FROM THE PILOT’S SEAT Embrace John Madden’s Ideal of Humility

Artwork by Conor Magurno ‘22

By GianLuca Moscheni ‘22

When you hear the name John Madden, most people think of the man responsible for coaching the Oakland Raiders from 1969 to 1978, for winning the 1977 Super Bowl with his 13-1 Raiders, or for being the namesake of the Madden NFL video games. 

Many people, however, are unaware of Madden’s struggles and shortcomings— and how they can inspire the next generation.

  Madden was drafted to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1958. During training camp, however, he suffered a devastating knee injury that ended his NFL career before it even started.

  “While I was rehabbing,” Madden explained, “Norm Van Brocklin [then quarterback for the Eagles] would be watching films and would explain what was happening. I ended up with a degree in teaching and my love for football meshed with teaching.” 

  Though disappointed by his injury, Madden understood that humility was crucial in accepting his newfound role on the sidelines rather than on the field. He resolved to become a coach.

  In 1960, Madden was hired as an assistant coach at Allan Hancock College. He was promoted to head coach in 1962 before he eventually left to serve as a defensive assistant coach for San Diego State from 1963-1966.

   Due to his coaching success at the collegiate level, Madden was hired as a linebackers coach for the Oakland Raiders in 1967 and was then promoted to head coach in 1969. This would be the start of one of the greatest head coaching tenures in NFL history.

  Madden’s story is an example of the “work behind the scenes” mentality that we also see in our Catholic faith. As human beings, we often experience setbacks: maybe we injure ourselves when preparing for a sports season, fail a test for which we diligently studied, or are not selected for a job or internship we pursued. 

  But the result is always a greater purpose, lesson, or awareness. It is all about trusting in God’s loving plan and having the perspective to understand His purposeful (if sometimes perplexing) ways.

   Following Madden’s passing on December 28th, 2021, I came across a quote of his. “Self-praise is for losers,” Madden said. “Be a winner. Stand for something. Always have class, and be humble.” 

  Madden speaks authoritatively and passionately while delivering a message we all ought to hear: humility is necessary for our success and happiness. 

  After we struggle and fail at something, it is all too easy to fail ourselves as well. Maybe we lose our temper, get angry at a teacher, or become jealous of the candidate who secured that desired position—but that is nonsense. Keep your head up, do not quit, trust the process, and never lose sight of what matters most: our personal character.

  Madden’s mentality should resonate strongly with us as we enter into Lent; in order to prepare for Christ’s coming at Easter, we need to humble ourselves. 

  But how does one humble themselves? It is certainly a challenge. We must remember the dignity instilled in us as part of God’s creation, and we also must adopt a selfless mentality where the needs of others triumph over our own. 

  And what is the perfect model for our humility? Christ’s words in the Gospels.

  When I think of Lent, I immediately think of Matthew 6:1-8, the Gospel passage typically read on Ash Wednesday: “[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them…When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others…But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you…Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” 

  Jesus’ teachings ask us to focus on what is truly best since, by neglecting our desire for praise from others, we enable ourselves to do the most good in the world. Our culture tends to applaud showboating—just look at NFL touchdown dances or social media personalities, for example—but we ought not succumb to this individualistic mindset.

  As we enter into Lent and begin our traditional Friday fasting, perhaps we should also abstain from something else: self-praise. By “giving up” our egos, we truly embrace Christ’s ideal of Lent and best prepare ourselves for His coming. 

  Let us be humble and remember what it takes, in the words of Madden, to “be a winner.”