John Madden’s son Joe was driving with his wife on Wednesday toward their Thanksgiving destination.
“With a turducken in the back,” Joe Madden told USA TODAY Sports. “It takes awhile to thaw these things.”
It was John Madden, the former Oakland Raiders coach turned broadcasting legend, who brought fame to the turducken – a deboned turkey, stuffed with a deboned duck, stuffed with a chicken. It was a year ago John Madden dug into the Thanksgiving delicacy one last time.
He died the following month at 85.
“It’s a somber, somber occasion,” Joe Madden said as Thanksgiving Day approached. “But at the same time…”
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The Madden family and NFL fans watching the league’s three-game slate Thursday will witness an unprecedented tribute to John Madden, who called 20 Thanksgiving Day NFL games during his broadcasting career.
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The NFL said the commemoration will include:
• A “John Madden Thanksgiving” logo at the 25-yard line on the field for each of the games – Buffalo Bills vs. Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants and New England Patriots vs. Minnesota Vikings.
• A sticker on the back of each player’s helmet depicting the image of Madden with his fist in the air.
• A recording of Madden talking about Thanksgiving and the holiday’s relationship to football that will serve as the lead-in to each of the games.
“No one cared more or contributed more to our game than John Madden,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a press release issued by the league. “Honoring his memory and impact on the NFL is important and Thanksgiving Day brings all of the elements significant to John to life – family, football, food and fun.”
Madden retired from broadcasting in 2009, but the Thanksgiving memories endure.
Presenting turkey legs to players of the game.
Incorporating the six-legged turducken while awarding a leg not only to the player of the game but to all five offensive linemen of the winning team.
Bantering on-air with the likes of Emmitt Smith and Randy Moss as turkey legs were devoured.
“He didn’t own Thanksgiving, but it was kind of damn close, right?” said Richard Zyontz, a lead NFL producer for Fox Sports. “He just took the holiday and embraced it and sort of made it his own.”
Now, even in death, Madden will maintain an annual presence starting with the NFL’s inaugural “John Madden Thanksgiving Celebration.”
How much did the league want this to happen? Enough to result in what Zyontz called “the rare spirit of cooperation across three networks who are all doing games,” with Fox, NBC and CBS each televising one of the games.
With slight variations, the networks largely will stick to the script, which includes the “Madden Player of the Game” receiving $10,000 from the NFL Foundation to donate to the youth or high school football program of their choice.
Aware of the tribute plans, Joe Madden, his wife and the thawing turducken headed for his in-laws’ house in Northern California on Wednesday. His older brother, Mike, would be with their mother, Virginia, who was married to John Madden for 62 years.
For NBC Sports, Mike Madden narrated a halftime feature and Joe Madden served as the sound engineer when it was taped in their father’s facility.
“The NFL is reaching out to our family and extending such an honor,” Joe Madden said. “It’s great to be a part of it and reflect on how much my dad was a part of all these Thanksgivings with so many Americans that want to watch football.”