Oakland says goodbye to Raiders legend John Madden
On Monday afternoon, hours before the start of a public memorial at the Oakland Coliseum to celebrate the life of John Madden, Madden’s grandson Jesse recalled his last high school football game last year as as quarterback for the Bishop O’Dowd Dragons. The game was a few blocks from O’Dowd, at Castlemont High School in East Oakland, and his grandfather didn’t want to miss it.
At away games during the pandemic, the eldest Madden would arrange with sporting directors to drive his SUV as close to the pitch as possible so he could watch his grandson play up close, binoculars in hand . He also saw something else that day, Jesse Madden told The Oaklandside on Monday night – the discrepancies between the kind of resources available to players and students at a private school like O’Dowd and a school of neighborhood like Castlemont.
“He made it his priority to benefit the lives of these children,” young Madden said. The idea for the John Madden Foundation was born, a new philanthropic organization providing scholarships and educational opportunities for students in the city.
The Madden family, friends, NFL coaches and hundreds of Raider fans packed the Oakland Coliseum on a cold Monday night for a two-hour memorial honoring the late Oakland Raiders coach, radio contributor KCBS and innovative football analyst.
Madden, a longtime Pleasanton resident who grew up in Daly City, died on December 28 at the age of 85. His legacy lives on in the highlights of his decade coaching the Oakland Raiders and years of game-telling as a broadcaster. A younger generation knows him from his association with the popular video game Madden NFL.
Madden’s family hopes that future generations of young Oaklanders will know him for another reason: the new foundation in his name. Proceeds from Monday’s memorial ticket sales will go to the fund. The family announced that six students have received scholarships so far.
“He wanted everyone to have a fair experience,” said Jesse Madden, who now attends the University of Michigan.
Tributes poured in from all over the NFL. Pre-recorded interviews with Brett Favre and broadcaster Al Michaels appeared on the Coliseum’s jumbotron. Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera and Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid joined former 49ers coach Steve Marinucci, broadcaster Lesley Visser and retired KCBS radio anchor Stan Bunger on an infield stage of the Coliseum.
Many speakers told behind-the-scenes stories of a larger-than-life man who was generous with his time. Often he would rather talk about food than football.
Rivera, who grew up in Monterey County and played football at Cal, remembers meeting Madden as a teenager. Madden signed him an autograph and walked off saying, “Kid, go with your gut.”
Madden’s undying love for Oakland, and especially the Raiders, was on full display. His wife, Virginia, said after her husband’s death that she knew there had to be a rally at the Colosseum, the grounds where Madden paced the sidelines for a decade in the late 1960s and 1970s. when the Raiders left for Los Angeles, returning to Oakland before returning to Las Vegas, Madden maintained a presence in the East Bay.
“I know he’s up there and I know he’s smiling at all of his players that are here and at all of you, the fans who have supported him for so many years,” Virginia said, transforming the clad fans silver and black. “John believed in Oakland, he believed in the Coliseum, above all, he believed in the Raiders. The Oakland Raiders.
Mike Madden, one of his two sons, told The Oaklandside that his father was involved in meetings to stop the Raiders from leaving for Las Vegas, which the team eventually did in 2020.
“He wanted to do everything he could to keep the Raiders here, but at the same time give the Raiders a stadium fit for the new NFL. It never happened. It broke his heart,” he said.
With the departure of the Raiders and Golden State Warriors, Oakland now risks losing its last professional sports team, the Oakland A’s. The MLB team has proposed building a mixed-use stadium and development at the Howard Terminal at Jack London Square, but is considering stadium options in Las Vegas.
The Warriors’ move to San Francisco in 2019 also stung. Mike Madden recalled a friend of his getting excited about the new arena across the bay, saying it would attract better free agents.
“Dad got in the face,” saying “you don’t know Oakland,” he recalled. “He started pounding your fist in anger.”
In some ways, the Madden memorial felt like a funeral for the Oakland Raiders. Several fans arrived long before the 66th Avenue doors opened for what could be Raider Nation’s final gathering at the Coliseum.
Louie Sumaya, 35, drove up from Hollister to be the first in line at the entrance. “He’s a legend,” Sumaya said of Madden. “A lot of NFL coaches have respect for him. His legacy will live on.”
Other fans wasted no time in opening adult drinks, as they waited to enter Lot A. A man parked next to Sumaya wouldn’t give his name because he had called in sick to work.
“Madden is Oakland. He’s the epitome of Oakland Raiders football,” said former season ticket holder Robert Canderlaria, who painted his face and wore a sombrero.
A few cars over, Barbara Sacks shook her head. “You got the wrong stuff,” said Sacks, who was about the only person waiting to get in without wearing Raiders gear. She said she ditched the team when they moved to Las Vegas. That didn’t stop Sacks from paying homage to Madden. “He was always on the positive side of situations. He just seems like the kind of person you just want to hang out with.
Robert Walker, who grew up on 86th Avenue in East Oakland, flew in from Los Angeles. “He was just Oakland Raiders,” the 52-year-old said. “He said, ‘Yeah, we’re dirty, what are you going to do about it?
The Colosseum itself may soon disappear. A group of black business leaders with ties to Oakland are negotiating with the city to develop the 120-acre site and add entertainment, shopping, and housing. Looking at the Colosseum from the Lot, Walker worried that any new housing built on the site would be out of reach for residents of his former neighborhood. “I’m going to stay realistic,” he said.
Nearby stood “Raider Willie” who came from Kansas City. Over the years, he’s often made the trip to Oakland from the Midwest to put down roots with his favorite team.
“I could go home on Wednesday,” he said between two glasses of beer. “But I couldn’t.”