How ‘Cheers’ Offered a Major Role to Late NFL Legend John Madden

by Clayton Edwards

It’s hard to think about the late John Madden without immediately thinking of football. Over the years, his career made his name synonymous with the sport that he loved. As a head coach, he led the then-Oakland Raiders to several winning seasons and a Super Bowl win. Then, after he retired from coaching, Madden became the most iconic voice in sports broadcasting history. However, he also appeared in several films and television shows.

John Madden appeared in shows like The Simpsons and Arli$$ and films like The Little Giants and The Replacements. Usually, he appeared as himself and was, in some way, connected to football. Before Cheers premiered showrunners wanted him to play the role of Coach.

Coach Ernie Pantusso was Sam’s former baseball coach. After he retired, he came to work alongside Sam tending the bar. He wasn’t the smartest guy in the bar, but he always had the biggest heart in the room. Nicholas Colasanto played Coach from the first episode of Cheers until he died three years later. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine anyone else filling that role. At the same time, the part could have been perfect for John Madden. He turned it down, though.

Years later, John Madden was working on the 1994 film Little Giants. In that movie, he plays a coach who is helping Rick Moranis turn a ragtag team of misfit kids into a winning football team. During production, Entertainment Tonight stopped by the set to talk to Madden. During that interview, the legendary broadcaster opened up about why he didn’t that the part on Cheers.

Why John Madden Turned Down Cheers

John Madden explained that Cheers showrunners wrote the part of Coach for him. So, he considered taking it. After some soul searching, though, it looked like a scenario where he would lose either way. “So, I talked about it and if the thing fails, then you’re a failure and I didn’t want to lose. If the thing won, which obviously Cheers did, I would have to quit what I was doing – what I loved – and go to work.” Furthermore, Madden said that he preferred live TV to working on a movie or TV show set.

In the end, John Madden said, “I couldn’t figure out why I should do it.”

When you look back at John Madden’s career, that decision makes perfect sense. Throughout his career, his competitive spirit and passion for football shined above all else. He might have been great on Cheers but, in the end, his success would be in several people’s hands and not his own. Additionally, it’s hard to imagine a football broadcast without his voice. Thankfully, we got several more years of him calling games before we had to face an NFL season without his commentary.