Hey, Wait a Minute (I Wrote a Book) (Villard Books, 1984)
John Madden (with Dave Anderson)
Out of Print – available secondhand
Listed: Pro Football Journal Top 100 Football Books, #39

John Madden was well on his way to making a success of his second career. Having retired from coaching in 1978 after 10 seasons in charge of the Oakland Raiders, Madden had quickly established himself as a TV colour commentator. His style was excitable and passionate and he brought a coach’s eye to analysing replays.

In 1984, he published his first book, Hey, Wait A Minute, which was followed by One Knee Equals Two Feet (1986) and One Size Doesn’t Fit All (1988). More followed, by which time he was extending himself into video games too.

The later books often collected Madden’s observations about football but this first one, written with longtime New York Times journalist Dave Anderson, is essentially an autobiography. Fittingly for Madden’s style, however, it’s much less formal than a traditional autobiography. Anderson does a good job of bringing Madden’s easygoing manner and stream-of-consciousness style to the page.

For example, the first chapter opens with Madden’s Raiders losing their 1974 season opener against the Buffalo Bills, jumps forward to his retirement in 1978 and the injury to Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley that precipitated it, and then onto his hiring as a commentator for CBS. Most of the chapters follow a similar pattern: Maddern starts with a particular topic – tough quarterbacks, for example, or filming commercials – then drifts into a string of memories from various points in his career before eventually finding his way back to the topic at hand.

We learn about his childhood in a digression from a section on his fear of flying. Over the course of four pages we hear about Madden’s parents, his childhood love of baseball, his job as a golf caddy, his schooling and then the 1960 Cal Poly plane crash that killed 22 people, including many of Madden’s friends from his time there, and which might have been the foundation of his fear of flying. Then we’re back on the topic of flying before moving on to the next thing.

It’s bewildering at times but always entertaining. There are plenty of stories from Madden’s time with the Raiders, many of which will be familiar to modern readers but were less well known in 1984. Madden’s Raiders stood out as oddballs and lunatics, even in an era when there was plenty of craziness to go around. There’s defensive end Ted Hendricks arriving at practice on horseback, tight end Ken Herock trying to escape curfew by stuffing a standup lamp under his blankets only to have the lamp turn on when a coach flips the switch, and guard George Buehler using a Coke machine for blocking practice.

The overall feel is like talking to Madden in a bar. The stories seem to come as they occur to him and each one reminds him of another. That, together with Madden’s relaxed style, makes the book a quick read but that doesn’t mean that it’s lightweight. Madden’s gift has always been to teach people about football without making them feel like they’re being taught. He did it on TV and with video games, and this book is no exception.

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