
The Pleasanton the Madden family found in the late 1960s was different from the Pleasanton of today. The population was less than 20,000. There were no stoplights in town. The land between Hopyard Road and Santa Rita Road often flooded during the winter months.
"Downtown was big," recalls Madden of his early days in town. "If you wanted to go to the bank, you had to go downtown."
The Maddens weren't the only Oakland Raiders attracted to Pleasanton in the late 1960s. The coach and many other long-time residents remember when the likes of Gene Upshaw, Fred Biletnikoff, Ben Davidson, Dan Conners and Art Shell called Pleasanton home and were regularly seen on soccer fields, at swim meets and in front of their homes playing football with the neighborhood kids.
Two years later, at the age of 32, Madden took over the head-coaching job with the Raiders. He became the youngest head coach in the NFL and he never had a losing season. During his tenure, he successfully led the team to victory in Super Bowl XI and amassed an overall winning percentage of .759 that ranks as the highest in NFL history for coaches with more than 100 regular season career wins. He retired from coaching at the age of 42, citing health reasons.
However, when Madden retired from football, he didn't put his feet up and sink into his recliner. From the sideline, he leapt into the broadcast booth providing color commentary for low-profile games on CBS. His infectious enthusiasm and his innovation on the air propelled him and his then-partner, Pat Summerall, to the top broadcast spot for the network after a few years.
With his growing notoriety also came opportunities as a pitch man for brands such as Miller Lite, Ace Hardware and Outback Steakhouse to name a few. Starting in 1990, the broadcaster lent his name and personality to the Madden Football Line of video games produced by EA Sports. Every year, Madden NFL is one of the top selling video games in North America.
Over the years, despite growing multi-media success, the Madden family remained committed to their hometown. Madden became active in the local business community, founding two businesses with his sons, Mike and Joe.
"They're kind of like grandchildren," said Madden of his involvement in the family businesses. "I play with them until they get cranky or need to be changed, then I hand them back to their parents."
The family owns Red Bear Property Development, run by son Mike, and Goal Line Productions, run by son Joe.
Founded in the late 1980's, Red Bear draws its name from the mascots of the Ivy League universities attended by the sons. Mike is an alumnus of Harvard, whose mascot is the Crimson. Joe attended Brown, whose mascot is the Bears. Therefore, the name is a nod to both alma maters.
Red Bear started as an investment management company and evolved into a real estate development business that owns several downtown buildings, including the Rose Hotel and a senior housing project.
Goal Line Productions was founded 15 years ago when Madden started producing the All-Madden Show. The show featured Madden's all-star NFL player picks from the games he'd broadcast during a given season.
At its current location in Hacienda Business Park, the production company owns the largest rent-for-hire sound stage in Northern California. While the sound stage produces many of Madden's commercials, its work isn't limited to one client. Many different production companies use the space for commercials, industrial training films and print ads. As an added bonus, the building includes a commercial kitchen, which is a big selling point for many clients.
Joe Madden, president of Goal Line Productions, said that his dad wanted the studio in Pleasanton for one simple reason. "He didn't want to invest in anything that took him more than 15 minutes to drive to."
For Mike and Joe, the family's commitment to the community also includes football. Mike is entering his 14th season as the head coach for the freshman football team at Foothill High School, while Joe serves as an assistant coach with the team. In the Coach Mike Madden era, the freshman football program has not only won six league championships, it also has an impressive 81-21-3 record.
Just as the Madden family's involvement in the community has evolved over the years, John's broadcast career progressed as well. With his recent move to NBC, Madden will have worked as a broadcaster for all four major networks: CBS, Fox, ABC and NBC. His style and work on the air have garnered Madden much praise and recognition from his peers. He has won 14 Sports Emmy Awards and the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award in 2002.
While his infamous fear of flying may keep him on the road for six months out of every year, during the off-season, Madden prefers the simpler life Pleasanton has to offer.
"It's a small town, but you can get everything you need here," said Madden.
These days, Pleasanton's most celebrated citizen enjoys spending his down time with his five grandchildren, Jack, Jesse, Sam, Aidan and Makenna, all of whom live locally. He plays some golf. And he enjoys keeping up on local news. He rarely misses a City Council meeting on community television Channel 29. According to Madden, the council meetings' lack of commercial interruptions prevents him from channel surfing and inspires him to watch the entire meeting.
An avid reader of the Pleasanton Weekly, Madden has it forwarded to him anywhere he is on the road. According to Madden, it helps him stay in touch and he reads it every week, wherever he is.
Madden also enjoys downtown Pleasanton and remains a big fan of Main Street.
"No one else can duplicate it. You can't manufacture it. We build business parks, but not Main Streets," said Madden of his long-time interest in the downtown. "The jewel is there," he added. "It takes some shining and you may develop it and redevelop it, but at least you have it."
This year marks his biggest achievement yet: Madden is a proud inductee of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He achieved this honor after being nominated by the senior committee, a group of nine veterans who consider the achievements of pre-1981 players and coaches. The honor is based not only on Madden's record as a coach, but also on his overall contribution to the sport.
"I'm not a journalist, I'm not an actor. I'm a football coach doing television," Madden has said of his life in the broadcast booth. "It's fun. It's my life, my passion. I'll do it as long as I can."
And this August, the Outback Steakhouse Madden Cruiser will be pulling into Pleasanton a few days earlier than usual to pick up its famous passenger. Destination: Canton, Ohio. He will be inducted into the Hall of Fame during the annual ceremony scheduled for Saturday, August 5t. The next day, he and current broadcast partner, Al Michaels, make their NBC debut broadcasting the preseason Hall of Fame classic.
Despite the tremendous Hall of Fame honor, it's Pleasanton that Madden will return to again when the football season ends.
"After you've been in a place awhile, you've got a history and it sort of evolves. My family's here. The reason you came here isn't the same, but now it's home."
While it's been almost 30 years since Madden coached football, his record remains one for the ages.