Harry Reid & John Madden, R.I.P.

I searched in vain for a picture of Harry Reid and John Madden together. Since they died on the same December day, I will always associate these two larger than life characters. There’s something else they shared: They were great Americans.

The featured image shows the principals with the two people I associate most closely with them: Barack Obama and Harry Reid then Ken Stabler and John Madden.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved John Madden as a broadcaster. He was a rare breed: a colorful color commentator. But I will always think of Madden as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders from 1969-1979. My father and I agreed on very little but we shared a passion for the Raiders and their flamboyant coach and QB as you can see from my 2015 tribute to the Snake.

Madden retired from coaching at the age of 42 largely because he didn’t want to coach a Snake Stabler-less Raiders team. The coach and his QB were that close. They were the Sean Payton and Drew Brees of the Seventies.

This isn’t the first time I’ve paired an odd couple in a tribute. In 2019, it was John Paul Stevens and Jim Bouton. What I said about the Stevens-Bouton pairing applies to Madden-Reid:

You’re probably wondering why I paired Justice Stevens and pitcher/author Jim Bouton in a tribute. They’re both people I admired who died recently, that’s why. Besides, I’m notorious for my oddball combinations. It’s time to uncouple this Odd Couple; one that’s almost worthy of the late Neil Simon.

As I did in 2019, we’ll take them in order of demise and use their NYT obits as a framing device.

John Madden loved life and it loved him right back. He went from Super Bowl winning coach to superstar broadcaster and enjoyed every moment of it. To paraphrase the late, great Warren Zevon, he enjoyed every sandwich.

Madden once said that he never worked a day in his life. That’s how much he loved coaching and broadcasting. But Madden was as insightful as he was colorful. The NYT’s Ben Spiegel nailed it in his obituary:

In his irrepressible way, and with his distinctive voice, Madden left an imprint on the sport on par with titans like George Halas, Paul Brown and his coaching idol, Vince Lombardi. Madden’s influence, steeped in Everyman sensibilities and studded with wild gesticulations and paroxysms of onomatopoeia — wham! doink! whoosh! — made the N.F.L. more interesting, more relevant and more fun for over 40 years.

Madden was an uncommon football person. He was warm, gregarious, funny, and quirky. Most Super Bowl winning coaches are buttoned down, humorless, and irascible. John Madden was a character with a capital C. WHAM.

Harry Reid was one of the greatest senators in American history. As a senate leader, he was *almost* as good as Lyndon Johnson who remains the gold standard for legislative leadership.

Reid was a plain-spoken blunt man. He was the rare politician who said what he meant and meant what he said.

His direct approach was rooted in his hardscrabble upbringing:

Even by the standards of the political profession, where against-the-odds biographies are common and modest roots an asset, what Mr. Reid overcame was extraordinary. He was raised in almost Dickensian circumstances in tiny Searchlight, Nev.: His home had no indoor plumbing, his father was an alcoholic miner who eventually died by suicide, and his mother helped the family survive by taking in laundry from local brothels.

Reid entered the senate as a conservative to moderate Democrat. He left the senate as a liberal lion. Why? He listened and evolved with the times. He listened to frustrated Democrats and turned against the filibuster because he wanted to get shit done. Helping people was Harry Reid’s jam.

Former Reid aide Adam Jentleson nailed the essence of his boss in this tweet:

That reminds me of a short post I wrote about Reid in 2016. The title says it all: Zero Fucks Harry Reid Is The Best Harry Reid.

I paired Reid with Barack Obama because Reid encouraged the young senator to run for president and was an early supporter of his candidacy. Harry was just wild about Barry and the feeling was mutual:

When Harry Reid entered politics, Nevada was a ruby red state. Reid’s organizational skills and staunch support of organized labor changed that. Nevada hasn’t voted Republican in a presidential election since 2004. The Silver State is currently represented by 2 Democratic senators and has a Democratic governor. Harry Reid did that.

Like John Madden, Harry Reid was a character with a capital C. What’s not to love about a pol who was a boxer as a young man?

Harry Reid never lost that pugilistic edge. John Madden was a lover, not a fighter. But they were both badasses. In John Madden’s case, I know that because I read this swell book:

That concludes this odd couple tribute to two men I admired. John Madden and Harry Reid made the world a better and livelier place. They will be missed.

The last word for this two-headed tribute goes first to Paul Simon for Harry Reid followed by The Kinks for John Madden:

Update: There’s a wonderful piece about Harry Reid at TPM Cafe by Bill Dauster one of his former aides. Who among us wouldn’t like having this said of them?

Harry Reid was a sweet man. Sitting at my desk outside his office, I saw his many kindnesses to people great and small. He would warmly greet me in the morning and wish me good night at the end of every day.

2 thoughts on “Harry Reid & John Madden, R.I.P.

  1. John Madden created the onscreen writing showing where the movement was the football field. Or it was created with his help … it was his idea. Everyone takes that for granted now but it wasn’t around before he became a broadcaster.

    Harry Reid was a mensch.

  2. That was something Madden used as a coach, He brought expertise as well as enthusiasm to teevee sports.

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