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Cafe Fina owner reflects on friendship with legendary NFL Hall of Famer John Madden

MONTEREY, Calif. (KION)Football fans around the world continue to pay tribute to NFL Hall of Famer and Raiders legend John Madden, who died unexpectedly Tuesday at the age of 85.

The legendary football-icon called the Monterey Peninsula home and was a regular at a popular restaurant on Fisherman’s wharf, where Madden and owner Dominic Mercurio, created a friendship that would last nearly 30 years. 

“During the off-season, he was here a lot. He was probably here during the off-season probably four days a week,” said Dominic Mercurio, Proprietor Cafe Fina.

In fact, John Madden had his very own table at Cafe Fina in Monterey, reserved for when he stopped by for a bite to eat, with a framed play strategy next to his seat. 

“That was John’s favorite play they called it the Lombardi Sweep,” mentioned Mercurio while standing next to the table.

Mercurio, recalls the first time he saw Madden zig-zagging up and down the wharf, walking past the restaurant’s menu a couple times, looking for a bowl of clam chowder.  

Madden did return a handful of Sundays thereafter. Around the 6th or 7th visit, he invited Mercurio and his friends to play a game of poker.

“I said tell you what you go sit at the table, if you don’t like it, don’t pay and don’t come back,” continued Mercurio.

“I’m not going, I ain’t playing poker with John Madden. Ain't no way. Different league. Different deal, I’m a restaurant guy, you know starting out,” laughed Mercurio.

But just like that, the two became fast friends. “Same game, same rules, never strayed, for 27 years,” said Mercurio.

When Madden was to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006, he called Mercurio with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“He goes, 'Hey Dom, would you be interested in doing the food in Ohio? Doing the catering and the cooking for my hall of fame about 500 people.' I said to John, 'It would be an honor,'" explained Mercurio.   

Mercurio has gone back to the hall of fame every year since and has been cross country on Madden's bus 13 times. A handful of stories, like these, were shared as Mercurio reflected on the decades of friendship.

"I’m going to miss that guy… I’m going to miss him,” concluded Mercurio.   

CBS broadcaster and the Central Coast's own Jim Nantz, spoke with "CBS This Morning" about the passing of Madden, calling him "a man of the people" who could relate to everyone.

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Erika Bratten

Erika Bratten is a weather forecaster for KION News Channel 5/46.

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