A football star in high school, Madden initially played one season at the College of San Mateo, in 1954, before he was given a football scholarship to the University of Oregon, studying pre-law, and playing football with boyhood friend John Robinson. He was redshirted because of a knee injury and had a knee operation. Then he attended the College of San Mateo in 1955, then Grays Harbor College playing in the fall of 1956, before transferring to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, where he played both offense and defense for the Mustangs in 1957 and 1958 while earning a BS in Education in 1959 and an MA in Education in 1961. He won all-conference honors at offensive tackle, and was a catcher on Cal Poly's baseball team. Madden was drafted in the 21st round (244th overall) by the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles in 1958, but in his first training camp suffered an injury on his other knee, ending his playing career before he ever got a chance to play professionally.