How a Bay Area Photographer Captured Priceless Photos of Raiders Legend John Madden

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Editor’s note: John Madden died Tuesday at the age of 85. He is remembered as a legend who, on top of everything else, was the subject of some truly iconic stock photos during his time as a commercial pitchman. In April, we spoke to the photographer who captured most of these photos.

Ted Kurihara has a secret.

He tells me that he can only transmit it officially. After a bit of cajoling, he changes his mind. “Ah, what is it,” he laughs. “I’m retired anyway.”

First, a little background. Kurihara, 75, is a photographer from the Bay Area. About a year ago, a friend of his helped him create his own professional website, because once the pandemic is over, Kurihara wants to look for assignments again. Many of the photos on his website are unpublished. He captured the Delano Grape Strike, the migrant workers in Modesto, the homeless people of Skid Row in San Francisco and the San Francisco Peace March of 1967. They are all beautiful and powerful still images in black and white. White.

One item in the wallet, however, stands out from the rest: it’s a watermarked photo of Oakland Raiders Hall of Fame coach John Madden, now 85, circa 1995. Click this image and you will see a message about visiting the other website. Kurihara’s friend helped set him up last year, aptly titled JohnMaddenPhotos.com. If you don’t want the watermarks, you can purchase the photos directly from Kurihara, although it will cost you a pretty penny. The website is full of what it looks like, and many of the stock photos have unintentionally aged into the funniest pictures I’ve ever seen.

John Madden taking part in one of his many 90s photo shoots orchestrated by Ted Kurihara, who now owns the JohnMaddenPhotos.com website.

Courtesy of Ted Kurihara

Which… I have no idea how to tell Kurihara when we start talking. I don’t want to offend him. He’s an accomplished photographer, and it’s my fault – certainly not his – that my brain is chock-full of Internet memes and prefabricated, impossible-to-articulate ideas about why the things I see in line are funny. I know a meme when I see one, and I have to find a way to let him know, hopefully, that his Madden collection is almost certain to go viral.

It takes time to get there. We spend nearly two hours on the phone talking about Kurihara’s upbringing on a farm in Hawaii, the “magic” of photography he discovered at age 12, and his early years in San Francisco (he moved at 19 with $200 to his name). We review his favorite shots, his best stories, and the tutelage he sought to improve as a businessman and photographer. Finally, we come to how his relationship with Madden was formed.

“John Madden and I got along very well from the first shoot,” he recalls. He doesn’t know exactly what year it was – he had a lot of customers, after all. This first shoot was a recommendation from an advertiser. Afterwards, Madden clarified that Kurihara should photograph her future commercials. “I’m very grateful for that,” says Kurihara, a Raiders fan.

Madden was a prolific commercial pitchman in the 90s. He was no longer a coach, but he was famous for his color commentary on the broadcast booth alongside play-by-play man Pat Summerall. Soon it will also become synonymous with football video games. Madden was all business, and that’s why he loved Kurihara, who showed up to his shoots in tailored suits and never really got carried away with celebrities or politicians. “Putting [Madden] on a shooting schedule was tough because he was busing all over the country during football season,” Kurihara says. “It took a lot of synchronization with the ad agency and their staff.”

John Madden taking part in one of his many 90s photo shoots orchestrated by Ted Kurihara, who now owns the JohnMaddenPhotos.com website.

John Madden taking part in one of his many 90s photo shoots orchestrated by Ted Kurihara, who now owns the JohnMaddenPhotos.com website.

Courtesy of Ted Kurihara

For Ace Hardware, for example, they set a date for an all-day shoot, and Kurihara eliminated the entire ad slate for an entire year. “We were doing maybe 40 announcements a day,” he says.

John Madden taking part in one of his many 90s photo shoots orchestrated by Ted Kurihara, who now owns the JohnMaddenPhotos.com website.

John Madden taking part in one of his many 90s photo shoots orchestrated by Ted Kurihara, who now owns the JohnMaddenPhotos.com website.

Courtesy of Ted Kurihara

Their routine was a pattern of consistency, like Marcus Allen running for a first down on third-and-one. They had a great makeup artist. Madden is a tall man, so they have his clothes made in advance. It would take him five to eight minutes to get dressed and ready for the shoot while Kurihara set up the lighting and props. After that, he would be on set for up to five minutes. “It was like, ‘bang, bang, bang,'” Kurihara said. “You could tell he took pride in taking them out in one, two or three takes. I’ve never seen him do more than three takes. Kurihara photographed Madden for the right and left printed pages, and the case When appropriate, the announcer would add text above Madden’s hand gestures.

John Madden taking part in one of his many 90s photo shoots orchestrated by Ted Kurihara, who now owns the JohnMaddenPhotos.com website.

