Pete Carroll was just starting off his coaching career at his alma mater, the University of the Pacific, when, 70 or so miles away in Oakland, John Madden was helping lead the Raiders to winning season after winning season, including a Super Bowl-winning campaign in 1976.
In the 1990s, when Ken Norton Jr. was a standout linebacker for the Cowboys and 49ers, Madden was one of the game's best-known broadcasters, bringing humor and insight to broadcasts on CBS, FOX, ABC and NBC and establishing himself as a household name to new generations of football fans.
Darrell Taylor, who was born 19 years after Madden coached his last game and who was still in grade school when Madden retired from broadcasting, learned the game of football, like so many others current NFL players, in no small part by playing the Madden NFL video games that have been among the most popular sports video games for three decades.
And Bobby Wagner, a self-described "older guy" by NFL standards, has gone from playing NFL Madden video games as a kid with his brother and his friends to playing it as an adult with his nephews.
All of those different connections to John Madden that span generations of players and coaches help explain why news of Madden's death on Tuesday resonated with so many people inside and out of NFL circles. Essentially, if you were fan of football over the past 50 years, there's a very good chance Madden either directly or indirectly influenced your appreciation for and understanding of the game.
"How iconic can you be?" Carroll said. "In this game, he was everything. Everybody loves him.
"His style crossed all lines. I'm sure there are a bunch of people that just wanted to watch the game just to see what he was going to say and how he was going to bring some kind of energy to it that made it more fun. It was really always about fun, he was always a guy that was making (football) more fun for everybody. He had a great outlook and an intuition about the game and how it is played, how you should do it, and all that kind of stuff, but most of all he just made it more fun to be part of. I would think that he affected a lot of people, I can't imagine not."
Carroll shared the story of his one real interaction with Madden, which came when the Hall of Fame coach called Carroll out of the blue after the Seahawks had put out one of the tackling videos the team put out to try encourage the use of rugby-style tackling to take the head out of the game in the name of player safety.
"I only talked to him a few times, but he called me—remember when we sent out the 'Hawk tackling' video—he called me out of nowhere," Carroll said. "I guess he is on the long-term (NFL Competition Committee), but taking care of the game, he said that it was one of the coolest things he has seen in a long time. He said that getting the head out of football is where the game should go, and he made a big deal about it. I was all charged up by the fact that he called out of nowhere."
Wagner, like most of his generation, grew up knowing Madden as the face of a video game franchise, and likened it to how Michael Jordan is better known for his iconic shoe brand than his playing days to a certain generation.
"He affected (football) in a lot of ways," Wagner said. "A lot of ways that maybe I don't even realize it because even like for myself, I'm considered an older guy here, but a lot of my introduction to Madden was through the video game. That's kind of how I knew him. It's very similar to like a lot of the guys growing up and they hear about Michael Jordan, they just think shoes… I think same thing, but you see the impact he had. You see the energy they had whether it was a coach or commentator, and like I said, the video game. He's had a huge impact on the game, literally, and he's going to be missed for sure."
Taylor, who is in his second season with the Seahawks, said, "He had the biggest impact on everyone across the world with video games, the NFL, and everything. It's been awesome to see what he has done and what he has been able to create to make people happy. He had a great impact on me learning football from a video game to going and doing it on a real field. He has definitely been impactful on me, so R.I.P."
Norton, meanwhile, not only grew up appreciating Madden as a Raiders fan—they relocated to his hometown of Los Angeles when Norton was a teenager—but also as an NFL player and later as a coach whose career included three seasons with the Oakland Raiders.
"Just his energy, his passion, his ability to work with players—players really played hard for him," Norton said. "When I worked with the Raiders, I got the chance to meet him. I got a chance to talk to a lot of players that played with him and for him. It's just amazing just the impact he had on the player-coach relationship. They really wanted to play hard for him. Everybody loved him. From a coach standpoint, when you have a team able to touch their buttons and play hard and run through a wall for you, like he had, that's magic.
"He's been the very best at three or four different careers. He's been able to impact everyone so positively. No one says anything bad about him. For me, I can only speak personally, he's been an inspiration. He's been someone that you hold up as something you aspire to be like. Really smart. He stood on the sideline and did the very best. He was in the broadcast booth and was the very best. The Madden game was the very best. It was always the best with him and that's always something to strive for. He made quite an impact on my life as far as trying to be the very best at something."