Peter King pays tribute to John Madden’s legendary impact on the NFL


I got a lucky break early in my sophomore year at Sports Illustrated, 1990. John Madden agreed to let me ride with him on his bus, his Hyatt suite on wheels, from his home in the East Bay near Oakland to his apartment at the Dakota in New York City. Three thousand miles. He had already won five sports Emmys as the best color analyst in sports, already was the game’s biggest commercial pitchman, already had hosted Saturday Night Live, and he was in his 10th season alongside Pat Summerall as the top CBS NFL team.

This is the story I wrote for SI. I did have quite a few conversations (and one more bus trip with him) with him as his fame got mega, but this was the best time I spent with him. When you’re together for 55 hours, captive in a comfy silver tube, it tends to promote interesting conversation. With Madden’s death the other day, I’ve been thinking a lot about those three days on the bus—and, of course, all the things we didn’t talk about.

We set out from his home around noon on a fall Tuesday and I was told the ground rules: Don’t whine about the temperature; Madden liked it cold, around 60, and if you couldn’t hack it, put a coat on. There were 50-ounce bottles of spring water on the bus; if you opened one, you had to finish it—no putting it down to clutter tables or the floor. And don’t ever keep the drivers and Madden waiting after a road stop.

I violated the water bottle rule before we were out of California. I put one, capped and half-drunk, on a table while using the restroom in mid-bus. Madden was not pleased. “Don’t you listen?” he said. Lesson learned.

Peter King, left, and John Madden, 1990. (Sports Illustrated)

In retrospect, 31 years later, it’s easy to see why he was great at three things in life: football coaching (a Hall of Famer after only 10 seasons, retiring at 42), broadcasting (acknowledged as likely the best color analyst in American sports history), and video-game innovation with the Madden game, which has grossed more than $7 billion. Who’s great at three things? I mean, not just good, but truly difference-making? How many people die and it’s no exaggeration to say they were among the best to ever do it at three things? That’s the greatness of the big man.

When the trip ended, one of my friends at the magazine asked me what Madden was like.

“He’s curious,” I said.

In the middle of Nebraska one brilliant afternoon on I-80, Madden said to driver Willie Yarbrough: “Hey Willie. Pull over.” Madden noticed a field of bright red/purple wildflowers. He grabbed “Wildflowers Across America” from a drawer, got out, and walked toward the flowers, leafing through the softcover book. His aha moment came after eight or 10 minutes. Spotted Knapweed! “I’m gonna tell millions of readers in Sports Illustrated that you love wildflowers, and your reputation will be ruined!” I said to him. He loved it. But that was him.

He loved football and could see on tape the microscopic coaching points that he’d use on TV; I was up with him till 1:30 in Wyoming (first) and western Iowa (second) prepping for Cowboys-Giants that Sunday at the Meadowlands. Those nights, and the long stretch through Pennsylvania near the end, were the times we’d talk.

I didn’t do a lot of interviewing on the trip. There was a lot more conversing. He was well-read. I took two or three pages of notes early on about his love of John Steinbeck, particularly his book “Travels with Charley.” Steinbeck wrote about a 1960 road trip around America with his standard poodle Charley, and once Madden read that, well, he just had to do it at some point in his life. People sometime talk about claustrophobia as something crippling and horrible, and for Madden the football coach, it was. But as he said before we stopped for dinner in Elko, Nev., on the first night: “If the claustrophobia thing didn’t happen, I wouldn’t know what this country is, or what these people are like. I would have been like everybody else: run, run, run. Airport, airport, airport. Hotel, hotel, hotel. City, city, city. I wouldn’t have found time to see things like I see them now.”

And he was so grateful for that. On our second day, which wound on I-80 through Utah and Wyoming (mostly at night), just above Colorado, then all 455 miles from western Nebraska to the Iowa border, we were watching Giants-Dolphins gametape from the previous Sunday. Out of the blue, with untied sneakers propped up on the edge of a table he said: “We really saw a lot of stuff today, didn’t we? Think of all the things we saw that we wouldn’t see on a plane.”

