Legendary broadcaster Pat Summerall dies at 82

Posted Wednesday, Apr. 17, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Pat Summerall was "royalty in the broadcast booth" with a voice that "was synonymous with big events."

"Pat is football," his frequent partner John Madden said.

The sports world was generous with praise this week for the veteran broadcaster, who died Tuesday in Dallas.

Known as the voice of the NFL, the Masters golf tournament and the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Mr. Summerall was also remembered for his life's story of tragedy, recovery and grace.

"It was one of the great honors of my life to call him friend," Brad Sham, the Dallas Cowboys' radio play-by-play announcer, said Tuesday.

"He was what TV play-by-play men should all emulate. He was the personification of style, wit, grace and humor. In his last decades [he was] a devout Christian. He left it all the way better than he found it."

Mr. Summerall died Tuesday at Zale Lipshy University Hospital in Dallas after breaking a hip in a fall at his home in Southlake last week, a family spokeswoman said.

He was in a rehabilitation session at the hospital when he went into sudden cardiac arrest. He was 82.

Born George Allen Summerall on May 10, 1930, in Lake City, Fla., the boy, nicknamed Pat, was raised by relatives. Despite a congenital leg deformity, he became a place-kicker and played end at the University of Arkansas. As a kicker in the NFL, he scored 567 points and played in three NFL championship games. He played 10 seasons with the Detroit Lions, Chicago Cardinals and New York Giants.

But broadcasting proved to be his life's calling. He joined CBS as a broadcaster 1961.

"His presence at an NFL game elevated that event. He was royalty in the broadcast booth," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.

"There is no question that Pat broadcast more Dallas games on CBS and Fox than any other man, and this is a great loss for thousands of Cowboys fans who spent their Sunday afternoons in the living room with Pat."

By the time he moved to the Fox television network in 1994, Mr. Summerall had become CBS' lead broadcaster.

"His voice was synonymous with big events, whether it was NFL football and the Super Bowl, the Masters or U.S. Open Tennis," said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus.

Mr. Summerall worked a record 16 Super Bowls, his last eight with analyst John Madden.

Mr. Summerall credited his voice for his success. "The voice had something to do with it, and God gave me that,'' he said.

Others pointed to his professionalism, his easy-going style and expertise.

"He's more than a play-by-play announcer. Pat is football," Madden once said. "If it wasn't for Pat, I wouldn't have been in this business for so long. Pat Summerall is the easiest man to get along with I've ever met in my life.

"When I first started with him, I was all over the place, and he could take something and say it in one sentence. I wouldn't make sense, and he would say one sentence and make sense out of the sense I didn't make. He did it a million times."

Battle with alcoholism

As Mr. Summerall gained fame on TV, his personal life was unraveling because of alcoholism, he later acknowledged.

From his college days, Mr. Summerall spent most of his nights at the bar.

"I was usually the last guy there, telling the longest stories and drinking everybody under the table," he once said in a documentary about alcoholism.

"I took painkillers every day, too, for the knees I banged up playing football. The combination of painkillers and booze were slowly ripping a hole in my stomach."

In 1992, Tom Brookshier, Mr. Summerall's former CBS partner, set up an intervention in a New Jersey hotel. Mr. Summerall was greeted by CBS colleagues, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and friends. Each had written him a personal letter about his drinking.

Mr. Summerall said he was not swayed, that is until Brookshier read a letter from Mr. Summerall's daughter.

"My daughter thanked me for my courage and the ability to work hard, but she said, 'Lately I've come to regret that we have the same last name,'" Mr. Summerall said. "I thought, 'My God, your kid is ashamed of your name. Maybe it is time to do something.' So I said, 'OK, I'll go.'"

He spent 33 days at the Betty Ford Center learning how to stop drinking. Then he returned to work.

He and his wife, Cheri, committed themselves to spreading the word about the dangers of alcoholism. They were behind an expansion of the Betty Ford operation to Irving. Mr. Summerall helped persuade baseball legend Mickey Mantle to enter the clinic, and was sought out by sports teams to have personal chats with troubled players.

But years of booze took their toll. He retired from Fox in 2003. The alcohol had destroyed his liver, and he got a liver transplant in April 2004.

When he recovered, he continued occasional appearances, particularly in the Metroplex.

He was the TV voice of the AT&T Cotton Bowl on Fox from 2007 to 2010.

"Pat was a great friend of the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic," said Rick Baker, president/CEO of the Cotton Bowl Athletic Association.

"He set the standard for his profession. One of Pat's last assignments on Fox was as a special contributor for the 2011 AT&T Cotton Bowl during our 75th anniversary celebration. His stature raised the profile of our game."

In 1994, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Sports, and that year he received the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award.

In 1997, Mr. Summerall was inducted into the NFL Alumni's prestigious Order of the Leather Helmet.

Another football player-turned-TV-analyst tweeted his respects Wednesday: "@Troy Aikman: Pat Summerall was a great friend & great man ... his impact on the game of football is immeasurable as is the many lives he touched. RIP Pat!"

Star-Telegram writer Mac Engel contributed to this report, which includes information from The New York Times.

Clarence E. Hill Jr.

817-390-7760

Twitter: @clarencehilljr

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