Sportscaster John Madden has not boarded
a plane since 1979, but crisscrosses the nation weekly during the
football season covering "NFL Monday Night Football" for
His transport isn't Amtrak or Greyhound.
It's the ultimate SUV -- an $800,000, 45-foot luxury coach fitted
with everything from sauna to gourmet galley.
Madden, 67, works, sleeps and eats as he
covers 80,000 miles annually -- almost all of it between September
and January -- across America's interstate highways.
Here's a peek at the highway lifestyle
of America's best-known "road warrior."
The Madden Cruiser rolls out of the commentator's
upscale, gated Blackhawk development near Oakland for a routine, 53-hour
transcontinental trek to New York for a Monday Night Football assignment.
"Turn off your mind for 50 hours," says
Madden, comfortable in golf shirt and sweat pants.
He's a high-temperature guy who has the best winning
record of any football coach from his days with the Oakland Raiders.
He once patrolled the sidelines of wintry Soldier Field, Chicago
in his shirtsleeves, so it's no surprise that he sets the cabin's
climate control at a chilly 60 degrees.
The three flat-screen plasma televisions are tracking
different stations by satellite and an ABC staffer is working at
a laptop computer that's up-linked to Madden's Goal Line Productions
office back in Pleasanton, Calif.
The Cruiser is a rolling command post, with high-speed
Internet access, multiple TVs, a navigation system, cell phones
and a fax all in satellite contact with the outside world.
"We don't stop any more to set up a satellite
dish or make a phone call," says agent Sandy Montag. "We
don't need to. We keep rolling. It used to be that we didn't use
the satellite very much because we had to stop to set it up.
"We don't like to stop, and we have rules. We
don't wait for anyone, we go 1,000 miles on a tank of diesel and
we finish any bottle of water we start."
Sockless, despite the on-board chill, Madden takes
a slug of his 48-ounce water bottle.
"I used to get on the airplane, then I'd get
off the airplane. I'd go to the hotel and the stadium, then back
to the airplane. I traveled all over, but I didn't see anything.
Now, I do," he says in that familiar, confiding voice.
was back in 1979 that the poster child for the claustrophobic,
fear-of-flying set had what he described as "a full-blown
panic attack" when about to fly out of Tampa.
"It wasn't about flying, bad turbulence or anything.
The flight attendant closed the door and before we'd even moved
I knew I had to get off the plane, but I gutted it out. You think
you're going to die. I was sweating, shaking, the whole thing.
"It was about being encased and not being able
to get out."
Madden landed, turned in his frequent flier card,
and grounded himself forever.
First, he tried Amtrak, but when trains didn't go
where he wanted, he hired a motor coach. Soon, he traded promotional
appearances for a custom Greyhound and boarded the first Madden
Today, he's on his fourth, an E4500 Entertainer made
by Motor Coach Industries of Schaumburg, Ill., and complete with
bedroom (the queen-sized air mattress is set at 'firm'), guest bunks
and polished granite-topped galley with a double oven, electric
stove and side-by-side fridge.
A generator big enough to power a 5,000-square-foot
house powers it all.
There's also a high-tech office, two bathrooms and
an extra- large steam shower and sauna -- everything finished in
rosewood and glove leather.
The luxury-suite-on-wheels comes courtesy of a promotional
agreement with Outback Steakhouse, and Madden makes a point of visiting
as many of the 1,000 U.S. outlets as he can during his odysseys.
After nine years with the company, he guesses he's half way through
But he still loves the greasy-spoon diners, back-road
barbecue cafes and home-cooking food joints he finds on America's
"I like to go into small towns and find a new
place. In Mississippi, I've got a seafood place I go to," he
says. "In Van Horn, Texas, it's Chuy's. We always call ahead
and Mama Chuy makes a chicken dish with beans and rice, and she
makes her own tortillas.
"In California, in Los Banos on Interstate Highway
5, our first stop is the Woolgrowers, a Basque restaurant. In Georgia,
there's a place called The Georgia Pig, that's just barbecue."
Madden wanders back to his office, scans the TV screens
and starts reading sports reports, readying for his work at the
Madden's longtime drivers, Willie Yarbrough and Joe
Mitchell, are always at the controls of the Cruiser. It's 13 feet
high, weighs 45,000 pounds, has a 200-gallon fuel tank and gets
about six miles per gallon.
