After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a degree in journalism, Brad Madson’s first job was as a television sports anchor/reporter in Wisconsin.
His TV career lasted about a year, saying that he realized it was time to pursue another profession after a malaprop he made in reference to a world rodeo championship that was coming to Wisconsin.
“I remember trying to say there were national cowboys and cowgirls descending on Wisconsin,” Madson said last week. “It came out as cowboys and call girls descending on Wisconsin.”
He transitioned from TV to a career in the Minnesota Vikings front office. Madson joined the NFL franchise in 1992 and worked with the team’s suite and ticket sales department until 1996 when he became executive director of community relations/youth football.
Madson will be the featured speaker at the annual Brainerd Elks Fishing Fling on Thursday, April 25. Brainerd Warriors football coach Ron Stolski, who helps Madson with the Vikings’ youth football program, approached Madson about speaking at the Brainerd event.
“Ron has been a great friend and mentor to me,” Madson said. “When he asked me to speak, I was honored and so of course I said yes. Then he mentioned that last year (University of Minnesota coach) Jerry Kill spoke and I thought that’s a tough act to follow.
“What I hope to do is give a little behind the scenes look at my 20 years here working with players. I hope to tell some stories about players’ community outreach, some funny and humorous, some touching stories and the entertaining things that I’ve witnessed along the way.”
Madson has built the Vikings’ community relations programs into one of the NFL’s best.
In 1999, wide receiver Cris Carter became the first player in Vikings history to win the prestigious Walter Payton Award as the NFL’s Man of the Year. In 2008, center Matt Birk was one of three finalists for the same award. In 2010, defensive back Madieu Williams became the second Viking to win the league-wide honor.
Madson and the Vikings implemented Community Tuesday, a concept that has been adopted league-wide. Community Tuesdays involve Vikings players becoming active in community events at schools, hospitals, recreation centers and other nonprofit organizations on their only day off of the week during the season.
In 2009, Madson received the Distinguished Service Award from the Minnesota Football Coaches Association. In 2010, he received the Outstanding Service Award from the Department of Minnesota Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“The key focus of my job is getting our players involved in the community, find out what their hot buttons are and what they enjoy,” Madson said. “(Defensive end) Jared Allen likes speaking to an auditorium full of high school kids at a pep fest. (Defensive tackle) Kevin Williams is one of the smartest guys on the team. He’s more reserved and enjoys visiting kids in a children’s hospital one-on-one.
“I try to take the mystery away from community service when a player comes in as a rookie so they have a positive experience. I get about 300 requests a week asking for our support ... If I helped stock food shelves no one cares. If our players stock food shelves, hopefully it brings out the media and brings attention to the value of community service.”
A graduate of Benilde St. Margaret’s High School in St. Louis Park, Madson said getting players involved in the community helps keep them grounded.
“When we win, a player can go to a gas station and everyone’s excited to tell you you’re the greatest,” he said.
“When we lose, I remember (running back) Robert Smith and a visit to a children’s hospital. Robert was a wonderful player who had an error or two that were crucial to a loss. I saw him after that game in the locker room and he was slumped over. He felt bad, and I said, ‘Hey. Are you still good for the hospital visit tomorrow?’ and he said ‘Yeah.’
“We went (that Tuesday) and Robert was still feeling bad about the game. We started going room to room visiting kids and I could see his posture change. They didn’t care he had a bad game. The kids were just excited to meet Robert Smith the football players. He realized how blessed he was that he was healthy and playing pro football.”
One thing Madson enjoyed during his broadcast career that carried over to his role with the Vikings were the interesting personalities of athletes.
“A guy like (linebacker) Tyrone McKenzie was on our practice squad for two years,” Madson said. “I’ve gotten to know him well. Last year he was on the 53-man roster. He’s a great guy. What’s his story? Every player has a story to tell.
“My philosophy in community outreach is to get players involved because every player has a story to tell about how they arrived in the NFL.”
Madson fondly recalled a story about one of former quarterback Brett Favre’s community service visits.
“I was with Bret when he was doing a Make-A-Wish (Foundation) visit,” Madson said. “A little 10-year-old boy asked Brett to throw a pass to him. Brett said sure but the boy said don’t throw it too hard, and Bret said ‘Now you’re starting to sound like my receivers.”
Madson said it’s been a blessing to watch players like former tight end Jim Kleinsasser interact and make an impact on lives during community outreach outings.
“Jim’s been a great guy with Make-A-Wish,” Madson said. “He would meet with youngsters before games. So many players get so amped up before games but Jim was always on an even keel. He could meet a little guy before a game and a youngster wouldn’t feel like he was being rushed.
“Jim’s now on the Make-A-Wish board for Minnesota. That makes you feel good. He was a great guy from the start. We helped provide him the support to get him exposed to a good charity, and we feel good about that.”
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.