Famed sports broadcaster Pat Summerall dead at 82

04/16/2013 5:42 PM

04/18/2013 12:03 AM

Famed broadcaster Pat Summerall, the iconic voice of the NFL for generations, is dead. He was 82.

Summerall was a broadcaster with CBS and later with FOX Sports during his storied career.

Summerall's death, however, could never take away from a life’s story of triumph, tragedy, recovery and grace.

"It was one of the great honors of my life to call him friend. We were members of a group of current and former media types I called 'Old Timers,'" Brad Sham, the Dallas Cowboys radio play-by-play announcer, said Tuesday. "He was, to me, 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. Always a man's man. He left it all the way better than he found it."

Summerall, widely known as the voice of the NFL, joined CBS as a broadcaster in 1961 after retiring from the NFL where he played 10 seasons as a kicker and tight end with the Detroit Lions, Chicago Cardinals and New York Giants.

The former University of Arkansas product scored 567 points as a kicker in the NFL and played in three NFL Championship Games, but broadcasting proved to be his life's calling.

"His presence at an NFL game elevated that event to a higher level. He was royalty in the broadcast booth," Dallas 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."

Summerall eventually rose to become CBS' lead NFL, golf and tennis broadcaster before moving to Fox in 1994.

"There is no one more closely associated with the great legacy and tradition of CBS Sports than Pat Summerall. 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.

Summerall worked a record 16 Super Bowls, his last eight alongside analyst John Madden. Their work at Super Bowl XVI in 1982 (San Francisco-Cincinnati) remains the highest-rated sports program of all-time, earning a 49.1 rating.

Summerall credited his golden voice for his success.

"The voice had something to do with it, and God gave me that," he said.

Others pointed to his professionalism, easy-going and relaxed 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 be 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."

As Summerall reached the heights as an announcer, his personal life was unraveled by alcoholism.

For more than 40 years, dating to his days in college at Arkansas, 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 had a vodka after a game, or a Jack Daniels on the plane, or a few beers with friends during all those nights on the road. 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."

Summerall supposedly hit a low point in 1990 when he became terribly ill with a bleeding ulcer on an airplane flight after another late night of drinking. He was rushed to the hospital, where he almost died.

Summerall promised himself he would never drink again. But instead of keeping his promise he began keeping secrets from friends and family who asked if he had quit.

In 1992, Tom Brookshire, Summerall's former CBS partner, set up an intervention under the disguise of having him meet a potential Giants Stadium luxury box client. Instead of meeting the client at a hotel in Camden, N.J., Summerall was greeted instead by CBS colleagues, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle and friends. Each had written him a personal letter about Summerall's problems with alcohol. Still, Summerall said he was determined to not be swayed. Then Brookshire read a letter from 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,'" 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 enrolled in the Betty Ford Clinic and spent 33 days attending lectures, going to counseling and learning how to stop drinking.

Summerall returned to his stellar work as a broadcaster. He and Madden became the second-most popular broadcast booth in NFL history behind Monday Night Football's Frank Gifford-Howard Cossell-Don Meredith.

But he and his wife Cheri also committed themselves to spread the word to others about the evils of alcoholism.

The Southlake natives were behind an expansion of the Betty Ford Clinic in Irving. Summerall, who helped persuade the late Mickey Mantle to enter the Betty Ford Clinic, was sought out by sports teams to have personal chats with troubled players.

"He has come through a lot of things," said Cheri. "It makes him strong to move on rather than put a blanket on it and cover it up. Through helping others he has helped himself."

Summerall, who had been sober since 1992, was through with alcohol. But it wasn't through with him. The years of abuse eventually took their toll on his body, destroying his liver and forcing him to need a transplant in the spring of 2004.

A compatible liver was donated and transplanted in a 2½-hour surgery at Jacksonville's St. Luke's Hospital on April 10. He was released 11 days later.

He recovered and returned to public appearances, particularly in the Metroplex area.

Summerall was part of the NFL as a player or broadcaster for more than 50 years before retiring from Fox in 2003. His other work included covering the Masters in golf and the U.S. Open Tennis Championships. He also served as the television voice of the AT&T Cotton Bowl on FOX from 2007-2010.

“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 and was always there for us whenever we asked for his support. 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. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Cheri, and the entire Summerall family."

Topping his list of many awards was in 1994 when the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Sports. In July of 1994 he received the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award. In April 1997, Summerall earned yet another honor for his broadcasting skills when he was inducted into the NFL Alumni's prestigious Order of the Leather Helmet in recognition of his contributions to professional football.

Born George Allen Summerall on May 10, 1930, in Lake City, Fla., Summerall shared his Southlake home, nicknamed "Amazing Grace" with his wife, Cheri.

"The last time I saw him he looked great. I know Pat had been through some tough times, but he looked good and he was happy and doing well. That's how I'd like to remember him," said former NFL coach and player Dan Reeves.

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