Remembering Pat Summerall
“Montana ... Rice... touchdown 49ers.”
In a nutshell, that was Pat Summerall’s play-by-play call. Few words, maximum impact. It served him well during a 41-year broadcasting career.
Summerall died Tuesday at the age of 82. He was the voice of NFL Sundays on CBS Sports and FOX Sports for nearly 30 years. Summerall was an easy listen because he didn’t need to scream over an exciting play, nor did he ever draw attention to himself. He never got in the way of the images that we were seeing.
What also made Summerall a great play-by-play man is that he always let his analysts shine. He had two great partners. For most of the 1970s, Summerall was paired with Tom Brookshier. After the 1980 season, CBS made a change. It tried Hank Stram at the start of the season. But midway through the year, it brought in former Oakland Raiders coach John Madden, who had been working secondary games.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Summerall and Madden were the perfect pair for a league that was gaining in popularity. Summerall gave Madden the room to develop his style of analysis. The pairing worked beautifully for over 20 years. Summerall would let Madden go on his tangents, which were great, and Summerall would come in and sum it all up in as few as words as possible. They made watching NFL games fun.
“Pat was my broadcasting partner for a long time, but more than that, he was my friend for all of these years,” Madden said in a statement provided by FOX. “We never had one argument, and that was because of Pat. He was a great broadcaster, and a great man. He always had a joke. Pat never complained, and we never had an unhappy moment. He was something very special.
“Pat Summerall is the voice of football, and always will be.”
But Summerall, who played in the NFL for 10 years, was more than just a football announcer. He was the voice of golf and the U.S. Open tennis tournament on CBS. He was a fixture at the Masters. He even called NBA games when CBS acquired the NBA TV rights from ABC in the early 1970s. How many former NFL players turned announcers can do that today?
“There is no one more closely associated with the great legacy and tradition of CBS Sports than Pat Summerall,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said in a statement. “His voice was synonymous with big events whether it was NFL football and the Super Bowl, the Masters or U.S. Open Tennis.”
Summerall had his demon, alcohol. In 1993, several of friends did an intervention. He was angry about that. Still, he checked into the Betty Ford Clinic.
“Their the normal stay is 28 days,” Summerall told The 700 Club in an interview several years ago. “They kept me 33 days because they said, ‘You were so angry for the first five days that they didn’t count.”
Summerall turned his life around. He and Madden made the move to FOX when that network took over the NFC portion of the NFL package starting with the 1994 season. They stayed together through the 2001 season. Madden left FOX for ABC’s “Monday Night Football.” Summerall stayed for one more season, but only did regional games as Joe Buck took over as FOX’s lead announcer.
Anyone who wants to be a play-by-play announcer should study tapes of Summerall’s career. If you want to be successful, you will learn how to do it from him. Less is more. Always remember that.
Rest in peace, Pat. And thank you for a great career.