John Madden had a story about Pat Summerall the gifted play by play announcer who passed away this last year. Madden, who worked side by side with Pat had accidentally sat on Pats headset while Pat was away. When Pat came back with seconds left before he was to go back on the air they scrambled to find it. Madden uncovered the set which was twisted with the ear piece facing out on one of the sides (a complete mess.) Summerall quickly and calmly took the hand off untwisted the headset put it on his head and without missing a beat said “First and ten, ball on the twenty.” That little story in itself describes why Pat Summerall was considered the best play by play man on the air! He had a way of keeping calm and relaxed even when the pressure was enormous. While he was calm and collected in his working environment for many years his personal life was the complete opposite as it spiraled completely out of control.
Pat was born with a club foot to parents who split up before he was born. He was almost put up for adoption and ended up living with an aunt. An operation was performed on his foot but doctors were pessimistic. His family was told that he would never be able to run and play and just maybe he would be able to walk, maybe. Miraculously his foot healed better than anyone expected! Pat came away with the attitude that “I’ll show them” as he found his identity in athletics. He said that “as long as there was a ball involved he was happy!” He starred in every sport he tried and ended up with a football scholarship from Arkansas University where he majored in Russian History. Summerall spent ten years as a professional football player in the National Football League, primarily as a placekicker. The Detroit Lions drafted him as a fourth-round draft choice in the 1952 NFL Draft. Summerall played the preseason with the Lions before breaking his arm, which ended the year for him. After that season, he was traded and went on to play for the Chicago Cardinals from 1953 to 1957 and the New York Giants from 1958 to 1961, during which he was a part of The Greatest Game Ever Played. His best professional year statistically was 1959, when he scored 90 points on 30-for-30 extra-point kicking and 20-for-29 field goal kicking. It’s been said that the 1958 sudden death game against the Colts was the game that made the NFL what it is today! It was called “The Greatest Game Ever Played!” The Giants would not have been in that game had it not been for Pat! With time running down and his Giants tied with the Cleveland Browns 10-10 in a swirling wind the Giants sent Pat out to attempt a 49 yard field goal. Had he missed the Browns would have been the Eastern Conference Champion. Pat made that field goal which was a long shot at that time! That created a tie in the Eastern Conference standings which the Giants broke the following week by beating the Browns again.
One day while with the Giants Pat happened to be in the room when his roommate Charley Connerly (the Giants Quarterback) was not. There was a call from one of the radio stations wanting Charley to audition for a radio station in New York City for the morning sports show. Pat ended up auditioning and won the part! Before that time Pat never knew what he was going to do once his football career ended. He found that he liked broadcasting and he had a natural talent for it!
After his playing career ended Pat went into broadcasting full time. At first he was a color commentator for NFL games. He later hosted a show called “This Week In The NFL” which recapped all of the games played the past week. After that they moved him to a play by play announcer and teamed him with Tom Brookshire another ex player. They were the top team on CBS with Pat doing the broadcasts in his calm way and Tom adding color insights! Their team was a huge success as they brought a fresh understanding to the game while keeping it entertaining! Brookshire liked to do funny skits with him being the unusual personality and Summerall playing the straight man. Summerall was sure of himself and was comfortable letting Brookshire get the laughs. That trait would serve him well when he would later team with John Madden. Unfortunately Brookshire and Summerall not only had fun on the air but off the air too. They became drinking buddies and that was how they spent a lot of their off air time. From 1974 til 1981 they worked together in harmony both in and out of the broadcasting booth. The Super Bowl of 1980 was not one of their best broadcasts. It made CBS executives think about breaking up the team that was so good to them, because they were destroying themselves. Summerall concluded a few years ago that “if they had kept us together we would both be dead.”
CBS could see that John Madden had the potential to be a new future star in the broadcasting booth. They determined that he would be the new color analyst. The question they had was whether to keep Summerall or replace him with veteran baseball announcer Vin Scully? They decided to divide the games in half with Summerall and Scully working an equal amount. After the season they would decide which team worked the best. It was decided after the experiment that Pat would team with Madden as the number one team on CBS.
