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Advice from John Madden

Mark Cook is the program coordinator for the Institute for Global Engagement, a partnership between Denison Forum and Dallas Baptist University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Dallas Baptist University, and completed his Masters of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School and Truett Seminary. His ministry background is college ministry, and he has served both on a church staff as well as within campus ministries.


Former Oakland Raiders Hall of Fame coach John Madden honors recently deceased quarterback Ken Stabler during halftime ceremonies at an NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Coliseum in Oakland, CA, September 13 2015 (Credit: Icon Sportswire/Daniel Gluskoter)

In the buildup leading to Super Bowl 50, Troy Aikman told a fascinating story about Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. Speaking in a radio interview, Aikman told a story illustrating the close relationship between Rivera and the legendary coach and broadcaster John Madden.

Aikman, who serves as an analyst for Fox, was covering a Panthers game late in the season. As part of the preparation for the game, the national TV broadcasters always meet with the head coach and key players during the week, and this week was no different. However, after the normal allotted time, Aikman explained that Rivera asked him to come aside for a moment so he could show him something.

During the course of the interview, Rivera had shared about the closeness of his bond with John Madden. Madden, an iconic figure in the NFL, was the Super Bowl-winning coach of the Oakland Raiders who later became a beloved TV analyst alongside Pat Summerall. Madden’s legacy continues even though he has retired from broadcasting, as his video-game brand gains ever-increasing popularity.

Rivera told about his periodic trips to visit Madden in his home, and how those trips always left a lasting impression on him. As Aikman was telling the story, he remarked that the evidence that Rivera’s appreciation of Madden went beyond the usual happy cordiality was in Rivera’s extensive note-taking during the in-home visits. Rivera took pages of detailed notes of all that Madden shared.

Aikman remarked how fascinating this was, but then revealed that after the interview, Rivera told him to step aside with him for a few moments. He wanted to give him something. To Aikman’s astonishment, Rivera wanted him to have a collection of these notes. Rivera knew Aikman’s admiration and respect for Madden, and wanted him to have the chance to read through some of the best of Madden’s wisdom.

Most of us that remember watching Madden as a commentator remember his famous one-liners, where he would use a telestrator to show how a big play happened. He’d say something along the lines of “And the running back saw the hole right there, and BOOM, went right through.” What endeared him to most fans was his affability, his quick-wit, and his passion for old-school football.

But as Aikman shared his story, he spoke about how the Rivera notes revealed a far deeper side to Madden that the general public mostly never saw. As Aikman reviewed the notes, he spoke about how detailed they were, in everything from how to organize team meetings to how to deal with off-the-field player issues.

The great lesson from this story is not simply that Rivera’s relationship reveals how all of us need mentors in our lives. The deeper lesson is that there is no such thing as the self-made man. Even in the most testosterone driven, alpha-male popular sport in America, the best in the business know that they cannot do things alone. They need the wisdom of others.

But it goes beyond seeking someone older and wiser who can give you specific advice on how to deal with a specific problem. What Rivera’s notes reveal is that you and I need mentors in our lives who will give solid, trustworthy advice about how to approach life, how to think about problem situations, and how to learn and grow from mistakes.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul several times exhorts the Corinthians to imitate him as they seek to follow Christ. In 1 Thessalonians, he adds that he was desperate to share not only the truths of the gospel message, “but also our own selves.” (1:8)

Specific advice can be tremendously helpful, but as we seek to grow in Christ, we need to know what Eugene Peterson calls “the wisdom of each other”. Rivera’s notes reveal a coach who knew that he needed to learn how to approach coaching a team before he could solve specific problems, and the same is true for you and I. The entreaty from the Proverbs to “get wisdom” (4:5), “seeking for it like silver” (2:4), “prizing it highly” (4:8) is illustrated in Rivera’s notes from John Madden.

Each one of us is applying ourselves to something. The habits and decisions we make every day reveal what that something is.