May 10, 1930 – April 16, 2013
DALLAS (AP) – Pat Summerall was the calm alongside John Madden’s storm.
Over four decades, Summerall described some of the biggest games in America in his deep, resonant voice. Simple, spare, he delivered the details on 16 Super Bowls, the Masters and the U.S. Open tennis tournament with a simple, understated style that was the perfect complement for the “booms!” and “bangs!” of Madden, his football partner for the last half of the NFL player-turned-broadcaster’s career.
Summerall died Tuesday at age 82 of cardiac arrest, said University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center spokesman Jeff Carlton, speaking on behalf of Summerall’s wife, Cheri.
“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. “Pat Summerall is the voice of football and always will be.”
His final play-by-play words beside Madden were succinct, of course, as he called the game-ending field goal of the Super Bowl for Fox on Feb. 3, 2002, when New England beat St. Louis 20-17.
“It’s right down the pipe. Adam Vinatieri. No time on the clock. And the Patriots have won Super Bowl XXXVI. Unbelievable,” Summerall said.
At the end of their final broadcast together, Madden described Summerall as “a treasure” and the “spirit of the National Football League” in a tribute to the partner that complemented him so well.
As former teammate and broadcaster Frank Gifford put it in an accompanying video tribute: “America is very comfortable with Pat Summerall.”
Summerall played 10 NFL seasons from 1952 to 1961 with the Chicago Cardinals and New York Giants, but it was in his second career that he became a voice familiar to generations of sports fans, not only those of the NFL.
Summerall started doing NFL games for CBS in 1964, and became a play-by-play guy 10 years later. He was also part of coverage of the PGA Tour, including the Masters from 1968 to 1994, and U.S. Open tennis.
When CBS lost its NFL deal after the 1993 season, Summerall switched to Fox to keep calling NFL games with Madden. Summerall had hoped to keep working with CBS for other events like the Masters, but network executives saw it otherwise. At the time, CBS Sports anchor Jim Nantz said he was “very saddened” that Summerall didn’t get to leave CBS under his own terms.
“Pat Summerall was a hero to me,” Nantz said Tuesday. “I treasured the gift of friendship that I had with him. I was his understudy for 10 years. He could not have been more generous or kind to a young broadcaster.”
A recovering alcoholic, Summerall had a liver transplant in April 2004. The lifesaving surgery was necessary even after 12 years of sobriety.
Summerall received the liver of a 13-year-old junior high football player from Arkansas who died unexpectedly from an aneurysm. Summerall had an emotional meeting with the teenager’s family the following year.
Summerall often shared his testimony with Christian groups and told his story when speaking before other organizations.
Long before broadcasting Super Bowl games, 16 for television and 10 more for radio – in fact, before there was even a Super Bowl – Summerall played a role in what is known in football circles as “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” the 1958 NFL championship. The Giants lost to the Baltimore Colts 23-17 in the NFL’s first-ever overtime game.
Born George Allen Summerall on May 10, 1930, in Lake City, Fla., he was an all-state prep football and basketball player there. He played college football at Arkansas before going to the NFL.
After breaking his arm in the preseason as a rookie for Detroit, Summerall played five years for the Chicago Cardinals before four seasons with the Giants. Summerall was primarily a kicker, hitting 100 field goals and 256 of 265 extra points in his career.