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Behind the Scenes with FOX’s NFL crew: Honoring John Madden

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By Richie Zyontz
FOX NFL Lead Producer

Editor’s Note: Richie Zyontz has been an NFL producer for FOX since 1994 and the lead producer for the last 20 seasons. He has greater than 40 years of experience covering the league and has produced six Super Bowls. Throughout the 2022 NFL season, he’ll provide an inside look as FOX’s latest No. 1 NFL team makes its journey toward Super Bowl LVII.

John Madden didn’t own Thanksgiving — nevertheless it was rattling close. 

The tradition might date back to the 1600s, but Madden embraced it together with his joyful love of food, family and football. 

This was the primary Thanksgiving without John, who died last December. The NFL very appropriately selected his favorite holiday to honor him, commemorating his impact on football during all three Thursday games. Fans were reminded of the special relationship they’d with the best analyst to ever wear a headset. 

For me, it’s somewhat more personal. 

John Madden was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. His impact as a Super Bowl-winning coach, broadcast analyst and video-game pioneer is unmatched. (Photo by Jay Laprete/Bloomberg via Getty Images.)

An incredible friend 

In 1982, I used to be in my second season traveling the country as a really young broadcast associate with CBS Sports. 

The Thanksgiving game that 12 months featured a second-year phenom named Lawrence Taylor, whose Latest York Giants matched up against the Detroit Lions within the Pontiac Silverdome. 

Thanksgiving Moment: Lawrence Taylor’s pick-six

Try this “Thanksgiving Moment,” from 1982, when Lawrence Taylor returned an interception for a game-winning TD at Detroit.

While Pat Summerall and Madden had called Super Bowl XVI the previous January in that very stadium, this was their first full season together as CBS’ lead crew. 

Producer Bob Stenner and director Sandy Grossman rounded out what would turn into the Mount Rushmore of production teams. I really walked amongst giants. 

Little did I do know that 39 years of close friendship with Madden was in my future. Never could I imagine taking walks with him in cities across America, introducing him to kosher delis and pizza on Latest York’s Upper West Side, playing poker in his apartment on the Dakota (see “Lennon, John” for historical reference) and riding his Maddencruiser bus from one end of the country to the opposite, telling stories and laughing the entire time. 

Not to say that he introduced me to my future wife, June, and we got married in 1990 at his home in Danville, California, where he served as my best man. 

It was an important friendship and one I take into consideration each day. 

John Madden Thanksgiving Tribute

John Madden Thanksgiving Tribute

Thanksgiving was John Madden’s favorite holiday. This 12 months, the NFL honored the legendary coach and broadcaster.

Near the tip of John’s life, I asked him what he missed most about broadcasting. Without missing a beat, his answer was Thanksgiving. 

He loved Thanksgiving football. He loves the players, the coaches, the food, the large holiday meal together with his crew. 

During Thursday’s telecast, as we paid tribute to John, I glanced at my phone greater than once expecting a text from him: 

“Enough about me, get back to covering the sport.” 

A really big day 

I received a text during our broadcast from Mike Madden, John’s oldest son. He said the day had been “amazing, humbling.” I used to be proud we were capable of rejoice his dad with kind thoughts and words in addition to some memorable video clips. 

Director Wealthy Russo and I donned All-Madden jerseys as our own personal tributes to a person we knew and loved. Today, a latest tradition was born —honoring John Madden for the enjoyment he brought us every Thanksgiving. 

Richie Zyontz wearing a vintage All-Madden sweatshirt in 1991. (Photo courtesy of Richie Zyontz)

Pass the BBQ sauce 

Normally, we might have celebrated Thanksgiving with a crew meal and party Tuesday night. Unfortunately, our trucks had quite a haul from Latest York to Arlington, where we broadcasted the Cowboys’ win over the Giants, and Tuesday became an extended work day at AT&T Stadium. Wednesday didn’t work since the halftime rehearsal with the Jonas Brothers kept the crew occupied until the early evening. 

We called an audible and moved our celebration to Friday night in Kansas City, where we go next for a game Sunday between the Rams and Chiefs. It may not be traditional holiday fare, but you’ll be able to’t beat the ribs, burnt ends and pulled pork at Jack Stack Barbecue.

John Madden would have approved — the person knew his way around a rack of ribs. 

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