John Madden taking part in one of his many 90s photo shoots orchestrated by Ted Kurihara, who now owns the JohnMaddenPhotos.com website.

Courtesy of Ted Kurihara

John Madden taking part in one of his many 90s photo shoots orchestrated by Ted Kurihara, who now owns the JohnMaddenPhotos.com website.

John Madden taking part in one of his many 90s photo shoots orchestrated by Ted Kurihara, who now owns the JohnMaddenPhotos.com website.

Courtesy of Ted Kurihara

The results speak for themselves, and they speak well beyond 1,000 words. Madden, with his sometimes huge pleated pants, posing with a collection of incredibly strange objects, many of which can’t remember the circumstances behind Kurihara.

The gigantic scissors at the top of this article? No idea. A hockey stick and a football? It doesn’t come to mind.

John Madden taking part in one of his many 90s photo shoots orchestrated by Ted Kurihara, who now owns the JohnMaddenPhotos.com website.

John Madden taking part in one of his many 90s photo shoots orchestrated by Ted Kurihara, who now owns the JohnMaddenPhotos.com website.

Courtesy of Ted Kurihara

We know the muffler is from Walker Exhaust Systems.

John Madden taking part in one of his many 90s photo shoots orchestrated by Ted Kurihara, who now owns the JohnMaddenPhotos.com website.

John Madden taking part in one of his many 90s photo shoots orchestrated by Ted Kurihara, who now owns the JohnMaddenPhotos.com website.

This hypebeast outfit appears to be a joint from American Rug Craftsmen.

John Madden taking part in one of his many 90s photo shoots orchestrated by Ted Kurihara, who now owns the JohnMaddenPhotos.com website.

John Madden taking part in one of his many 90s photo shoots orchestrated by Ted Kurihara, who now owns the JohnMaddenPhotos.com website.

Courtesy of Ted Kurihara

These snacks are from a Sunshine Biscuits shoot, during which Madden got angry at a pushy guy from an ad agency, Kurihara says.

John Madden taking part in one of his many 90s photo shoots orchestrated by Ted Kurihara, who now owns the JohnMaddenPhotos.com website.

John Madden taking part in one of his many 90s photo shoots orchestrated by Ted Kurihara, who now owns the JohnMaddenPhotos.com website.

Courtesy of Ted Kurihara

“I never really thought about it, but I guess you’re right, yeah, he approved of a lot of things,” Kurihara told me. “I was having too much fun with the shoots.” Kurihara’s favorite part was lunch, when Madden ate with everyone and answered their football questions. Kurihara peppered it with real-world scenarios, and Madden explained exactly how he would react if he was still a coach. “He never got tired of talking about football,” Kurihara says.

At this point in the conversation, I ask Kurihara if he’s familiar with internet memes and if he’s on social media.

“No, just basic iPhone stuff,” is her response. I’m jealous, and I try a coherent definition of memes before I cut myself. Why subject Kurihara to such nonsense? I start again: “John Madden is an eminently nice man, very famous, and he brandishes funny objects: Cheez-Its, a muffler, big scissors”, I explain. “So I think these photos are going to make a lot of people laugh on the internet. Not to youand not to crazynecessarily, but just the absurdity of the situation.

There is a pause. “Thanks for that. I never thought of that,” he says. He tells me he’ll “look into” the memes, but Ted, when you read this, I advise you not to.

John Madden taking part in one of his many 90s photo shoots orchestrated by Ted Kurihara, who now owns the JohnMaddenPhotos.com website.

John Madden taking part in one of his many 90s photo shoots orchestrated by Ted Kurihara, who now owns the JohnMaddenPhotos.com website.

Courtesy of Ted Kurihara

As for Kurihara’s secret? It’s a good tip. Kurihara has figured out the perfect word for photo shoot subjects to say when they need a semi-natural smile. Kurihara made this discovery while working with Madden, who wasn’t so good at cracking a smile. No one is, to be fair. “At least half or more of the photos you take of someone won’t have the right expression,” Kurihara believes. So budding photographers, take note. The word to pronounce is not “cheese”, it turns out. It is “test”.


Kurihara repeats the word “test” to me over and over again in different octaves and voices. He’s as lively as he’s been the whole call. “With the ‘test’, you have a reasonable mouth position and you’ll look nice,” he says. Apparently, Madden was “totally on board.”

I can’t tell you why this story means so much to me. Imagining Madden grabbing a bag of groceries and repeating the word “test” dozens of times in a row only makes me laugh more.

But I take Kurihara’s recommendation seriously. I plan to release the “everyone says “test!” line. for the next birthday pictures I’m obligated to take. And I might buy someone celebrating their birthday an American Rug Craftsmen jacket.

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