NEW YORK -- John Madden's last game as a football analyst was Super Bowl XLIII, a thrilling game decided in the final seconds.
It was the perfect ending to a run as one of sports' most popular broadcasters, now that Madden called it a career Thursday. Yet it didn't fit Madden's style to think about his retirement that way.
"I'm a grinder," he said on his Bay Area radio show. "You just grind and get through it, and when it's all over, you think about it. You don't rush into any decisions."
Madden's exuberance for football and blue-collar persona endeared him to television viewers for three decades. Boom! As sudden as his signature call, Madden is leaving midway through a six-year contract with NBC's Sunday Night Football.
"I think his work ethic and passion and love for the game made him apart from everybody else," said Pat Summerall, Madden's broadcast partner from 1981 to 2001.
Madden said his health is fine, but at the age of 73, he wanted to spend more time with his family. His 50th wedding anniversary is this fall, and his five grandchildren are old enough to notice when he's gone.
"The thing that made it hard is not because I'm second guessing: 'Is it the right decision?' But I enjoyed it so damn much," Madden said. "I enjoyed the game and the players and the coaches and the film and the travel and everything."
Cris Collinsworth will replace Madden, moving over from the network's studio show to join play-by-play announcer Al Michaels in the booth, NBC Sports chief Dick Ebersol said. Collinsworth filled in when Madden took a game off last October.
"There is one thing football fans have agreed on for decades: They all love John Madden," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement released by the league. "John was a Hall of Fame coach before becoming one of the most-celebrated personalities in sports. He had an incredible talent for explaining the game in an unpretentious way that made it more understandable and fun.
"John's respect and passion for the game always stood out. He was the ultimate football fan who also happened to be an extraordinarily talented coach and broadcaster."
Ebersol called Madden "the absolute best sports broadcaster who ever lived."
Madden traveled by bus because of a fear of flying, and with the two Bay Area NFL teams struggling and not hosting any Sunday night games, he would be on the road and away from his family the entire season.
Not that Madden expects to sit at home all the time. He'll keep using the bus and stay busy with his many endorsements. His "Madden NFL Football" is the top-selling sports video game of all time.
Still, Madden noted that this will be his first season away from the sport since he was a freshman in high school.
Madden was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. He began his pro career as a linebacker coach with the Oakland Raiders in 1967 and was promoted to head coach two years later, at 32 the youngest coach in what was then the American Football League.
Madden led the Raiders to their first Super Bowl victory in the 1976 season, and he retired in 1979. He joined CBS later that year.
Madden worked at CBS until 1994, when the network lost rights to broadcast NFL games, leading him to switch to FOX. He left FOX in 2002 to become the lead analyst for ABC's Monday Night Football and joined NBC in 2006 when that network inaugurated a prime-time Sunday game.
Madden won 16 Emmy Awards and became one of the most recognizable voices in television, mixing high-volume enthusiasm with serious analysis on the telestrator.
"He was so consistently entertaining -- that guy you really wanted to have on the couch with you but larger than life," Ebersol said. "I think people stayed with a rout or a bad game that Madden might have to broadcast in the second half (more) than they ever would have stayed with anybody else."
For the last several years, Madden said, he waited until two months after the season to determine whether to continue, not wanting to rush into a decision.
"The last game I did was the Super Bowl, which was pretty good," Madden said. "But, again, that wasn't planned. I didn't say, 'I want to go out on a high note.'"
Madden surprised Ebersol when he told him last week that he was retiring. Ebersol flew to California on Wednesday morning and spent 11 hours with Madden, trying to persuade him to change his mind. Ebersol even offered to allow Madden to call games only in September and November and to take October and December off.
Madden's longtime agent, Sandy Montag, said Madden won't change his mind now that his retirement is official. Madden didn't want a dramatic farewell -- he didn't even appear on a conference call Thursday with Ebersol and Montag.
"It wouldn't have been me to say the week of the Super Bowl, 'This is my last game,'" Madden said during his brief radio appearance.
Summerall said he knew Madden would be something special the first time they worked together.
"He didn't talk down to people," Summerall said. "He talked as if he was sitting next to you and explaining things to you."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press