Pro football misses John Madden's common sense more than ever.
Two years into his retirement from television broadcasting, Madden is aghast at the NFL's labor lockout and dreads the competitive imbalance it has created for the upcoming season.
"What upsets me most is both sides have known about this for two years," Madden said this week inside his Pleasanton office that is adorned with fascinating mementos such as a 1979 photo of him, Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson. "The things coming up now are no different from two years ago. They wasted two years."
An appeals court ruled Friday that the owner-imposed lockout is legal. Negotiations continue toward a new labor pact. The NFL remains on hold.
When it comes to the court of public opinion regarding football, no one presides like the 75-year-old Madden, who coached the Raiders from 1969-78 and iconically blossomed into a TV analyst, commercial pitchman and Pro Football Hall of Fame member. Nowadays, he advises NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, chairs a coaches subcommittee, chimes in weekdays on KCBS 740-AM, rolls bocce, lights fireworks (legally in Dublin on Independence Day) and roots on his grandchildren's athletic teams.
His feelings about the NFL remain passionate. His reviews are mixed on the Raiders and 49ers. His sound bites need no further setup:
"It's going to impact the quality of play, and the less experienced teams will be impacted more, all the way down from new coaches, staff and players. There's going to be competitive advantages and disadvantages.
"Take the 49ers. They haven't been able to take advantage (of offseason workouts and meetings). Plus, they had a shorter season because there were no playoffs for them. On the other side, take (Super Bowl XLV teams) Green Bay and Pittsburgh. Their systems, coaches, quarterbacks and defenses are all stable. That's really an imbalance."
"I try to think what would I want them to do if I were coach. I'd rather they do them than not. It's better than nothing. But it's not comparable to what they're missing. To say this is like (team-organized activities) is as far from the truth as it gets. There's nothing like coaching and instruction."
"Part of it was I wanted to practice being a head coach, as ridiculous as that sounds. "... I started having rookies, then rookie free agents and young players. We'd have like a training camp. We went to Santa Rosa, stayed in rooms. We had rookies in before, but I took it to minicamp and kept adding. This is where Al (Davis) was great. To be honest, I was just practicing being a head coach, and I needed players to go with me. Al went along with all this craziness."
"I've always liked him. I like what he stood for as a player. I did a lot of his games, and he was a stand-up, no-nonsense guy. "... I was surprised he took the job this year. When I heard (quarterback Andrew) Luck was going back (to Stanford), I said to myself Harbaugh would go back, too. With everyone knowing the lockout was coming, this wasn't the year to start being a head coach in the NFL.
"Jim Harbaugh is going to be a good coach in the NFL, but it's going to be a rocky start for him. The sad part is there's nothing he can do about it. I'm sure his answer is for everyone to roll up their sleeves and work hard, but they can't because there's a lockout."
"They have to solidify their quarterback position, too. It's not like they've got the guy who's the guy. (Jason Campbell) has growing and maturing to do. They were better last year but still have to stay on that road. They need passing. It looks like they can run, and their defense needs to be more consistent. They need to get more first downs and keep the defense off the field more. Don't put them in the playoffs, but the arrow is pointing in the right direction."
"I would think so. It's really going to be unfair to rookies. They don't know what to do. There will have to be larger squad sizes. You can't evaluate until you teach. If you tell a guy: '99-in, 2-swing, X-post when there's an overload blitz coming,' he won't have any idea what to do."
"I will go. I will always go. That's the greatest thing in the world, to go to that and the events. It's like a reunion to see the guys."
"Detroit and St. Louis will be improved. The favorite has to be Green Bay. I always go with the champ. Take all the injuries they had, and they've got a good team, good defense and young quarterback. But there's also Pittsburgh, New England, Baltimore and Indianapolis."