MONTEREY, Calif. (KION) Football fans around the world continue to pay tribute to NFL Hall of Fame and Raiders legend John Madden, who died suddenly Tuesday at the age of 85.
The legendary football icon lived on the Monterey Peninsula and was a regular at a popular restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf, where Madden and owner Dominic Mercurio created a friendship that will last nearly 30 years.
âDuring the offseason, he was here a lot. He was probably here during the off season, probably four days a week, âsaid Dominic Mercurio, owner of CafÃ© Fina.
In fact, John Madden had his own table at CafÃ© Fina in Monterey, set aside when he stopped for a bite to eat, with a game strategy framed next to his seat.
âIt was John’s favorite game, they called it the Lombardi Sweep,â said Mercurio, standing next to the table.
Mercurio, remembers the first time he saw Madden zigzagging across the dock, walking past the restaurant menu several times, looking for a bowl of clam chowder.
Madden returned a handful of Sundays thereafter. Around the 6th or 7th visit, he invited Mercurio and his friends to play poker.
âI told you to sit at the table, if you don’t like it don’t pay and come back,â Mercurio continued.
âI’m not going, I don’t play poker with John Madden. It is not possible. Different league. Another business, I’m a restaurateur, you know, I’m just starting out, âMercurio said with a laugh.
But just like that, the two became quick friends. âSame game, same rules, never lost, for 27 years,â said Mercurio.
When Madden was scheduled to be inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 2006, he called Mercurio with a unique opportunity.
âHe said, ‘Hey Dom, would you be interested in making food in Ohio? Catering and cooking for my hall of fame, approximately 500 people. ‘ I said to John, “It would be an honor,” Mercurio explained.
Mercurio has returned to the Hall of Fame every year since and has crossed the country 13 times on the Madden bus. A handful of stories, like these, were shared as Mercurio reflected on decades of friendship.
âI will miss this guyâ¦ I will miss him,â Mercurio concluded.
CBS broadcaster and Central Coast broadcaster Jim Nantz spoke with “CBS This Morning” about Madden’s passing, calling him “a common man” who could relate to everyone.