RealClearSports: John Madden: Great Announcer, Better Man

By Art Spander

He was the voice, whose love both of his sport and his work was open and infectious. John Madden didn't just make us understand football, he made us understand ourselves.

The NFL and its television broadcasts will go on because institutions inevitably outlast the people who bring them to popularity and prominence.

Yet, cliché as the phrase may be, things never will be the same.

Madden truly was the guy on the next chair in the restaurant, or the next stool in the bar, the guy who had to get into the conversation. Then, unpretentiously, unlike so many others because he knew what he was talking about, John simply took over.

Or to borrow a Madden observation, "Boom!''

At age 73, John on Thursday announced he was retiring from the broadcast booth, a property he seemingly had held in perpetuity for four different networks, the last being NBC on Sunday nights. It was there he and Al Michaels kept us informed and entertained.

Now as Kipling would have said, like all captains and kings, John Madden departs, with his class, to our sorrow. We're not only losing a football mind, we're losing a friend.

His family had something to do with the decision. He'll be married to the wonderful Virginia 50 years in December, and they have two sons and six grandchildren, whom, from August to January, were virtual strangers to John.

The two Northern California teams, the Oakland Raiders, which Madden coached to a Super Bowl win more than 30 years ago, and the San Francisco 49ers, also had something to do with the retirement. They have slipped so far from their championship years they're not considered worthy of Sunday night TV. Madden thus never was able to get back to his Bay Area home during the NFL season.


"I'm not tired of anything," said Madden, "but I'm going away."

So, this fall, for the first time since he was a freshman at Jefferson High in Daly City, the working class community dead south of San Francisco, John Madden will not be involved in football.

"What made it hard," he said during his morning radio spot on San Francisco's KCBS, "is I enjoyed everything so much. I always felt I was the luckiest guy in the world."

John Madden was everyman, with a sharper intellect. He liked to make us believe that on his cross-country bus journeys he only ate at places named "Joes," or slept in his clothes.

He is a closet intellectual who always made you feel good. Even when he was berating you, as he did now and then when he was Raiders coach and I was covering the team for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Some sporting leaders, coaches, managers, general managers, insist they never read the papers. Madden wasn't at all that disingenuous.

He'd come jogging and yelling across the Raiders old practice field in Alameda, waving the sports page and telling me in a few unsavory phrases I didn't have a clue what was going on. Then, when the workout ended, he would give me a clue and an explanation. Boom.

A few years back I was driving from Oakland to San Francisco, sitting in the line of traffic waiting to pass through the toll booths on the east end of the Bay Bridge. A horn sounded. And sounded again. Three lanes to my right, it was Madden, honking and waving - his arm, not a sports story he didn't appreciate.

John's pal from the time they were kids has been John Robinson, who went on to a successful coaching career himself, leading USC to Rose Bowl wins. "We were just a couple of doofuses from Daly City," Madden reminded of the pairing.

Part of their ritual among the group with which they ran was buying ice cream cones. "Another kid would yell 'First dibs,'" said Madden, "and he got to lick your cone. So we all would immediately lick our own cones to keep anyone else from getting some of yours. John Robinson would still eat my cone after I licked it."

Along the way, Madden has licked the world. He coached. He became a TV analyst. He did commercials for seemingly every product from Lite Beer - "Tastes great; less filling." - to Ace Hardware. He has a weekend home on the Monterey Peninsula. He owns huge hunks of the Diablo Valley beyond the hills east of Oakland. He was voted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has an eponymous EA video game.

And arguably, he's the biggest star ever connected to the NFL.

"There's nothing wrong with me," Madden said about leaving, repelling in advance any stories that he has a medical problem. "I'm not tired of traveling. It's just this is the right time, the right thing."

We'll miss you, John.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And he has recently been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

© RealClearSports 2009


SF Examiner: Spander: The Three Cys letting Giants down in early part of season

Read original article at

By Art Spander
Special to The Examiner 4/15/09

SAN FRANCISCO – That should do it for the Giants, a team meeting. Why, of course. Bruce Bochy and the boys sitting around the clubhouse and telling each other they’re not as bad as they’ve been playing and exchanging ideas.

Someone might suggest to Randy Johnson while an 11 is acceptable at the craps table, it’s not what you want in an earned-run average.

It’s a good thing the Giants have Johnson and two other Cy Young winners on the staff, otherwise they might be in trouble with that lineup. One run Sunday, one run Monday. The pitchers are grinding their molars.