Pat and John worked great as a team! John would get crazy sometimes in his analyzing and although it was funny and entertaining it was Pats job to reign it all in and make the game sensible again. He did it in such a calm way that the broadcast never missed a beat. Pat again was very comfortable playing the straight man to Madden’s madness. He knew what his job was and was natural at doing it as he was at ease with who he was. Everyone wanted to watch their game every week and Maddens name was used for a new football video game that has been updated yearly ever since! Still Pat had a hidden problem that few people knew about. It got so bad that he started his day drinking and ended it drinking too. He had become a full fledged alcoholic.
Family and friends saw the damage Pat was doing to himself. In 1992 they had Tom Brookshire intervene and invite him to a meeting. It turned out that the meeting was a group urging Pat to get himself checked into the Betty Ford Hospital. Pat was hurt and against the idea and explained that he had other plans he had to take care of relating to his work. Pat was brought to tears as his daughter said in a letter that she was ashamed to have the same last name as Pat because of his addiction. A CBS director advised Pat that if he didn’t get help he wouldn’t have a job. It was then that Pat realized that he was at a crossroads.
“The intervention really opened my eyes about what life is all about, who was accountable and who wasn’t,” recounts Summerall, in an interview with CBN.com.
“Where the advice or the message or wherever the consideration, the choices that I made, who told me what was right and who told me what was wrong; I finally discovered that there was a higher power.”
“When I was at the Betty Ford Clinic there were two books you could read,” remembers Summerall. “One was the Holy Bible and the other was Alcoholic Anonymous Bible – every chapter is about a drunk in the AA Bible. So, I started reading the Holy Bible, beginning with Genesis. The more I read, the more inquisitive I got, and the more I wanted to know about the Bible and what it was all about. It gave my conscious information about making the right choice. And when I got out I never had a craving. I have never had another desire to have another drink.”
Life was changing for Pat Summerall. He still had a lot of unanswered question but felt he was headed in the right direction. Eventually, through the aid of his wife’s pastor, Summerall found Christ and requested to be baptized at the age of 64.
“It was such a magnificent feeling,” smiles Summerall. “After the baptism I felt so clean I knew what people were talking about when they talk about being born again. I had that feeling. I had a feeling of peace. I felt smarter, lighter, quicker; it was a feeling like I’ve never had before.”
In recent years Summerall has battled not with drinking but with a near death experience instead. Heavy alcohol abuse over the years had damaged his liver beyond repair. Complicating matters, due to his age and public notoriety, medical officials feared it would be difficult to find him a suitable donor for a transplant. That donor came with just 18 hours to spare.
For the rest of his life Pat was eager to tell his story to all that would listen! He lived for the times when he could help others to get out of the place he was in. One person that he had met many times for talks was Michael Irving the former star of the Dallas Cowboys. Irving wanted to get into broadcasting and Pat was able to convince his superiors that Michael Irving had changed his ways. Michael has been very successful on the NFL Network and credits Pat for giving him the opportunity!
Pat was also the voice of tennis and golf on CBS. His friendly, calm, relaxed style was very comfortable for his viewers! He covered major events each year such as the US Tennis Open and the Masters Golf Tournament. He also covered 27 Super Bowls for CBS and later Fox. His broadcasting career led him to many big moments in the sports world, however he told anyone who listened that the biggest event he had experienced was meeting Jesus Christ as his personal savior!
Unfortunately Pat’s years of drinking had an adverse effect on his first marriage. Pat’s second wife was a wonderful Christian lady Cheri and they moved into a house in Southlake Texas. Pat wanted to give the house a name and chose “Amazing Grace.” Pat and Cheri loved that house and on the gate for all to see was the words “Amazing Grace.” He loved the fact that when they were coming home they would always see the sign and it would remind them of the miracle that happened in Pats life! Like the time that Madden handed him the headset needing repair, Pat had handed Jesus his broken life. Amazingly his life was never the same!
In April of 2013 Pat went to a hospital in Dallas for surgery on a broken hip. He came through the surgery in good shape and anxiously looked forward to going back to Amazing Grace in a few days. A blood clot developed that took Pat’s life. His wife summed it up best when she said “we thought Pat would be coming home to amazing grace soon. We just didn’t know that it was that amazing grace he was going to.”