The great John Madden died Tuesday at 85 years of age. Madden was known for a lot of things – his legendary coaching career with the Oakland Raiders, his booming voice during his decades long stint in the broadcast booth for the NFL and the series of video games that carried his name.
Despite all of that, a big white bus could be one of the most interesting things about the man. An aversion to flying due to his claustrophobia meant Madden used a bus to travel tens of thousands of miles to NFL games throughout most of his broadcasting career.
The “Madden Cruiser” as it was coined, was a converted Greyhound bus built in 1987, and in 2018 it actually made it to the NFL Hall of Fame.
Madden’s distaste for flying came down to a couple of factors, as he explained to Sports Illustrated in 1990.
“People used to say to me, ‘It must be great coaching and traveling and seeing all the things you do,’ … Well, I’d get on the airplane, and then I’d get off the airplane, get on a bus and go to the hotel. Then the stadium, then the airplane again. I thought I’d traveled all over, but I hadn’t seen anything. You’ve got to be on the ground to see things.”
Madden used to fly at the beginning of his career, but a recurring issue with claustrophobia put an end to it. From there he rode the train, but it wasn’t flexible enough for his schedule. So, in 1987 the “Madden Cruiser” hit the road logging around 55,000 miles that season.
The bus had an unassuming exterior – just a big white bus, but the inside is where the major difference between the “Madden Cruiser” and a run-of-the-mill Greyhound.
The “Madden Cruiser” was outfitted with just about every luxury you could imagine during the tail end of the Reagan Administration, including a queen-sized bed, full bathroom and kitchenette. On the other end of the bus were two color TVs, a phone, an intercom, a CB radio, two laser-disc players, a stereo system and a VCR.
The bus would get about 1,200 miles per tank of diesel, meaning he would only have to stop twice on a cross-country trip.
Madden really enjoyed seeing the country as he traveled around. And for over two decades in four different editions of the “Madden Cruiser,” he saw a whole lot of it. When Madden finally retired from the broadcast booth in 2009, the “Madden Cruiser” was racking up 80,000 miles a year.
“If the claustrophobia thing didn’t happen, I wouldn’t know what this country is, or what these people are like. I would have been like everybody else: run, run, run,” Madden said. “ Airport, airport, airport. Hotel, hotel, hotel. City, city, city. I wouldn’t have found time to see things like I see them now.”