Jim Souhan
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John Madden was born and lived for a few years in Austin, Minn.

Let's claim him.

It's what we do, and Madden would be a wonderful addition to the Minnesota pantheon.

For the first time in my life, I am about to quote Roger Goodell without wincing. The NFL commissioner said: "John Madden is to the NFL what Elvis is to rock 'n' roll. He is the king.''

Goodell is right. Madden took an intricate sport rising in popularity and made it accessible to people who had never worn a facemask.

Madden, who died this week at 85, was an anomaly in many ways.

He was a great coach who willingly retired young, at 42.

He worked at one of the most authoritarian positions in America — NFL head coach — yet was as down to earth as your average fan.

He loved one-syllable words — like "Boom!'' and "Doink!'' — yet was the first American broadcaster to use a telestrator, and is the namesake of one of the most innovative and popular video games in history.

He owns the highest winning percentage (.759) in league history for anyone who was a head coach for 10 years or more, and he won a Super Bowl — and his coaching accomplishments pale by comparison to his more indelible contributions to football.

Madden made football fun and understandable for the masses. Most NFL figures and analysts want you to believe that football is a neuroscience and that those who work in football must have CIA-level security clearances.

Madden was both a great coach and a fan of the cloaked simplicity of the game. Where a modern analyst might tell you that the right guard stemmed, then dropped his post foot to pull past the A-gap to lead a belly-series RPO inside handoff, Madden would point out, using the telestrator, that the key to the play was the big guy on the right hitting the big guy on the left with a "Boom!''

Madden was also ahead of his time in questioning whether NFL players with concussion symptoms should be allowed to play.

I didn't know Madden, but I have many peers who loved him for his down-to-earth sensibilities and gentle nature.

That's the Madden that Mike Flaherty got to know. "He was the coolest guy,'' Flaherty said.

Flaherty owns M.J. Flaherty Painting in Austin. Madden was a second cousin. The Maddens moved to California when John was still young.

In 1977, a bunch of Flahertys from Austin received tickets to Super Bowl XI. Madden would coach the Raiders to a 32-14 victory over the Vikings at the Rose Bowl.

In 1999, Madden, who feared flying, had ridden in the Madden Cruiser coach bus to Minneapolis to broadcast a Vikings game. He had mentioned during a broadcast that he had been born in Austin, and the city of Austin and his relatives invited him for a visit.

"He called his mom when we were all on the cruiser and said, 'Hey, I've got a bus full of Flahertys here,' " Flaherty said on Thursday. "It was pretty funny. He was quite a guy."

Madden received a key to the city at City Hall. "That was the one and only time I know of that he came to town,'' Flaherty said.

Madden had sent his relatives Oakland Raiders stickers, which led to Flaherty having to explain to other kids at school why he owned stickers for a team other than the Vikings. ``I told them we were related to John Madden,'' Flaherty said. "They didn't believe me.''

That changed after Madden's visit in '99.

"We rode around on the cruiser and talked about family,'' Flaherty said. "He was a very intelligent man. I believe he was close to getting a Ph.D. at one point. He was well-versed in everything, including football. He was probably the smartest guy there was when it came to football.

"I gave him an Austin High School football jersey. We had 'Madden' put on the back. We had to super-size it.

"He thought that was pretty cool, and I think he was pretty humbled by the reception he got here."