You are familiar with the Three Amigos and the Three Tenors. The Giants are offering the Three Cys. Or is that the Three Sighs? Johnson, an oldie but we believed a goodie, Barry Zito and the latest in line, Tim Lincecum, who earned the award in 2008.

So far in 2009, Lincecum is 0-1 with a 7.56 ERA, Zito 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA and Johnson 0-2 with that 11.42 ERA. In other words: Help!

Lincecum is the biggest worry. Johnson is in his 40s (age not ERA), and Barry, one of the good guys, has not been one of the good pitchers for the last several years. But Lincecum is only 24, in his third major-league season and, we’re told, headed for greatness.

The fear is there may be a few detours, such as expectations and the dreaded Cy Young jinx. (What, you don’t know about it?) So much was written and said about Tim, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the cover of the Giants’ media guide. He may not be taking it all to heart, but rather trying to prove he is deserving of such attention.

“Something’s not clicking, and I’m going to figure it out,” was Lincecum’s forthright assessment. “You worry about things going on, especially in the present.”

For good reason. The Giants were winners only twice in their first seven games. While that was the same as the Boston Red Sox (and their zillion-dollar payroll), Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks, it’s hardly encouraging.

San Francisco has finished with losing records four straight years as it wobbled through the departure of Barry Bonds and other travails. The hope in ’09 was for at least a winning record. The dream was for a place in the playoffs, but let’s not be ridiculous.

It’s a long season. Baseball cliché No. 1: It’s early. Baseball cliché No. 2: But once you get into a hole, unless you’re the Yankees or Cardinals, invariably you stay there. The Giants need virtually a week of wins to get even, and they’ve only played a bit more than a week of games.

The premise among the baseball mavens was the Dodgers, the hated Dodgers, had the bats, but the Giants had the arms, and that pitching inevitably will triumph over hitting. Oh? Is that why L.A. was an 11-1 winner over Frisco on Monday?

Any moment now, Giants GM Brian Sabean will be telling us it’s no time to panic. Hey, Brian, we’ll be the judges of that.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and E-mail him at

Copyright © 2009, SF Newspaper Company

KNBR Radio: Art discusses the Masters with Murph and Mac


"Legendary Bay Area writer Art Spander gives us his take on the drama that unfolded at Augusta National G.C. over the weekend."

Listen here

RealClearSports: He Lost the Masters, But Won Our Hearts

By Art Spander

He lost the Masters. Kenny Perry was two shots ahead with two holes to
play Sunday, and we were thinking how fitting it would be, how
appropriate, if this 48-year-old with such great perspective, would
finally get his major championship.

He didn't. He lost the Masters. Kenny Perry, however, won our hearts.

Golf is the cruelest of games, a temptress, a harlot who waves a
beckoning finger and then slaps you across the face and shoves you into
the gutter. She'll snicker at your failure, showing not one iota of
respect. Or sympathy.

The 2009 Masters champion is that most underrated of pros, Angel
Cabrera. In a sentence, he's from Argentina and a wonderful golfer, two
years ago having won the U.S. Open.

Perry, Cabrera and Chad Campbell ended in a three-way tie at 12-under
par. Campbell bogeyed the first extra hole and was done. Perry bogeyed
the second extra hole, and the Masters was done.

Don't cry for us Argentina. Or, said Perry, for himself. Even though by
all rights he should have won. Because he deserved to win.


Perry grew up in Kentucky with a father who pushed him too hard to
excel. A father who, at age 85, with two stents in his heart, sat in
the shop of the golf course Kenny built for his home town, Franklin,
and suffered while the son he loves so much missed a second chance of a

The first was in his home state, at Valhalla Golf Club near Louisville,
where Kenny lost the 1996 PGA Championship (also in a playoff). That
loss pained him do deeply, lasted so long, Kenny put all his effort
last year into qualifying for the Ryder Cup at Valhalla, in an attempt
to regain the admiration of fans who wouldn't forget.

That accomplished - his play helped the U.S. win the cup and also
earned his family status as grand marshals of the Kentucky Derby parade
- Kenny said he could concentrate on winning a major.

Which he almost did. Which he should have done. But which he couldn't do.

Two shots ahead, two holes remaining. Not easy holes. Not at a killer
of a course, Augusta National. Not when you're a few weeks from your
49th birthday. Not when the only item lacking on your spectacular
resume is a major win.

Maybe he was nervous. Maybe he was weary. Perry bogeyed 17. Perry
bogeyed 18. Perry lost his lead. Then as darkness advanced onto the red
clay country of east Georgia, Perry lost the Masters.

But not his class.