Deer, antelope, rabbits, Wildflowers Across America, spotted knapweed, a weird llama that looked like it was on steroids, a fun steakhouse in Kearney, Neb., called Grandpa’s, and a nice family he met in Kearney, the Kerry Kimple clan, who told Madden what Nebraska life was like. Four or five times on the trip, Madden marveled at how the people in Kearney loved living there, and the people in cities loved living there. “It makes you feel better about America,” he said. “The thing works.”

He thought all people who wanted to work in public life should see the country like this. He was maniacal about it. After taking the trip, I agreed wholeheartedly. Today in particular. That was Madden. He wasn’t a political person. But he opened his eyes. He was an observer of the human condition, and he liked what he saw.

I did too, and I’m grateful he took me along for the ride.

Pat Summerall and John Madden
Pat Summerall, left, and John Madden, 1984. (Getty Images)

The Madden Impact

Four people whose lives were changed in different ways by Madden:

Helping make football a world sport
Arlo White, Premier League play-by-play voice, NBC Sports
Darbyshire, England

“There was an NFL explosion in England in the early eighties, and I was a 10-year-old broadcasting nerd growing up in Leicester. At first, a one-hour show weekly is all we had, and John Madden was the voice of the game of the week. When you heard his voice, you knew that game was big. I devoured it, everything he was saying. He changed the direction of people’s sporting lives over here. And I am in the job I am doing now largely because of the influence he had on me at a young age.

“It’s interesting—now we’ve got that same kind of evangelical role with soccer in the U.S. that John had with football in England. I was about to do a Man City game a couple of years ago and I put out on Twitter, Where are you watching the game? I got back: on a tractor in Montana … watching the sun rise in Honolulu … just in from a night out in New York City. It dawned on me what sort of responsibility we have when I hear that, and when I hear people say, ‘You have been the soundtrack of my youth.’ Or I might get a note from a parent saying it’s how they bond with their kids now. So much of that is what John did with us in England years ago.”

Getting more women interested in football
Colleen Wolfe, NFL Network host
Los Angeles

“I just remember John Madden being such a part of our Sundays growing up in Horsham, Pa. We would turn on the TV and he would be on it and I would listen. I am a little difficult to nail down in terms of attention. He always got my attention. He was this super-fun character, almost like a SNL Matt Foley guy talking about football. But he could’ve been talking about anything—the weather, local news—and I would’ve found it interesting and smart.

“I think it’s completely fair to say he got so many women into football. That’s how it all started for me. My dad was working, and it was more my mom and I sitting around watching the games. John Madden was a big part of those moments with my mom and me.

“My journey, where I ended up, I think, makes it really interesting. The fact that he played such a big role in it, I just owe him so much. I never even truly got to know him or anything. But I feel like I did know him. That was the magic of John Madden for so many people, and I know for so many women like me.”

Influence from childhood to adulthood
Erik Burkhardt, NFL player agent

“I seriously don’t believe I would be an NFL agent without John Madden’s impact. I was going through a very tough time as a kid in San Antonio in 1993 and ‘94. My parents had gone through an ugly divorce, my dad was raising us, and my two brothers and I were completely lost. Then, ‘from Santa,’ which my dad later told us was through the church, we got a Sega Genesis for Christmas. The only problem was it came with only one video game, which none of us were into. So I took the public bus to a Walmart where I literally shoplifted the new Madden 93 or 94 video game. My older brother is the most straight-laced human on the planet so when he found out I stole the game we went back and he paid for it with his lawn-mowing money.

“The Madden game was a total game-changer. It was all things to us: baby-sitter, competition-driver, and counselor in that when we played it all of our daily difficulties went away. We drew tournament brackets, kept scores of games and stats. For me, it was the beginning of my fascination with rosters, NFL personnel, understanding schemes and play-calling.

