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John Madden Smoked ’em Since He Had ’em

John Madden in shirt and tie and vinyl Raiders jacket, smokes on the sidelines
Screengrab via All Madden/FOX

It is generally agreed by all people in the pro-lung lobby that smoking cigarettes is a terrible idea, and it has been thus for decades. In fact, it has been a terrible idea for so long that this image of the youngest version of John Madden cupping a smoke on the sidelines seems almost anachronistically cool, like a Civil War daguerreotype. Almost, that is; there will be no complaining that we are suddenly soft on emphysema.

Then again, Madden embodied everything there was in American sporting culture for 40 years, so anything him is by definition a delightfully weird anachronism. I mean, this picture alone is a collision of what the terminally naive used to call “the good old days.” His hair is combed and traveling in one direction (as in Brylcreemed down like it was a Lego piece) and he is wearing a BLUE Raiders parka, the only splash of color in Raiders footage that like most Raiders footage of the era typically looked like it was taken on the Pennsylvania–West Virginia border in 1937.

Now, this won’t be another Madden send-up; there’s been more than quite enough of THAT since he passed yesterday. But this image, like the equally famous one of Len Dawson cupping an unfiltered something (probably a Parliament, maybe a Chesterfield) in uniform during halftime of Super Bowl I, just seems more funny than dangerous now. As in you sounding all incredulous and blurting out, “They used to sneak smokes during games?” and us sounding patronizing and mansplainy when we correct you by saying, “Nahhh. They didn’t sneak them. They just smoked ’em.”

There are still a few coaches who do that somewhere on the sidelines and touchlines of global sport; Lazio’s Maurizio Sarri definitely does, and with his aesthetes’ eyewear looks like a man constantly and deliberately shooting the V’s at Uncle Death. It’s more a European thing now, as if to say, “This game isn’t killing me fast enough, so I think I’ll give it a nudge.” You may have your favorites, in which case you’re wasting your life with the same efficiency that you would if you were lighting whole packs and cramming into your mouth and both nostrils. I remember Dean Lombardi, the former general manager of the San Jose Sharks, with one lit dart in his hand and a second in an ashtray as he was fishing for a third, all while watching an Ottawa Senators game when the NHL didn’t even have interconference games, in his smoking-prohibited office in the ground floor of the non-smoking San Jose Arena. I marveled and winced simultaneously, mostly because while he knew he was doing it, he couldn’t explain why.

Mostly, though, this is about the Madden image, in which he is non-self-consciously pulling on a smoke while wearing shapeless and deliberately anti-flattering non-team-color gear on a team that was among the first to be totally team colors–obsessive. It is so thoroughly Madden that it needed to be shown to the general public because …. well, just because, that’s why. And also because it led to a Slack discussion here in Defector Sweatshop No. 46 about pro wrestlers vaping that frankly seems slightly less romantic and slightly more affected. But maybe that’s (all together now, on the count of three) A Generational Thing. Maybe Ted Lasso would have felt more real if he was plowing through a carton of Rothmans during the Crystal Palace game.

Alas and hurrah, those days are gone. But maybe now that gambling is acceptably sporting corporate in the U.S., we can catch a coach laying a bet during a time out. It won’t be as visually striking, but it will have that affectless “this chowderhead doesn’t care who’s watching him” feel.

Kinda makes you wonder why Urban Meyer didn’t have one hanging off his lower lip while he was bear-mauling that woman at the restaurant the night he decided not to be a coach any more. I mean, if you’re gonna go, go big, right? John Madden damned near invented going big; he’d have understood. He wouldn’t have approved, necessarily, but he’d have at least understood.

FOX