Rich Eisen Reflects on John Madden, Walter Payton & More Football Legends

John Madden NFL Icons EPIX
Tony Tomsic via AP

NFL Network‘s Rich Eisen knows he’s carrying on a great NFL Films legacy as narrator of NFL Icons.

Under the leadership of filmmaker Steve Sabol and with the power of John Facenda‘s baritone voice, NFL Films documentaries enraptured generations of football fans.

“When I get the scripts sent to me from NFL Films, I hear Steve Sabol’s voice in my head,” Eisen says. “I do hear Facenda’s voice in my head, because the scripts are written in the same way. The story that I’ve heard many times from folks who’ve worked at NFL Films is John Facenda, when he got a script and a line in a script that he liked, he said, ‘Now that’s a horse I can ride.’ The number of horses I’ve been able to ride because of NFL Icons, I’ve lost track.”

Currently in its second season, NFL Icons has continued the tradition of great storytelling with episodes dedicated to John Madden, Walter Payton, Jimmy Johnson, Steve Young and Ray Lewis available to stream on EPIX NOW.

Upcoming Season 2 episodes feature Troy Aikman (October 15), Cris Carter (October 22) and Tony Dungy (October 29).

Eisen, who also hosts The Rich Eisen Show on Roku, shared some memories of this season’s NFL Icons subjects.

“Madden is incomparable,” Eisen says of the Hall of Fame coach, broadcaster and video game icon who died in December 2021 and was explored in the season premiere episode. “As a broadcaster, nobody boiled down a very complex game in the most simplistic, easy to understand and enjoy manner than John Madden, who spoke the language of somebody sitting on the couch and somebody sitting in the film room and combined it in a way that nobody has.”

The NFL’s Man of the Year award is named in honor of Chicago Bears legend Payton, whose pleasant disposition earned him the nickname “Sweetness.”

Payton’s son, Jarrett, contributed to the NFL Icons episode on his father and joined Eisen on his Roku show. “Jarrett told stories about him as a kid remembering opening the door when the doorbell rings and Michael Jordan comes in and plays poker with his father downstairs,” Eisen says.

Young, MVP of Super Bowl XXIX as quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, had a true underdog journey to the Hall of Fame. Before he was a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 1983, Young was on the depths of the depth chart at BYU. “Very rarely will I get a script from NFL Films and think that it might be a typo, but it was correct. He was eighth on the depth chart,” Eisen says.

Dungy, a former defensive back who went on to become the first Black head coach to win a Super Bowl, gets profiled in the Season 2 finale episode. “He was part of the Steel Curtain Steelers and got to see what it’s like to be in a locker room filled with future Hall of Famers,” Eisen says.

After his playing days, Dungy worked his way through the coaching ranks and was head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1996-2001 and the Indianapolis Colts from 2002-08. “Going from Tampa to Indianapolis — having Peyton Manning in his locker room and being able to win a Super Bowl there after not winning with Tampa and watching Tampa go on without him — it is an incredible story,” Eisen says.

NFL Icons, Saturdays at 10/9c, EPIX