“I was certified as an NFL agent in 2005 but after a couple of years I was dead broke with $150,000 in student loans eating away at me. It’s brutally competitive to be an agent. So I was driving by the team hotel in Dallas a day or two before a Cowboys game and I saw Madden’s bus outside. I simply wanted to meet him. I waited in the lobby. And waited. Finally he walked through and I shook his hand and told him how the game changed my childhood. I told him I was an NFL agent and he gave me the cliche line about ‘doing what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ I got chills the other night when he said the exact same line in his documentary.

“This sounds cheesy, but I promise you that interaction kept me going in the business. Hearing that from a true legend like him when everybody else in my life was trying to talk me into going ‘into something profitable’ like practicing law full time was huge for me.”

Burkhardt, 41, represents Kyler Murray, Kliff Kingsbury and Bradley Chubb among others.

Teaching the game to young players through the “Madden” game
Micah Parsons, linebacker/defensive end, Dallas
Frisco, Texas

“I grew up playing his video game in Pennsylvania. It just meant a lot to me. It allowed me to have a real understanding of the game—how different formations worked, how route concepts worked, knowing where every player should be, how to beat zone coverage, where the weaknesses were in certain coverages. I was able to really understand football from playing Madden. As I progressed in football, so much of it for me was instinct, but I learned so much about the techniques and the schemes from the game. It’s helped me all through football.

“I’m mourning the loss of John. I’m a football player, but lots of people should mourn him. Everybody can learn something from Madden—YouTubers, musicians, people in different businesses.

“I never met him, but if I had, I probably would have asked him if I could be on the cover one day. And I would ask him, ‘Why’d you love the game so much? What else did you love?’ Everyone has a why. He seemed like such an interesting person.”

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft WR Rankings: Zay Flowers, Jaxon Smith-Njigba top list


The 2023 NFL Draft is just around the corner, and across all positions, fans are eagerly tracking the names to know to see what prospects can bolster their team in the upcoming season. A top-quality pass-catcher is on the wish list for more than a few franchises, and ahead of the draft on April 27th, Chris Simms broke down his picks for the top five wide receivers in this year’s draft class, starting with Boston College’s Zay Flowers, who’s been rumored to be of interest for both the Saints and the Patriots. Stay tuned to the Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast for the next month as Simms breaks down his rankings for every position group, and read on for the rest of his wide receiver rankings.

RELATED: Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft QB Rankings: C.J. Stroud leads the way, and a tie at No. 5

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft Wide Receiver Rankings

Tier One

1. Zay Flowers, Boston College

2. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State

Tier Two

3. Quentin Johnston, TCU

4. Michael Wilson, Stanford

Tier Three

5. Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee

Chris Simms Top 5 2023 NFL Draft Wide Receivers

RELATED: When is the 2023 NFL Draft? Date, start time, location, Round 1 order

Simms Breaks Down 2023 Draft WR Rankings

The following are highlights from Simms’ WR draft rankings. For Simms’ in-depth analysis, read below for a breakdown on each prospect and be sure to subscribe to Chris Simms Unbuttoned for an unfiltered look at the NFL, featuring player access, unabashed opinion, X&O film breakdown, and stories from a life in and around football.

No. 1 Zay Flowers (Boston College)

What Simms Said: “The position versatility – he can play inside or outside. Some of the best releases in the draft are from Zay Flowers. He is pedal to the metal every play, every cut, everything he does. The build, the style of running…I think he looks like Antonio Brown. He is an unbelievable route runner, along with the explosive athlete. You’re really getting a three-in-one here with speed burner on the outside, speed burner on the inside, and slot receiver inside. I wrote Jaylen Waddle, that’s a guy he reminds me of…(He) plays bigger than his measurables say. To me, he’s a top-20 pick.”

