Tom Rinaldi has a Christmas wish.
All Madden, the documentary he co-directed about NFL coach, broadcaster and video game namesake John Madden, will premiere Christmas Day on Fox. Rinaldi, a broadcaster for Fox Sports, made the film with his network production executive colleague, Joel Santos. The 85-year-old Madden has not yet seen the final cut.
“I hope he and his family can gather together and watch it and feel all of the admiration,” he told Deadline in an interview. “There’s a nostalgia aspect for many of us, taking us back through John’s whole journey. But there will be a lot of children receiving the Madden videogame for Christmas who don’t even know he’s an actual person! I just hope for them, and for a lot of people, it is a window onto this extraordinary life.”
A Super Bowl winner and the second-winningest coach in NFL history during a decade leading the Oakland Raiders, Madden retired from coaching at just 42 years old, citing burnout and health concerns. After a stint teaching at UC Berkeley, he moved into the broadcast booth, where he would make his most enduring mark.
He first teamed with play-by-play man Pat Summerall at CBS and the pair shifted to Fox after the then-upstart network pulled off its stunning acquisition of NFL rights in 1993. (Rupert Murdoch is among the more than three dozen interviewees in the film.) Madden’s signature vocal punctuations — “boom!” “whap!” — demystified the game’s Xs and Os and became the soundtrack to professional football as it became America’s obsession. Along the way, Madden also became a ubiquitous ad pitchman and pop culture figure. Madden NFL Football, a top-selling video game title, has been published by Electronic Arts since 1988.
Rinaldi, who jumped to Fox a year ago from his longtime home at ESPN, had never crossed paths with Madden prior to working on the film. He made multiple visits to Madden’s compound in Pleasanton, a suburb on the eastern fringe of the Bay Area where the former coach has a large room equipped with several screens. On many NFL Sundays, Madden watches games there, but in All Madden it became a soundstage, enabling the filmmakers to screen for their subject key moments from his life and capture his reaction. It’s a more cinematic version of a device that’s been used successfully in documentaries like ESPN’s The Last Dance. Madden, for instance, had not seen his retirement press conference in decades. Watching him watch it again is a lot more compelling than it sounds.
All Madden, which is Fox Sports’ first original documentary, resulted from longstanding relationships between Madden and two key figures at Fox. One is Eric Shanks, who appears briefly in the film as a junior crew member as well as in his current position as CEO and executive producer at Fox Sports. The other is Richie Zyontz, a longtime NFL producer at Fox and a close friend of Madden’s. “They wanted a tribute to John, to help educate people about who he is,” Rinaldi recalls. The list of Madden’s TV innovations alone is absurdly long. Among other things, he popularized the Telestrator, using it to bring viewers inside the strategy of football (as well as the occasional Gatorade shower).
As Rinaldi and Santos dug in to structure the project, hundreds of hours of archival footage were sifted through by colleagues and then woven into the finished film by editor Joe Nargi. It was a process of “perpetual uncovering and discovering,” Rinaldi said, with picture not being locked until this week. Sandy Montag, Madden’s longtime agent, is an exec producer of the film, as are Bill Richards, Rinaldi, Santos, Shanks and Zyontz.
Along with Madden and his wife and sons — who provide an emotive and colorful core — there is a Hall of Fame roster of participants. Along current and former NFL figures like Patrick Mahomes, Al Michaels, Tom Brady and Bill Parcells, there are more surprising interviewees. Lawrence Taylor, the New York Giants linebacker who was long championed by Madden, interrupted his general absence from the media spotlight, and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick offers a different side of himself.
“He is genuinely beloved,” Rinaldi said of Madden. “There wasn’t a single request we made that came back as a no.” Belichick, who is famous for his terse, “on-to-Cincinnati” interactions with the media, comes across as unusually expressive and, Rinaldi recalled, nearly doubled his planned allotment of interview time in order to keep rhapsodizing.
While the overall tone is intentionally adulatory, Rinaldi said the spikier aspects of Madden’s personality are in evidence. Madden is shown in one clip yelling at a referee while patrolling the sidelines for the Raiders and later, aboard the “Madden Cruiser” bus he used to travel to and from games, mischievously detaching the Velcro-connected limbs of a child’s doll clad in a black-and-white referee’s uniform. He chomps on a victory cigar in a Fox conference room after clinching a then-astronomical $32 million contract as the film nods to his shrewd and aggressive negotiating tactics.
“He could also be demanding of the production truck,” Rinaldi adds. “He wanted the truck to be able to deliver the best replay, in a timely way. If he didn’t get it, he let them know.”
The result of all that drive was television history. “They defied every expectation,” Rinaldi said of Madden and Summerall. “They would not lose viewership during a blowout because people wanted to hear what John would say next.”
At 85, more than a decade after leaving the broadcast booth, Madden comes across as genial and emotionally apt, even if he doesn’t seem likely to tear through a poster and wave his arms as he did in all those Miller Lite ads. “When you’re a legendary figure and you leave the public stage, you’re not allowed to age,” Rinaldi said. There is a disarmingly unguarded quality to the footage of Madden in Middle America, stepping off his bus to meet with everyday people, shaking hands and chatting everyone up. While the football fan will come away satisfied from All Madden, rounding out the portrait enables “John’s humanity comes through in a very different way,” Rinaldi said.
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