Pat Summerall, the Voice of Football (1930-2013)
Every age group of sports fans has a precious few announcers whose voices serve as the collective narrator of their greatest sports memories (which, as I've stated many times, for various reasons, typically take place between the halcyon ages of 16 and 28).
For us fortysomethings, virtually every NFL memory that we have from childhood into early adulthood is subconsciously narrated by the distinctive voice of Pat Summerall.
On Tuesday, at age 82, Summerall passed away in a Dallas hospital of cardiac arrest.
The primary voice of the NFL on CBS during the '80s and then Fox throughout the '90s, Summerall guided viewers through 16 Super Bowls, 20 U.S. Opens in tennis and 27 Masters.
For NFL fans back in the days of Roger Staubach and then Danny White, perhaps it is appropriate that Summerall's final days were spent in Dallas since, even though he was broadcasting a national feed each week, it felt as if Summerall and his longtime broadcast partner John Madden were the personal voices of the Dallas Cowboys, what with "America's Team" being the national game of the week seemingly every Sunday on CBS, which back then had the NFC's broadcast rights.
Because Summerall grew into such a legendary announcer, his exploits on the athletic fields tend to get overshadowed, but he was a legit three-sport star, playing football, baseball and basketball at the University of Arkansas.
After spending some time with the St. Louis Cardinals baseball organization, he moved on to the NFL. Drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1952, Summerall wound up place kicking for the Chicago Cardinals and New York Giants, with his most famous kick being the 49-yarder in a snowstorm to beat Cleveland 13-10 and send the Giants on to the epic 1958 championship game against the Baltimore Colts.
After his playing days were through, Summerall found his way to CBS, where he evolved into one of the pantheon-level broadcasters in all of television, his on-air partnership with Tom Brookshier becoming the gold standard for NFL television announcing of that era. Unfortunately, the two of them were the platinum standard for carousing and boozing, necessitating the network's decision to disband the pair in 1981.
Oddly enough, in a classic case of "and the rest is history," the split of Summerall and Brookshier led to Summerall's pairing with the ex-Raiders head coach Madden on CBS, where the two would redefine the term "chemistry" in the announcers' booth for nearly two decades on two different networks.
Years ago, I'd have had to try and describe how good these two were, but in 2013, we have the magic of YouTube to help at least give you a taste:
How legendary was the pairing of Summerall and Madden? Enough to where even younger fans today will always remember them as the voices of the early Madden video games. Make no mistake, there's no better respect than "video game" respect:
To this day, when I hear an announcer say "flag on the play," I still think he should be paying royalties to Summerall.
I'll finish this post with my own personal Summerall anecdote:
Prior to getting into radio, I worked in sales for about 15 years, the last ten of which were spent with a startup company of which I was one of the 20 original employees. Our company sold maintenance contracts on telecommunications equipment, and if you think that sounds boring, imagine going to a party, meeting new people and trying to tell them that's what you sell.
Now imagine doing it without sending them into deep slumber. Not easy, huh?
Around 1999, our company wanted to do a promotional video to send to prospective clients to convey just how awesome our products and services were. In order to add an air of class and genteel credibility, we hired Pat Summerall to narrate our video and describe our company's offerings.
Summerall was positively sublime, deftly explaining the primary benefits of our solution with his trademarked dulcet pipes to the point where he actually made telecom equipment maintenance interesting.
That might be the highest compliment I could pay any pitchman -- he made telecom equipment maintenance interesting.
Pat Summerall was that damn good.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.