Madden was coach of the Oakland Raiders for 10 years and acquired a passion for the players, coaches and philosophy of the league that drove him to pitch the concept of an AFL documentary first to CBS, then to his current network, Fox.
When neither was interested, Madden turned to HBO, and the result is "Rebels With A Cause: The Story of the American Football League," which makes its debut tonight at 9:45.
"It was a labor of love," said Madden, who is a creative consultant for the program. "I was grateful for the opportunity the league gave me to get into professional football. It's a way of giving thanks and not forgetting the league. There's a generation of young people that when you say AFL, you get a blank look. You say AFL, they think you mean AFC. It's as if you don't know your alphabet."
In the course of the hourlong documentary, the viewer is reunited with such AFL luminaries as Joe Namath, Len Dawson, Lance Alworth and Al Davis, but also introduced to Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, who founded the league in 1959 when he couldn't buy the then-Chicago Cardinals.
"Every time I see Lamar Hunt, whether it was coaching or now that I'm broadcasting, I say, 'Thank you.' I always have and I always will," Madden said on a conference call last week.
Executive producer Ross Greenburg, who went with his father to New York Jets games in the early 1960s, combed through hours of old footage to put together the predictably excellent documentary.
Included in the hour is a wonderful but rarely seen clip of a 1961 game between the Boston Patriots and Dallas Texans in which a Patriots fan comes out of the stands to knock down a pass that would have given Dallas a tie.
"There are millions of fans out there that have fond memories of the AFL. It was probably the most colorful league in sports history," said Greenburg.
Staying in the spotlight
Look for a package of Fox baseball promos featuring everyone's favorite shortstop, Cal Ripken, during the network's NFL playoff coverage next month.
Ripken, in Los Angeles last week to act as consultant to a baseball-themed movie starring Robert De Niro and John Kruk, shot three promos for Fox, which signed a five-year broadcast deal with Major League Baseball last month.
"Who better to be the first person you see representing Fox baseball than Cal Ripken?" said Vince Wladika, a network spokesman.
Wladika said the spots include a public service announcement against violence, as well as two humorous pieces. In one, a mailman delivers parcels to Ripken and remarks on his durability. In the other, Ripken's heretofore unknown twin brother "Hal" emerges from obscurity.
Donahue, who announced his resignation as coach at UCLA yesterday after 21 years and 151 wins, will be paired with Jim Nantz for the Sun Bowl on Dec. 29 and the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2 for the national championship. Donahue also will call college football for CBS next fall, when the network carries Southeastern and Big East conference regular-season games.
Mason, who was executive producer of ABC Sports from 1988 to 1991 and headed ESPN's coverage of the 1987 America's Cup races, takes over the burgeoning international wing of the all-sports network next week.