Operating costs aren't discussed, but industry insiders
say a luxury coach like this rents for $450 a day plus fuel, maintenance,
insurance and driver salaries. A few other odds and ends help push
the cost well over a dollar a mile, or say $4,000 for a one-way,
That's small change for Madden, who's reputed to make
about $40 million a year from his broadcasting, video games and
Ace Hardware and Outback Steakhouse endorsements.
"If it's a short trip, say from New York to Philadelphia,
the bus is full, a rolling party," says Montag. "But when
it's all the way across country, New York to San Francisco, there's
usually about three people aboard."
A rolling command post has its virtues, as well as
being a people mover, Montag says.
"In San Diego the other week, the NFL announced
at 7 p.m. on Sunday that the San Diego-Miami game would be moved
to Arizona because of wildfires in California. By 7.30 p.m., John
was on the Cruiser headed for Tempe.
"They arrived at 3.30 a.m., Monday and a few
hours later were ready to broadcast!"
Back on Sept. 11 when the World Trade Center towers
were attacked, Madden was in New York, where he has an apartment.
The football game was canceled and he readied himself for a trip
back to California.
His management group called to say that flight cancellations
had left ice queen Peggy Fleming stranded in Pennsylvania and could
John give her a ride back to her Los Gatos, Calif., home?
Big John collected the Olympic legend and as they
drove through Nebraska, they stopped at a small store near Omaha
to buy American flags for the bus.
"The guy couldn't believe that Peggy Fleming
and John Madden had just walked in. He begged: 'As you leave town,
drive by the store and honk at me!'"
As the Cruiser rolls east across the Sierra Nevada
on Interstate Highway 80, Madden retreats to his bedroom for a nap.
Even the queen-sized bed is special; it has an air mattress from
Select Comfort that the manufacturer scrambled to fit.
"John heard about the air mattress, tried it
and liked it," says Chuck Dorsey, president of the Minneapolis
sleep company. "The problem was coordinating its installation
in the Cruiser, as it's on the road all the time."
A crew contacted the bus somewhere in Wyoming and
when Madden arrived for playoffs in the Twin Cities, workers took
out the innerspring and installed the new air bed while the game
Dawn comes up as the Cruiser passes the Black Hills,
and Madden is on the intercom, asking the driver, "Where are
Truckers on the interstate recognize the red-and-yellow
rig and radio in to ask driver Yarbrough where Madden's headed,
what game he's doing.
By midafternoon, already through the Rockies with
sightings of antelope, wild horses and prairie dogs, there's a stop
for fuel. The bus is in Nebraska, roughly half way, and Madden takes
a 15-minute walk.
He doesn't seek it, but he is quickly recognized as
"The Football Guy"' or "The Ace Hardware Guy."
Sometimes, people give him pies or fried chicken. Mostly, they greet
him and say how they enjoy listening to his commentaries. He's friendly,
outgoing, approachable, but he's soon back on the bus.
There's no exercise equipment on the Cruiser. Madden
considered putting a treadmill on board, but it was too big.
"For me, it has to be industrial size,"
The drivers grab several local newspapers. Madden,
after a steam shower and sauna, downloads other reports from the
Internet and starts to do homework as the bus rolls through thickening
traffic south of Chicago.
"I'm not a journalist, I'm not an actor. I'm
a football coach doing television," he says. "It's fun.
It's my life, my passion. I'll do it as long as I can."
Madden's driver stays far south of Lake Michigan and
skirts I-80 -- a standing order, as the highway invariably seems
to have construction delays. Then, it's through the fall foliage
of Indiana and Pennsylvania.
Madden, lolling in the front seat with his feet on
the windshield, nods at the colors.
"People pay money to see scenes like this,"
he says. "You only get to see America driving through places
like Nebraska for eight hours.
"This is seeing our country. I've always said
a congressman should ride across country. Not drive, because you
can't see when you drive, you have to ride. You have to be a witness
It's Friday afternoon, and the Cruiser is touching
down, pulling into Manhattan. Madden will sleep at his apartment,
ready himself for Monday night's analysis and banter, ride the brightly-painted
Cruiser to Giants' stadium and greet a throng of eager fans.
Game over, he'll snack, shower and sleep on the bus
as it threads its way out of the city and starts again to cross
the huge spaces of America's heartland. He'll travel from stadium
to shining stadium, from Mile High to Lambeau, Qualcomm to Candlestick.
It's all in a season's work for the coast-to-coast commuter.
-- Posted: Dec. 9, 2003