Pat Summerall, Sports Broadcasting Hall-of-Famer and Legendary NFL Voice, Dies at 82
Pat Summerall, the quintessential play-by-play voice of the National Football League who called more Super Bowls than any announcer in broadcasting history during his 40-plus years in the booth, died Tuesday at the age of 82 in Dallas.
In addition to serving as the signature voice of CBS Sports’ golf and tennis coverage for more than 20 years, Summerall made up one-half of pro football’s iconic broadcast team, alongside legendary color commentator John Madden. Both of them were inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2010.
CLICK HERE for a tribute to the legendary broadcasting duo of Summerall and Madden, including a conversation with the pair.
CLICK HERE for additional content including a profile and video of Summerall’s personal induction speech.
“Simply put, when you heard Pat’s voice in an opening, you knew it was a big game,” says Sandy Grossman, who spent more than 25 years directing Summerall at CBS and Fox. “He was absolutely the big-game voice for decades. We just don’t have anyone like that today and may never again.”
Remembrances From the Greats
News of Summerall’s passing brought on an outpouring of praise from the sports-broadcasting heavyweights who knew him so well.
“Pat was my broadcasting partner for a long time, but, more than that, he was my friend for all of these years,” Madden said in a statement on Tuesday. “We never had one argument, and that was because of Pat. He was a great broadcaster and a great man. He always had a joke. Pat never complained, and we never had an unhappy moment. He was something very special. Pat Summerall is the voice of football and always will be.”
Adds CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus, “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 US Open tennis.”
Jim Nantz, who succeeded Summerall as CBS Sports’ lead play-by-play announcer, recollected, “Pat Summerall was a hero to me. I treasured the gift of friendship that I had with him. I was his understudy for 10 years. He could not have been more generous or kind to a young broadcaster. He was a giant and one of the iconic figures in the history of the CBS television network.”
Before the Booth
Born in Lake City, FL, Summerall gained much of his feel for the game of football from his years as a player, at the University of Arkansas and as placekicker for the Chicago Cardinals and New York Giants from 1952 to 1961, including three NFL Championship Games (one the celebrated “Greatest Game Ever Played,” in 1958).
“Pat played at a high level, and he played in big games,” says Summerall’s long-time producer, Bob Stenner. “So he [knew] what it’s like for the players down on the field, and that’s extremely unusual for a play-by-play guy.”
Breaking Into Broadcasting
Summerall’s broadcasting career actually came about by chance and almost never happened at all. Just before the start of the Giants’ 1961 season, he was in a New York hotel room when the phone rang. It was an executive from WCBS radio in New York calling to remind Summerall’s roommate, quarterback Charlie Conerly (who was in the shower), that he had an audition later that afternoon at the station, along with teammates Alex Webster and Kyle Rote.
“Just before I hung up the phone, he said, ‘Wait a minute. What are you doing this afternoon?’” recounted Summerall. “And I said, probably going to drink beer with the boys or go to a movie or something. So he told me to come along for the audition. I went and read the same script that the [other players] did, and they picked me to do the radio show at CBS. That was my first introduction to the broadcasting business.”
After retiring following that season, Summerall launched his career in radio, calling NFL games, serving as sports director, and hosting a talk show at WCBS radio. He then spent 10 years as a color analyst for CBS Sports telecasts alongside legends Jack Buck, Chris Schenkel, and Ray Scott, before making the rare transition to play-by-play in 1974 and joining close friend Tom Brookshier on CBS’s No. 1 NFL broadcast team.
“Tom and I became very close friends, almost like brothers,” said Summerall. “We had a lot of fun together and probably even entertained ourselves a little too much. But he knew the game, and so did I.”
Lance Barrow, CBS Sports’ long-time coordinating producer for golf and the NFL, says, “In 1976, I was a junior in college, and Chuck Will put me in the 18th tower as a spotter for Pat Summerall. He told me, ‘You’re not going to meet a finer man in this business than Pat Summerall.’ And to this day, I never have. He was kind to everyone. When you were around him, you never knew that he was the number-one broadcaster. He taught me so much, not only about this business but how to treat people. I’m sad on this day, but also smiling because I know he will be with his good buddy Tom Brookshier.”
The Summerall-Madden Era
In 1981, CBS Sports paired Summerall with former Oakland Raiders coach John Madden, a partnership that would span 21 years, eight Super Bowls, two major networks, and more than 300 telecasts. Summerall’s succinct baritone served as the perfect complement to Madden’s lively, effusive style, creating a pitch-perfect NFL telecast for fans.
“John always knew that, no matter what he did, Pat had his back,” says Grossman. “Wherever he would go or whatever tangent he was on, he would rely on Pat to bring it down safely. And most important, Pat would always ask the right question at the right time to make sure that thought was completed.”
For 13 years at CBS Sports and another eight at Fox Sports, the duo set the standard for an NFL telecast — both in the booth and in the film room.
“We started doing football very differently than people had done in the past,” says Grossman. “John and Pat went much deeper into the game with tape and [pregame] interviews with players and coaches. We were watching so much film that it became like a tutorial every week.”
A Career for the Ages
In total, Summerall worked 26 Super Bowls — 16 on network television and 10 on radio — and called 27 Masters golf tournaments, 21 US Open tennis tournaments, five heavyweight-championship fights, and an NBA Finals. After retiring in 2001, he was periodically drawn back into the booth for marquee events, including four Cotton Bowl Classics. And, in all those years and all those events, he is said to have never taken a single note.
“Pat never ever took notes — not once,” says Stenner. “When we would meet with players and coaches, he would just sit there, ask a question, and process the answer. Then, when the game rolled around, all this stuff would come back out, and you would say, how the hell does he do that?”
A recovering alcoholic, Summerall had a liver transplant in April 2004 after 12 years of sobriety. After an intervention in April 1992, he had checked into the Betty Ford Clinic and would go on to open up publicly about his struggles in hopes of helping others. A dedicated Christian and a father of three, he resided in Southlake, TX, with his wife, Cheri, until his death Tuesday.
“Pat is the absolute benchmark for all play-by-play announcers,” says Stenner. “He’s so understated. He’s always had that amazing ability to say more with fewer words. I can’t see there ever being another one like Pat.”