Madden's greatness developed after his Cal Poly senior project



John Madden, the Einstein of the football world, retired from the booth last month, ending decades of colorful commentary on the game he loved best: football. It was knowledge obtained from watching football film day after day. 

But what about Madden’s own film? What can be learned about the legendary Cal Poly alumnus by watching his film or, in this case, his microfilm?

Stored away in an old rusty file cabinet on the bottom floor of Cal Poly’s Kennedy Library is Madden’s 1959 senior project on microfiche.

In his senior project titled “Use of weights and their relationships to increased strides and speed of athletes,” Madden addressed the lack of this information and need for it.

“More material on this subject is needed and requested—more work on the type of stride, length of stride, and number of strides in a given distance and their relationship to the speed of an athlete is always in dire need by coaches,” he wrote in the research paper. To acquire the information he performed tests on six athletes over 
12 days.

Suffice it to say Madden may have demonstrated the seeds of a skill that as a commentator earned him fame: the ability to state the obvious in a slightly different way. He once commented during a game, “When a guy runs, he goes faster.”

  From his project: “In a brief summation of the conclusion, the author would like to point out that the experiment helped some, and yet some did not benefit. It is felt that through extensive use all athletes could be helped by use,” he concluded. His paper is 50 years old and some could argue it’s unfair to judge someone by something so deep in the past. Still, who would have figured that adding weights to the shoes of athletes would slow them down? The two sources, two alone, cited in his bibliography, perhaps?

But this is the Madden millions tuned in to watch and hear during Sunday Night Football and later, Monday Night Football. This is the man whose last name would become a household name for his video game Madden NFL series sold by Electronic Arts. This is the man who brought Xs and Os to the television screen.

Obviously he knew what he was talking about. When it came to sports, especially football, the man did it all.

After playing football at Cal Poly, he was drafted into the National Football League in the late rounds in 1958. But a knee injury ended his career before it started.

Two years later, the Cal Poly football team’s plane crashed killing 24 of the 48 passengers on board. Many have attributed this incident for Madden’s fear of flying, but the Pro Football Hall of Famer has said that claustrophobia keeps him from boarding a plane.

En route to his broadcasting debut, the hefty Madden called out routes as a football coach. He served as assistant coach for Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria and later San Diego State University before making it to the big show.
   Madden became the youngest head coach in NFL history when he was promoted from assistant coach in 1969 at the age of 32. He racked up winning season after winning season, before retiring as the Oakland Raiders head coach following the 1978 season.

For more than a decade he returned to his alma mater to host a golf tournament fundraiser for the athletic programs, but his connections with his alma mater waned in more recent decades.

His retirement has put him back in the headlines. Looking back, everything looks good, except, perhaps, for his senior project. For a man who is used to X and O talk, the official ruling on the field is that his senior project was a punt.

Have an idea for a Cal Poly senior 
project intern Omar Sanchez should dredge up? Contact him through Managing Editor Patrick Howe at


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