NFL legend John Madden, who died yesterday at 85, had such an outsize presence as broadcaster, analyst, and video game maven that his actual coaching legacy gets almost lost in the retelling.

Yet, as Madden eulogies dominate the sporting news, what cannot be separated from the man is the unique, unforgettable personality of the team he coached.

Yes, the Raiders reached the Super Bowl shortly before Madden became their coach, and they won two Super Bowls shortly after he retired. So it’s not as if he himself built a dynasty or innovated. Yet it was during Madden’s 10 years at the helm that the enduring image of the Raiders was cemented into public consciousness. The 1970s Oakland Raiders, perennial contenders and onetime champions, were a collection of rabble-rousing rowdies, alien to the NFL’s then-carefully crafted image.

This was a team that won extravagantly and controversially, lost extravagantly and controversially, and lived extravagantly and controversially. For better and sometimes for worse, Madden gave them free rein. Before and except for Madden, NFL head coaches were type-cast: fierce taskmasters such as Vince Lombardi, cool calculators such as Tom Landry and Don Shula, supposedly genius innovators such as Paul Brown and Hank Stram, or bland tough guys such as Chuck Noll and Chuck Knox.

Then, here came Madden: rumpled, red-faced, somewhat wild-eyed, overseeing a crew of hard-partying reprobates with almost unfathomably tremendous talent and personality. A fan couldn’t avoid watching them: They were flat-out fun, and Madden made darn sure everybody knew that fun should be an essential part of the game.

And, Lord, did they ever keep fans on the edge of their seats! Few games in any sport’s history become known by immediately identifiable, shorthand nicknames, but Madden’s Raiders provided not one but four of them in just 10 years. Each seemed more improbable than the last. For football as pure entertainment, take the time, please, to relive the (not-so-) Immaculate Reception, the whole, improbable Sea of Hands game, the Ghost to the Post, and the Holy Roller. Somehow, it remains impossible to imagine such wild whimsy daring to intrude on a game coached by, say, Lombardi, but with Madden, such occurrences seemed in character and inevitable.

Through all his coaching and announcing, what made Madden unforgettable was how he could communicate to any listener in ways that, technically speaking, might make little sense but that everyone somehow understood and responded well to. Consider his somehow rousing halftime speech when his team was trailing in the Ghost to the Post game.

“I heard it somewhere,” he later recounted, “and it sounded like a pretty good idea. ... : ‘Don’t worry about the horse being blind: Just load the wagon!’ … I had no idea what it meant, but some guys kinda got excited when I said it.”

Even with all the Raiders' talent, their personality mix might have been explosively self-destructive rather than triumphant with anyone but Madden at the helm. From Ken Stabler’s Redneck Riviera cool to Fred Biletnikoff’s gallons of stickum to Jack Tatum’s unapologetic viciousness to Ben Davidson’s porn-movie appearance; from George Blanda’s ageless cussedness to the literally outsize fierceness of 6’7” Ted Hendricks and 6’8” John Matuszak — all anchored by the superlative professionalism of offensive linemen Jim Otto, Gene Upshaw, and Art Shell — the Raiders appeared to have emerged from a madman’s cauldron.

Well, if owner/general manager Al Davis was the madman, Madden was their maestro. One didn’t need to admire or even like that team, but one couldn’t help loving John Madden on their sideline. Never was loading a wagon so much fun to watch.