Behind the scenes with FOX’s NFL Crew: Honoring John Madden

By Richie Zyontz
The main producer of FOX NFL

Editor’s Note: Richie Zyontz has been an NFL producer for FOX since 1994 and has been a lead producer for the past 20 seasons. He has over 40 years of league experience and has made six Super Bowls. Throughout the 2022 NFL season, he’ll provide an inside look as FOX’s new No. 1 NFL team makes its journey towards Super Bowl LVII.

John Madden doesn’t own Thanksgiving. But it was very close.

Pilgrims and Native Americans may have started this tradition, but Madden embraced it with a joyful love for food, family and football.

This is the first Thanksgiving without John, who passed away in December. The NFL has aptly chosen his favorite holiday to honor him, remembering his impact on football. kick in all three games on Thursday. Fans are reminded of the special relationship they have with the greatest analyst to ever wear a headset.

For me, it’s a bit more personal.

USA – AUGUST 5: John Madden, former Raiders coach and NFL broadcaster, poses with a bust of himself as he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (Photo by Jay Laprete/Bloomberg via Getty Images.)

A great friend

In 1982, I was in my second season traveling around the country as a very young broadcast associate on CBS Sports.

That year’s Thanksgiving game featured a second-year phenom named Lawrence Taylor, who had New York Giants suitable for Detroit lion in the Pontiac Silverdome.

While Pat Summerall and John Madden had hosted Super Bowl XVI the previous January at that very same stadium, this was their first full season together as CBS’s lead team.

Producer Bob Stenner and director Sandy Grossman perfected what would become the production teams’ Mount Rushmore. I really walk among the giants.

Little did I know that the 39 years of close friendship with Madden was in my future. I could never have imagined walking with him in cities across America, introducing him to kosher delis and pizza on New York’s Upper West Side, playing poker in his apartment. he was in Dakota (see Lennon, John for a historical reference) and rode his Maddencruiser bus from one end of the country to the other, telling jokes all day long.

Not to mention he introduced me to my future wife, June, that we were married in 1990 at his home in Danville, Ca. and that he was my best man.

It was a great friendship and someone I think about every day.

Thanksgiving John Madden

Thanksgiving is John Madden’s favorite holiday. This year, the NFL honored the legendary broadcaster and coach.

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

He loves Thanksgiving football. He loves the players, the coach, the food, the big holiday meal with his team.

On Thursday’s TV show, as we paid tribute to John, I glanced at my phone more than once expecting a test from him:

“Enough talking about me, get back to the game.”

A very special day

I received a message during our radio session from Mike Madden, John’s eldest son. He said that day was “awesome, humbling.” I’m proud that we were able to congratulate his father with kind thoughts and words as well as some memorable video clips. Director Rich Russo and I wore All-Madden jerseys as our personal tribute to the man we know and love. Today, a new tradition is born—honoring John Madden for the joy he brings us each Thanksgiving.

Richie Zyontz wearing a vintage All-Madden shirt in 1991

Pass the BBQ sauce

Usually, we celebrate Thanksgiving with a dinner and party on a Tuesday night. Unfortunately, our truck went quite far from New York to Arlington, where we broadcast Cowboys victory over Giants, and Tuesday turned into a longer workday at AT&T Stadium. Wednesday didn’t work out because the halftime rehearsal with the Jonas Brothers kept the crew busy until the early evening.

We’ve made the audio announcement and moved our celebration to Friday night in Kansas City, where we’ll be hosting our next game on Sunday between Rams and chief. It may not be traditional holiday fare, but you can’t beat ribs, burnt heads, and pulled pork at Jack Stack Barbecue.

John Madden would approve – this man knows his way around a rack of ribs.

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