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Chad Finn I Sports media

Reviewing Fox’s much-hyped documentary on the great John Madden

Pat Summerall and John Madden's skills complemented each other better than any other broadcast pairing in NFL history.Frank Micelotta

Fox Sports promoted its documentary on John Madden so much in recent weeks that one almost expected Madden himself to come bursting through the television screen, old Miller Lite ad-style, to remind you about it.

“Don’t forget, Christmas Day, 2 p.m.! I’ll bring the turducken! Bam!”

Turns out the hype was justified. The documentary, “All Madden,” was as likable as its subject, the rumpled, impossibly charismatic everyman who found great success as a coach, broadcaster, pitchman, and video game namesake.

A few thoughts and observations on the doc, which is co-directed and executive produced by Tom Rinaldi:

▪ Madden is 85 now. He retired from broadcasting after the 2008 NFL season. He hadn’t done an extensive on-camera interview in more than a decade. So it’s a joy and a relief to see and hear him again and realize that, while he looks older and talks a little slower, he’s still the same engaging personality we remember.

▪ It’s a testament to his enduring popularity that those interviewed in the documentary are essentially a Who’s Who of sports media and the NFL for the last 50 years. Joe Montana beams when he’s shown a clip of Madden and Pat Summerall calling Super Bowl XVI between the 49ers and Bengals in January 1982.

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Bill Belichick is charming (that’s right, charming), his respect for NFL history and Madden’s place within it shining through. He also has the most on-point description of Madden in the entire film: “When you look at John, you don’t mistake him for anybody else. You can see this guy a mile away.”

Bill Parcells, naturally, had a great line, too: “[He was] a little disheveled from time to time. Everything is not always in the right spot.”

▪ Madden, who turned to broadcasting because, in his words, “I didn’t think what they did was doing it the right way,” called a rehearsal game at the Los Angeles Coliseum with a particularly youthful partner in 1979. “He looked like a 12-year-old kid,” recalled Madden, “And I thought, ‘What am I going to do with this guy?” Then he heard Bob Costas go to work. “This is the little guy I rode over with? Holy moly, this guy’s really good.”

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▪ I hadn’t realized that Madden had other broadcast partners before being paired with Summerall in 1981, forming a tandem whose skills complemented each other better than any other broadcast pairing in NFL history. Among those Madden worked with: Vin Scully.

▪ The most unstoppable player in NFL video game history is Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl. Second might be Michael Vick in Madden during his youth with the Falcons. So it was amusing to hear Vick reveal that when he played Madden, he always chose Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, or Drew Brees. “I always wanted to be a pocket passer,” said Vick, “so I played with those guys.”

Tipping point near?

DISH TV dropped NESN this week, as did YouTube TV in October.

Here’s a question, sports television viewer: How much would you be willing to fork over a month for a direct-to-consumer version of NESN, where you could actually watch Red Sox and Bruins games without requiring proof of a cable or streaming service subscription?

I’ve long been a skeptic that a possibility would ever exist, largely because Major League Baseball’s approach has been that allowing such a model would severely cut into its revenue for its overall streaming packages such as MLB.TV.

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But it appears a tipping point could be near. Over the past year, MLB executives have acknowledged that regional direct-to-consumer options are all but inevitable down the road. And consumers want it, at least at a reasonable price.

DISH TV dropped NESN from its service this past week, citing steep per-subscriber rates, and no longer carries any regional sports networks. YouTube and NESN split back in October 2020.

NESN is available on fuboTV for streaming, as well as DirecTV and various cable provider options, but there are an increasing number of viewers who use and like other services that feel shut out. Direct-to-consumer might be the only way to get them back.

Bring them back

Over here on Nostalgia Avenue, a couple of gems from the past we’d like to see revived: 1. Miller Lite ads with more recent retired athletes; 2. This daydream of a suggestion from @TradePostB on Twitter: “Just put the [Red Sox and Bruins] games back on TV38 WSBK and air old episodes of Dana Hersey and ‘The Movie Loft’ in the offseason. Also, bring back ‘Ask The Manager’ so I can get my Three Stooges questions answered.” Mix in a “Creature Double Feature” and I’m sold.


Chad Finn can be reached at chad.finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.