How John Madden’s 1981 Miller Lite Commercial Marked A Turning Point In His Career (Plus, What Does He Think Of Roger Goodell?)
In life, everyone has a break. For John Madden’s great career second act, it came 35 years ago, in 1981. An advertising executive for Miller Lite had the guts to tell one of the NFL’s most successful coaches that “more people will know you after you do this than have ever known you” before starring in the beer’s new TV spot.
“I said, no, no. I said, you don’t understand,” Madden tells me on a phone call from his home in California. “I said ‘I was the head coach for the Oakland Raiders for 10 years… I played and coached in regular season games, playoff games, championship games, Super Bowl games, Pro Bowl games — the biggest games in the world. How can more people know me?'”
“He said, ‘just believe me, they will.'”
Madden’s familiar voice pauses before a moment of revelation.
“And they did! I went from John Madden, the coach, to John Madden, the Miller Lite guy who breaks through the wall. It was so big that I didn’t believe them. And then after I got in the commercial, you just become part of the team. It was an amazing experience.”
The commercial, which Miller Lite just re-aired to advertising the beer brand’s Steinie throwback bottles, aired during last week’s Thursday Night Football game. For Madden, the moment was a turning point for his career.
“It was a bridge to this life from coaching. And then the commercials got me into television as an analyst. And then of course I did that the rest of my career until I retired,” he explains.
“So the Miller Lite commercial was a game changer for you personally?” I ask.
“It was big,” Madden reflects. “A game changer for me, it was a game changer for drinkers. I mean, light beer– this was 40 years ago. People didn’t know about light beer. That was the whole thing. It’s less filling, tastes great.”
Now 80-years-old, I ask Madden if he’s excited about the commercial being exposed to a younger generation of football fans — a generation that might only know his name as the voice and namesake of a EA’s massive video game franchise.