It may seem silly to pay tribute to John Madden by writing about his bus, but the Madden Cruiser offers an insightful eulogy for the man.

That tin can on wheels tells us so much about Madden.

For example, it tells us that Madden could have been a bloody agent.

Madden and Steve Mariucci co-hosted an annual charity bowls tournament at a Bay Area winery. At the event about six years ago, Madden had a long talk with me. I needed a few comments for a story, but most of the time we just talked – or he did and I listened.

I asked Madden about his bus and he told me this story about Pro Football Hall of Fame Defensive Lineman Reggie White.

In a year Reggie wanted to negotiate a new contract with the Packers and asked my advice. I knew Reggie loved my bus, so I said, “That’s how you do it, Reggie. You sit down with them and when you finally negotiate a deal you’re happy with, tell them, ‘Okay, I’ll sign for that amount if you throw in a bus like John Madden’s. ‘“

A week later Reggie calls me back and says, “I did what you said. You gave me a bus! ”

I knew Madden had gone through four Madden Cruisers in his broadcast career. I asked him what happened to the old ones.

“I can keep it,” Madden said. “I still have them all. You are in my back yard. I use them now and then for family outings and the like. “

(One was subsequently donated to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.)

That shows you the power of Madden. If your company has ever required you to hand over your desk pencil sharpener when you quit your job, you can appreciate having a company sticking Madden to a series of $ 800,000 fines.

Madden’s life was in many ways a man’s imagination, and his Madden Cruiser embodied that. Tell me, you didn’t go green with envy the first time you heard about Madden commuting to his football broadcast jobs in a bespoke bus and stopped at dinners and dives en route.

Madden became a modern day Huckleberry Finn with his bus. He would let his driver off the main thoroughfares so they could go to a mule festival or look for a pig’s ear sandwich shop Madden had heard of.

His unannounced arrival at a roadside restaurant would become a religious experience for the townspeople. Madden, affable and pristine, would charm the locals, take their rhubarb pie offerings and tell them forever with selfies, Madden Cruiser t-shirts and hats, and a UFO-like story.

Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, Madden left his Manhattan apartment and headed for California. He heard that famous figure skater Peggy Fleming was stranded in Philadelphia due to the airline’s closure, so he made a detour via Philadelphia and picked her up.

In Nebraska, the cruiser stopped at a small town shop so Madden could buy some American flags for his bus. Imagine the faces when John Madden and Peggy Fleming entered the store.

Madden’s bus life, due to his claustrophobia, which prevented him from flying, was inspired by his favorite book, John Steinbeck, “Traveling with Charley: In Search of America”. Steinbeck drove through America with his dog for a year. Steinbeck was an anonymous observer on this trip. Madden, hiding from no one in his brightly painted bus, was a sociable greeting and an amorous gawker of the American countryside.

“If claustrophobia didn’t happen,” he once said, “I wouldn’t know what this country is or what these people are like. I would have been like everyone else: run, run, run. Airport, airport, airport. Hotel, hotel, hotel. City, city, city. I wouldn’t have found the time to see things the way I see them now. “

Madden was in his bus adventures like Muhammad Ali, another great sports figure with an ingenious affinity for – and attraction – to people. Ali was traveling around America in a bespoke bus that had a sign that read “Just Fooling Around” on it.

Of course, Ali wasn’t just playing around. He was involved in a brutal and deadly business. Madden was a super accomplished businessman and a gifted and professional broadcaster. But none of this interfered with his pursuit of joy.

Like a mullet, the Madden Cruiser was the perfect combination of fun and business. It was the outward expression of Madden’s heart.

“This is to see our land,” Madden once said of his off-road trips. “I’ve always said a congressman should drive across the country. Don’t drive because you can’t see while driving, you have to drive. You have to be a witness for America. “

And vice versa in Madden’s case.

Scott Ostler is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. E-mail: Twitter: @scottostler