Pat Summerall, the legendary voice of the NFL, was remembered Saturday as a great and humble man who was better at the end than during his vintage heyday behind the microphone because he turned to Christianity after overcoming alcoholism.
Roughly 1,684 mourners gathered at Prestonwood Baptist Church to pay tribute to Summerall, 82, who died of a heart attack Tuesday while recovering from hip replacement surgery at a Dallas hospital.
Summerall was an NFL kicker before becoming the primary play-by-play voice of the NFL with CBS and Fox. He called 16 Super Bowls in addition to some of the most memorable games in NFL history.
And considering that the Dallas Cowboys were the biggest draw for CBS and Fox as part of the NFC package, he made Dallas-Fort Worth his home and became great friends with owner Jerry Jones and many of the team’s greatest players.
It was no surprise that the Cowboys had a huge presence at the memorial service, including Jones, coach Jason Garrett, current stars such as Tony Romo and Jason Witten, Hall of Famers Roger Staubach, Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Rayfield Wright, Mel Renfro and past stars Charlie Waters, Greg Ellis, Charles Haley, Daryl Johnston and Tony Tolbert.
Jones remarked that it was Summerall who recommended he hire former coach Bill Parcells.
“We lost somebody pretty special when we lost Pat Summerall,” Jones said. “Pat was cherished by the Cowboys. We know what he meant to the NFL. But he meant a lot to the Cowboys. He was a great Cowboys supporter. He did visit with me about Bill Parcells. He said that would be positive for the Cowboys. So he had a lasting memory and lasting impact on the Cowboys.”
Aikman said he came to know Summerall first as a broadcaster then as a friend and a “real gentleman” who helped him greatly when he started in broadcasting. But he said Summerall’s greatest achievements were the causes he supported and his battle to overcome alcoholism.
“I think his greatest achievement was his sobriety,” Aikman said. “There was so many people he helped through the Betty Ford Clinic. It was something he really got behind.”
Also in attendance were former executives and colleagues with CBS and Fox Sports, who not only remembered him for his football coverage but also as the voice of the U.S. Open tennis tournament for years, as well as The Masters golf tournament.
But it was former NFL broadcast partner John Madden who captivated the audience. Their tandem is arguably the greatest in sports television history because Summerall was the calm to Madden’s storm.
“I got up this morning and I thought, ‘Pat, I need you,’” Madden told the mourners. “I couldn’t get the tie straightened, a button buttoned. It was the same old thing.”
Madden remembered his first year in the booth with Summerall in 1981. He was just getting started, but Summerall, who was already the voice of the NFL, never looked down on him.
“He didn’t tell you he’d pull you through, he just damn did it,” Madden said.
In typical Madden style, not only did he say “damn” from the pulpit at Prestonwood but he also said “hell,” while going on for more than 10 minutes. He called Summerall “John Wayne” because of his quiet strength and “Walter Cronkite” become of the comfort he felt standing next to him for 22 years.
“I know Pat’s up there saying, ‘brevity, brevity, brevity.’ But just one more time I’m going to talk over you,” Madden said as he looked upward.
Madden ended with a teary-eyed and emotional, “Bye, Pat. Rest in Peace. I love you.”
Summerall’s sons, Jay and Kyle, also spoke along with his granddaughter Katherine Wiles Luebker.
Other attendees of note were NFL media chief Greg Aiello, formers Cowboys scouting director Gil Brandt, legendary Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles and San Antonio billionaire Red McCombs.
His years as an alcoholic caused Summerall to need a liver transplant in 2004. He got it from a 13-year-old junior high football player from Arkansas who died unexpectedly from an aneurysm. Summerall remained in touch with the teenager’s family and often visited his grave. The family was in attendance Saturday.
“There was no big shot in him,” Jay Summerall said.
Echoed Lance Barrow of CBS Sports: “He made you feel like the most important man in the room.”