"Two different situations," said Perry, comparing this disappointment
with that of '96. "I was young at Valhalla. Here I thought I had enough
experience. I thought I had enough to hang in there. But I was proud of
how I played. I really was."

And he should be proud. Perry came from tough times, and as a kid
didn't have the luxury of high-priced academy. He's raised a family and
with his earnings and raised huge sums for charity.

His father, Ken Sr., was an insurance man who, when Kenny was 7 or 8,
would sit on the grass, tee up one golf ball after another and make the
boy swing and swing. "He beat me up," said Kenny, meaning emotionally.
"He was a smart man. He knew you had to be tough."

And if there's anything Kenny Perry has displayed, it's his toughness,
repeatedly trying to qualify for the Tour back in the early 1980s,
winning numerous tournaments, including three last year and one this
year, and acting like a gentleman after what happened in the final
round of this Masters.

"I'm not going to feel sorry," he said. "If this is the worst thing
that happens out here, I can live with it. I really can. Great players
get it done, and Angel got it done.

"This is the second major he won. I've blown two. But that's the only
two I've had chances of winning. But I'm looking forward to (the U.S.
Open at) Bethpage Black. I'm looking forward to the British, to the
PGA. You know what? I can do it now, because it was fun."

For 16 holes it was. He didn't make a bogey for 16 holes under the most
intense pressure in one of the most prestigious tournaments on one of
the most difficult courses. Then he made two in a row.

"Our game's tough," Kenny Perry confirmed. But as we know, so is he.

"It's a mental game, and it plays a lot with your head. So I'm going to enjoy it. We are going to have some fun."

Even if he doesn't have the Masters.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports
history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his
long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has
earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And he has
recently been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of
America for 2009.

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© RealClearSports 2009


Newsday: Tiger didn't have a swing, but still had a shot

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The dogged victims of an inexorable fate. That's the description of golfers made by the man who helped create the Masters, Bobby Jones. Sunday, this tournament of agony and joy beckoned the top two players in the world rankings and doggedly turned them into fate's victims.

It was a dream pairing for this first major of every year, Tiger Woods, No. 1, and Phil Mickelson, No. 2, two guys who give each other plenty of respect, but as noted from caustic remarks a few months ago about Phil by Tiger's caddie, not much love.

Tied for 10th at the start, they were too far behind to win, at least that's what we presumed. But first Phil, making birdies while a gallery 10 deep in places made thunderous noise, then Tiger, with a stunning eagle at No. 8, charged up the leader board.

Tiger, in his brief, unhappy appearance before the media, later said, "I almost won the tournament with a Band-Aid swing."

Mickelson, after a 6-under-par 30 on the front, then a shot into infamous Raes Creek at 12 to make double-bogey, would concede, "If I had gotten through 12 with a par, I was right in the tournament."

Both Tiger, who shot a 33-35-68 and Mickelson 30-37-67 were right in it. Then each stumbled.

Mickelson, who had been within a shot of first -- after starting out the seven shots behind, as was Tiger -- finished fifth and Woods tied for sixth. Phil's total of 9-under 279 was three strokes back of the three-way tie for first, and Woods came in at 8-under 280.

For Woods, who had complained the excitement was gone from the Masters when Augusta National was "Tiger proofed" by lengthening of nearly 500 yards over the last few years, the par-5s once again were his domain. Sunday, he made three birdies and an eagle on them.

But in un-Tiger like fashion, he bogeyed the par-4 17th and the par-4 18th, his third bogey in four rounds on the finishing hole. It has been four years since Woods won a Masters, the longest streak since he hit the sport like a hurricane with his record-setting victory in 1997.

"I hit it so bad warming up today,'' Woods said. "I was hitting quick hooks, blocks, you name it. Then on the first hole, I almost hit in No. 8 fairway. It's one of the worst tee shots I've ever hit starting out."

Yet, after birdies at 15 and 16, he was 10 under and within two shots of Kenny Perry. "I was right there," Woods said. But not for long.

Woods and Mickelson were the box office twosome. They started an hour before the 54-hole leaders, Angel Cabrera, who eventually was to win in a playoff, and Perry. Tiger and Phil seemingly had two-thirds of the Augusta crowd, a group which included Mickelson's wife, Amy, and Tiger's coach, Hank Haney.

"You just go about your own business," Woods said when asked if he could enjoy the battle. "Phil was obviously playing well, but still I was trying to post 11 under, shoot 65. Obviously, I didn't do it. My swing was terrible. I didn't know what was going on."

Then before another question could be asked, Tiger said, "Thank you," and, victimized, purposely walked away.

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Copyright © 2009, Newsday Inc.