EXCLUSIVE: The career of John Madden will be the subject of a limited series to be directed by Gavin O’Connor, and written by Alex Sohn (Vegas). In the huddle on the telling the life story of the Hall of Fame Raiders head coach, groundbreaking broadcaster and video game icon are Todd Lieberman’s Hidden Pictures, Lit Entertainment Group’s Adam Kolbrenner, Religion of Sports’ Gotham Chopra, Ryan Stowell, and Tom Brady’s 199 Productions.
The latter’s presence as EP was particularly important to Madden’s family as they pledged their lives to the project. The filmmakers will find a broadcast partner once they’ve got finished scripted episodes and then they’ll find their Madden.
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“If Dad was still around, and he was looking for a few guys to huddle up and tell his story, he’d be thrilled to have Tom Brady leading the huddle,” said Mike Madden.
They’ll produce All Madden in collaboration with the late Madden’s family, Sandy Montag, and The Montag Group. Along with hit films like The Accountant, O’Connor is known for sports themed fare including The Way Back, the MMA drama Warrior, and Miracle, the latter the story of Herb Brooks, who coached a group of amateur hockey players to the Olympic Gold Medal over the invincible Soviet Union team.
The series chronicles the immeasurable life and career of the NFL icon and his rise from humble beginnings to leave an indelible mark on football, broadcasting, video games, and pop culture. But behind the legendary and larger-than-life coaching career, which included a Super Bowl Xl victory, and an on-camera reputation for speaking to the common fan – he won 16 Emmy Awards — Madden is a simple yet extremely intelligent man; with an unwavering commitment to excellence, he ultimately seeks connection to people on a human level.
As a broadcaster, he changed the game forever. First paired with another all time great Bob Costas — Madden thought he was some intern and Costas wondered what the heck Madden was doing when they started — Madden quickly became a breath of fresh air, who made viewers smarter about the game, and made the whole thing more fun. His manic Telestrator work — he would mark up the screen showing how plays developed and why they worked or didn’t — along with his sound effects — Boom! — influenced how every football game is called, even today. His pairing with former gridiron great Pat Summerall is arguably the greatest booth pairing ever.
Said the recently retired future HOF quarterback Tom Brady: “I grew up admiring John Madden, first as a coach, then as a commentator. I loved John’s passion for the game, especially his insatiable appetite for educating audiences about football. He welcomed fans with that warm smile, infectious laugh, and exceptional knowledge of the game, making everyone feel as if John were watching the broadcast right next to them on their living room sofa. On behalf of 199 Productions, I’m honored to collaborate with Virginia and Mike Madden, my co-founder at Religion of Sports, Gotham Chopra, and the rest of the creative team, in telling the iconic story of a family man who revolutionized not only the game but the culture of football.”
The project was initiated as a feature film, but like Madden himself, his life and contributions to America’s most popular sport was too big for a two hour treatment.
“Initially when the conversations began, we were going to do this as a film but the deeper myself and Alex climbed inside John’s life, it just became clear it would be impossible to reduce his football life to a two hour movie. When you look at the contribution he made on the field as a football coach, to the transformation of two industries, broadcasting and video games, I just didn’t know how to do that in two hours. How many episodes? That will be dictated by the story, but it’s the three football businesses he was in that we’re going to be exploring.”
It was always football for Madden, but his course shifted from his original intention to be one of those lineman he would celebrate in the broadcasting booth, to a teacher.
“He was drafted by the Eagles and he blew out his knee in camp in his rookie year, so he never actually got out on the field,” O’Connor told Deadline. “He started spending a lot of time in the film room with the Eagles quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, who became a mentor to him and taught him to look at football in a very different way than he viewed it as an offensive lineman.”
That led him to the top of the coaching profession.
“At 32, Al Davis offered him the job coaching the Raiders. He coached there 10 years, won seven AFC or AFL title games and won a Super Bowl. He never had a losing season and was the youngest coach to ever hit 100 victories, and at 42, burned out with an ulcer, the job took the toll on him and he walked away never to return to the sidelines again,” O’Connor said.
Facing the second setback of his career, Madden’s outsized personality saved him.
“He worked for a day or two in real estate and realized that was not a path he wanted to go down. He taught for a semester at Berkeley, football studies. Everything came from a place of him wanting to teach football. The second act of his life came in broadcasting. It’s now a natural next step for some retired former players, but when he went into the broadcast booth, the guy just blew it up. When he started he was very stiff and uncertain, not polished at all, and then he decided, I am not going to be what he called ‘one of these hairdo’s, those coiffed broadcast guys. He did it in a way that just reflected his personality, a regular guy who was calling a game as you would if you were talking to your friends in a bar. He and Pat Summerall would go on to become the soundtrack of the NFL.
“The Turducken, the Telestrator, delivering information in a folksy manner and people responded,” O’Connor said. “Then came the commercials, bursting through paper facades for Lite Beer from Miller, Tinactin, he did a video with U2, bestselling books, The All Madden Team, which celebrated the grittiest, toughest, unsung players. His innovations were endless. And the Madden Cruiser.”
Latter was a fully appointed bus that became Madden’s transportation to whatever game he was broadcasting in a particular week.
“He had a fear of flying, but he had to fly when he was a coach, but once he became a broadcaster he never got on a plane again, and went by train. He was claustrophobic with a fear of flying, and once that bus was introduced to him, that just became travels with John.”
They haven’t set the episode count yet, as they are still in deep dive mode with the Madden family.
“First thing, Alex and I are mapping out how we tell the three acts of his life story,” O’Connor said. “John found the thing he loved, but it came at great cost to his family. We met with John’s family, and we were clear we wanted to pull back the curtain. We know what the Wikipedia moments are, but what’s behind the curtain, the costs of these decisions he made? They shared a lot of their stories with us.
“Then we take it out and find a partner. His son Joe played at Brown, and Mike played at Harvard. I played at Penn at the same time, and we played against each other, but John didn’t get to see them play because the seasons were in conflict with his job.”
Finally, despite never playing a video game, Madden became the figurehead of a billion dollar video game that turned a legion of youngers on to the sport.
“He knew nothing about video games, but he saw computerized football as a way to educate fans and that was the only reason he did it,” O’Connor said. “He didn’t know a thing about video game. These kids who know nothing about the Raiders team or his NFL career, kids know him as the voice coming out of that console.”
Alex Young, President of Hidden Pictures, David Glickman, Kendrick Tan, and Sean Sansiveri will co-produce. Henry Cheatham will oversee the project for Religion of Sports.
O’Connor is repped by WME and Yorn Levine Barnes; Sohn is Lit Entertainment Group, Paradigm and Lichter Grossman Nichols; Chopra is WME. Tom Brady is represented by WME and Latham & Watkins. Hidden Pictures is WME and Johnson Shapiro Slewett & Kole.
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