No. 2 Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State

What Simms Said: “The speed is not blazing…but what’s off the charts good is the guy’s quickness and route running. His ability to come off the ball and be going 70% and almost jump in the air at the six-yard mark…it’s like Allen Iverson with an unbelievable crossover dribble. He’s got this unbelievable ability to change direction and then accelerate in a hurry. His ability after the catch…the first guy never tackles him…He reminds me of Jarvis Landry, to a greater version. This guy is about as high level of a route runner as you’re going to see in college.”

No. 3 Quentin Johnson, TCU

What Simms Said: “Tee Higgins-ish with more explosive ability than Higgins had coming out. He can catch the six-yard shallow cross and run 80 yards for a touchdown. His ability to jump – it’s a 40.5 inch vertical – plus he’s 6’3” and his arms look like they’re ridiculously long. He’s Drake London-ish from last year, except he doesn’t have the route running but has more of the straight speed…He’s one of the most physically impressive wide receivers in recent memory. You don’t see a lot of the route variety…but he shows the ability to change direction with the ball in his hands. He has better feet, quickness, and suddenness than most people with his size.”

No. 4 Michael Wilson, Stanford

What Simms Said: “This is where we’re going to go a little unconventional…But if you watch the film, you go, ‘There’s no doubt this is one of the best three or four receivers in this draft.’ There’s nothing he doesn’t do that’s top-notch…He ran a 4.58 at the Combine in the 40, (but) he plays way faster than that…The physical specimen is real, let alone the refined things you like to see in a receiver are real too. He can be another guy who could be inside or outside because he’s got the pure size and strength and speed to beat you outside but has the route running and it looks like the smarts to be that slot guy that catches your eye as well.”

No. 5 Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee 

What Simms Said: “If you like speed, then you like Jaylin Hyatt…This is a track start, straight-liner, DeSean Jackson-, Will Fuller-ish type of receiver. So, there’s going to be things about him that you love, there’s going to be some things about him that I’m not crazy about. He’s not a great route runner…I truly question whether he can do it, unlike the other guys where I try to piece things together. You can watch a bunch of catches and he never makes anybody miss, that’s not his game…If there’s a seam straight away, watch out…If he gets a free release or gets off the line of scrimmage the right way and you have a safety that doesn’t get back instantly, see ya. It’s going to be a 60-yard post for a touchdown. That’s where he’s special.”

For more preview content of the 2023 NFL Draft, stay tuned to Chris Simms UnbuttonedProFootballTalk and NBC Sports EDGE for all the latest updates, player analysis and mock drafts.

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft Position Rankings: The top QBs, WRs, RBs, and more ahead of draft weekend


The 2023 NFL Draft takes place on Thursday, April 27 through Saturday, April 29 in Kansas City, Missouri. Click here for the full first-round draft order to find out when your team is picking.

Ahead of this year’s draft, Chris Simms has already started analyzing the top prospects by position on the Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast. So far, Simms has revealed his highly anticipated list of the top 5 quarterback prospects and wide receivers. See below to find out who made the top 5 names for each position and be sure to check back for updates!

Be sure to subscribe to Chris Simms Unbuttoned for more on the 2023 NFL Draft as well as an unfiltered look at the NFL, featuring player access, unabashed opinion, X&O film breakdown, and stories from a life in and around football.

RELATED: When is the 2023 NFL Draft? Date, start time, location, Round 1 order

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft Position Rankings:

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft QB Rankings:

  1. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
  2. Bryce Young, Alabama
  3. Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
  4. Anthony Richardson, Florida
  5. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA and Will Levis, Kentucky

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft WR Rankings:

  1. Zay Flowers, Boston College
  2. Jaxon Smith-Njibga, Ohio State
  3. Quentin Jonston, TCU
  4. Michael Wilson, Stanford
  5. Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee

How can I watch the 2023 NFL Draft live?

ESPN, ABC, and NFL Network will air all seven rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft.

What time does the NFL Draft start?

The first round of the 2023 NFL Draft will get underway on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. Rounds two and three will commence Friday at 7 p.m. ET, with Saturday’s final rounds at 12 p.m.

Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2023 NFL Season and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!