The Land of Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda lies in a vast, barren wasteland — the desolate site of the Crypts of Lost Opportunities.

John Madden passed on Dec. 28. Long celebrated as the best of TV analysts for his “Booms!” his appearances in beer ads, travel on buses and his Thanksgiving Day feasts, I understood his popularity. To a point.

If only he could have applied his presence to the good and welfare of football. He didn’t.

Thus, to me, he was first in a continuing series of disappointments among those who would have, could have and should have made a difference.

In 1979, when Madden was first heard on CBS, NFL games began to degenerate into self-promotional, me-first, sport-be-damned spectacles. Soon, Madden had the forum and clout to offend the offenders. But he passed on that opportunity, whistling past the decay, unwilling, like many eyewitnesses, to get involved.

Would the steady presence of an Antonio Brown, Adam “Pacman” Jones and dozens of other well-established creeps — fresh from American colleges, no less — have been indulged had Madden made it even occasionally plain that their acts are childish, selfish, immodest, unwelcome and often counterproductive? We’ll never know.

Madden actually chose to applaud some perps.

In a close game, after relentlessly selfish (thus expendable) superstar Randy Moss drew a 15-yard penalty from the sideline for spraying a water bottle on a side judge, Rather than ask aloud why Moss wasn’t ejected, Madden laughed, as if he enjoyed and approved Moss’s act.

NBC Sports commentators John Madden and Al Michaels
John Madden had the clout to quiet the noise of NFL showboats — and chose not to.
NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Late in a game his team was winning, Deion Sanders intercepted a pass, then needlessly, mindlessly tried to lateral it. Madden logically should have knocked Sanders’ senselessness.

Instead, he claimed that this play proved Sanders to be “the most entertaining man in football.”

I didn’t believe him when he said that, not after he’d told me during one of our two long telephone conversations that games were being diminished by and even lost to showboats. My enthusiastic suggestion that he speak such important words on the air was ignored, but who was I?

The only on-field personnel Madden knocked were defenseless game officials. Yet Madden had a rotten grasp of NFL rules.

As a pre-Roger Goodell NFL VP told me, Madden, when told he was bashing officials for correctly enforcing rules, Madden’s reply was, “Then change the rules.”

Madden was never known as a grateful or gracious employee. During his 14 years at CBS, he depended on lower-rung insiders to do his weekly biddings.

When he left for Fox and a record $6 million per, he didn’t bother to thank any of them, those who helped Madden become TV star John Madden.

While at Fox, which adding to his enormous wealth, he publicly stated he’d one day like to call “Monday Night Football” on ABC.

The scoreboard displays a tribute to John Madden
NFL teams paid tribute to the late John Madden in early January.
Getty Images

Fox execs freaked, biting their fingers raw in worry they’d lose Madden, when they should have fired him for public insubordination (See: Harry Truman vs. Douglas MacArthur). As Fox’s highest-paid employee, he openly campaigned for a job with another network. That’s treason.

Madden’s top-selling video game came with twisted elements designed to desensitize the young in no further need of twisting.

Head Coach John Madden of the Oakland Raiders
John Madden as coach of the Oakland Raiders.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

One edition included the package-printed come-on: “Sack the quarterback! Send him to the hospital!”

That appeared with the game as an ambulance racing onto the field to scoop up the QB, running over players as it went, leaving those players to drip computerized red blood.

In my second long conversation with Madden, I asked if this met with his approval, his sense of football as a sport. He didn’t like the question.

“What do you want me to do, have all the games recalled?”

No, but how did you allow such content to be sold under your name?

Madden replied that he had no say in the matter. I replied that he should have the first and last word in anything sold in his name.

That was our last conversation.

Nothing written above wasn’t written when Madden was alive, and I’ve allowed what I feel is a respectable time to pass since his death to write this. It won’t change anything. Madden will be recalled as extra special in the annals of sportscasting.

But just as I’d have a tough time ignoring Madden’s passing, I won’t write what I don’t believe. Take it or leave it, it’s just my version of a tough-to-write, unpopular truth. 

Reasonable criticism now gets you fired

MLB Network’s dismissal of credible, hard-working reporter/analyst Ken Rosenthal allegedly for several times mildly criticizing MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who hasn’t even earned legitimate mild praise, is both disturbing and unsurprising.

MLBN is likely guilty of crimes committed by nearly all networks and teams that control the networks on which they appear: treating viewers, often subscribers, as morons.

There is no better reflection on a sport or a team than allowing its broadcasters the freedom to be reasonably candid toward the audience. They need not engage in roaring condemnations to let us know what they think we should know — if we don’t already know.

It’s called good faith. Mostly forbidden, good faith has never cost any network even one viewer.

When MSG Network was regarded as America’s best regional sports network, president Bob Gutkowski hid nothing and hid from nothing, including mistakes. The good faith cultivated among viewers was returned and sustained. Team voices were allowed their voices, with Gutkowski’s support and encouragement.

That ended, never to return, with the Garden’s sale to the Dolan Family in 1995.

The value of honesty is always discounted. The commentary over Yankees telecasts on YES is too often an insult to those who see and know better. Michael Kay can insist he’s not a house man, but there’s too much evidence to the contrary.

Every weekend NBC Sports updates ignore mainstream sports in favor of promoting its Olympics coverage, often months away — again, as if we don’t know better. Friday mornings, even NBC’s “Today Show” crew feigns excitement for NBC’s Sunday night NFL telecast.

For years, most everything on ESPN and ESPN Radio have become transparent promotions of ESPN goods. WFAN has become a sports gambling station to reflect ownership’s investments in sports gambling.

ken rosenthal interview walt weiss during the 2021 world series
Ken Rosenthal’s firing by MLB Network is both disturbing and unsurprising.
Frank Micelotta/Fox Sports

The sacking of Rosenthal, who maintains his Fox weekend gigs, will allow MLB Network more time to promote what now seems to matter most: MLB’s daily gambling lines and the Manfred-certified Top 100 Bat Flips.

Brown ban overdue

Had Roger Goodell been a genuine guardian of the game and not a pandering social dilettante, he’d long ago have told Antonio Brown, “We’ve given you five second chances. You’re done.” But Goodell is more likely to invite Brown to perform at halftime of the Super Bowl.

In a 91-82 loss to the Clippers last week, the Celtics shot 4-for-42 on 3-pointers. Adam Silver is no dope. How much longer before he makes an executive decision to return basketball to NBA games?

Since the 2011 Goodell “PSLs are good investments” season, the Giants are 70-106, the Jets are 63-113. PSLs ended years of waiting lists for Giants and Jets tickets, but there’s a perverse upside to those being suckered: Goodell’s NFL is so addicted to TV money, only PSL owners to bad teams are granted logical 1 p.m. home game starts.

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