Why John Madden Started This Legendary Turkey Leg Tradition

"John Madden was a legend in everything he did," the NFL wrote on Twitter on December 29 after the Hall of Fame coach and football broadcaster died at age 85 (via The Mercury News). Although Madden rose to fame as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, which played its way to seven AFC title games and won the 1976 Super Bowl, he may be best known for his work as a football analyst — and as the name behind the perennially popular "Madden NFL" video game (via Sporting News).

Nevertheless, Madden always thought of himself as a coach, first and foremost. When you consider his many contributions to football analysis, including his use of freehand drawings to diagram, by way of a telestrator, what was going on and what might come next in the game, that sounds about right (via The Ringer). But Madden's coaching influence can be seen well beyond the sports universe. 

Among other things, Madden is famous for telestrator-ing his turducken carving method. Arguably, some of turducken's growth in popularity can be attributed Madden's abject devotion to the "Frankenbird" comprised of a "deboned chicken stuffed in a deboned duck stuffed in a deboned turkey," with stuffing/dressing between each layer, as Madden, himself, described it in an essay he wrote in 2001 for the Chicago Tribune. It was the same essay in which he introduced many to his legendary "six-legged" turkey leg tradition.

John Madden pioneered the annual holiday Turkey Leg Awards

"I'm an eater from way back, and one thing I know is that when you order turkeys, you don't bother with a head count," John Madden wrote in a 2001 essay for the Chicago Tribune. "What I've always figured is, if you have a table of eight, you need one bird. You use multiples of eight to order your turkeys, and then you throw in some extra." In particular, Madden was well-known not just for throwing in some extra, but also for "creating" a turkey with more than two legs. 

It all started on Thanksgiving Day 1989, which was the first time the NFL gave out turkey leg — rather than a trophy — as the award to the most valuable player on Thanksgiving Day (via Sporting News). Reggie White was the MVP that day, but, as Madden noted in that 2001 essay, "What if you have more MVPs? What if it's the whole offensive line?" In fact, that's exactly what happened in 1992, when the "Turkey Leg Award," as it came to be known, was awarded to the Dallas Cowboys' entire offensive line.

And so, the multi-legged NFL turkey tradition was born. "We started 'creating' turkeys with more legs," Madden wrote. "We made four-legged turkeys, six-legged turkeys, eight-legged turkeys." What happens when they run out of turkey legs? According to SB Nation's History of the Turkey Leg Award, the crew just brings out more (via Facebook).