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The image you get after boarding the Madden Cruiser I – the first over-the-road vehicle the late John Madden used to get to his NFL color-commentating gigs – is of a bulky, smiling man beckoning you to sit with him to enjoy a football game.
There are two color TVs on the vehicle, so two games could be going in the massive vehicle, a bus converted into a mobile motel room that has everything needed to make you feel at home on the road.
Madden Cruiser I has a stereo, for example, as well as a built-in vacuum cleaner system. But, it also possesses items that date it to late in the 1980s – a citizen's band radio and videotape player – when the popular coach and television commentator used it to travel around the country to games.
"A Greyhound bus was converted into the first Madden Cruiser in 1987, a few years after Madden transitioned from his Hall of Fame coaching career into what became an iconic broadcasting career," notes an article about Madden Cruiser I posted at the website for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "Uncomfortable flying, he opted to travel the long distances to game assignments by train. Eventually, that became inconvenient, and he decided a bus would be the ideal alternative."
"A queen-size bed in the Madden Cruiser's bedroom, which had a full bathroom, and a kitchenette offering a microwave oven made the bus comfortable for travel," said the website.
"Willie Yarbrough of Los Angeles was the longest-serving of a handful of drivers of the Madden Cruisers and covered 55,000 miles that first year. The bus logged roughly 80,000 miles annually in subsequent years."
Madden, successful in both coaching and broadcasting, is a member the Hall of Fame, inducted in 2006. So, by donating the vehicle to the Hall of Fame before his death on Dec. 28, 2021, Madden was, in a very real real sense, giving back to the game.
His legacy was left both on the field and along the highways of America.
Madden Cruiser went to Las Vegas
Recently, Madden Cruiser I hit the road and headed to Las Vegas to help Raiders mourners – really, all football fans – remember the great Raiders coach who died at 85.
"Madden coached the Raiders – then in Oakland – for 10 seasons in the AFL and NFL," reminded the article at the Hall of Fame's website. "He never recorded a losing season, posted a career record (including playoffs) of 112-39-7 and led the Raiders to a Super Bowl title following the 1976 season in which his team finished 16-1 overall."
The Madden Cruiser – "one of the most popular (and largest)" artifacts in the Hall of Fame's collection – was brought out of a storage facility and sent west to be placed on display and be open for tours at the Raiders' Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas following Madden's passing, the HOF article noted. The vehicle first was shown to Raiders' staff members, then opened to the public for tours.
The bus was brought back to Ohio following the Nevada celebration of its former owner's life and was placed back in storage at what the Hall of Fame termed a "bus management facility."
Bus has been locally displayed
Madden Cruiser I has been locally displayed in previous years during Pro Football Hall of Fame Festivals.
When the vintage bus was exhibited in front of the Hall of Fame for the enshrinement festival in 2019, Susan Dudich, a volunteer docent at the Hall of Fame, talked to a writer for The Canton Repository about a photo showing Madden sitting in the front passenger seat of the vintage bus while traveling in it.
"He would sit there and he wanted to see the land and meet the people," Dudich said then, adding that Madden frequently would tell his driver to pull off the road in small communities so he could dine among friendly townspeople.
Madden would seek out a policeman or firefighter, she said, because "they would know the best place to eat."
Hundreds of people boarded the bus during its display three years ago, as it was parked at the edge of one of the Hall's parking lots, steps from the museum in which Madden's bust is on exhibition in the enshrinees gallery.
They saw the long bench seats and the diner-like booth that were built into the bus when Greyhound converted it for Madden's use. They gave the bus to the well-known football figure after he gave dozens of motivational talks to company employees.
Visitors also got to see other features – state-of-the-art technology back in the 1980s – such as a mobile telephone and intercommunications system, as well as a pair of laser disc players.
Not that Madden did much more than snacking and napping and riding aboard the vehicle, Dudich noted in 2019. She said he preferred to get out to eat his meals at restaurants and do most of his sleeping in traditional hotels.
Madden Cruiser is big attraction
The popularity of the Madden Cruiser goes beyond its value as an interesting historical artifact, noted Hall of Fame Curator Jason Aikens at the time of its 2019 exhibition.
"It's a happy place to be because everybody knows about it," Aikens said. "Everybody knows who John Madden is, and they all know that he didn't like to fly.
Before it was replaced by other vehicles, Madden Cruiser I traveled about 600,000 miles as it's owner cross-crossed the country. But, fortunately the bus was not discarded by the apparently sentimental Madden when it was taken off the road.
Joe Horrigan, retired executive director of the Hall of Fame, recalled in 2019 that had Madden unexpectedly donated the vehicle to the Hall.
"I've known John since before he was a Hall of Famer, and he's always been a huge supporter of the Hall," Horrigan told the Repository three years ago. "One day he called and during the conversation he said, 'You know how I save everything?' I said yes, I knew. He said, 'Well, I've got my first Madden Cruiser.' I didn't know where he was going with that and without a pause he said, 'Would you want it? ... I mean for the Hall.'"
Greyhound "wrapped" the bus, which had been painted dark through the years, with its original company colors to reflect its roots.
The moniker "Madden Cruiser" labeled the bus and fixed its place in football history.
And thus a huge artifact historical artifact was added to the museum to help remember and honor a giant of the game.
Reach Gary at email@example.com. On Twitter: @gbrownREP
This article originally appeared on The Repository: Monday After: Boarding John Madden's first Madden Cruiser