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Pat Summerall, ‘spirit of the NFL,’ dies at 82
Over four decades, Summerall’s deep, resonant voice described some of the biggest games in America. Simple, spare, he delivered the details on 16 Super Bowls, the Masters and the U.S. Open tennis tournament with a simple, understated style that was the perfect complement for the “booms!” and “bangs!” of Madden, his partner for half of the NFL player-turned-broadcaster’s career.
“He was an extraordinary man and a wonderful father,” said Susie Wiles, his daughter. “I know he will be greatly missed.”
His final play-by-play words beside Madden were succinct, of course, as he called the game-ending field goal of the Super Bowl for Fox on Feb. 3, 2002, when New England beat St. Louis 20-17.
Sparse, exciting, perfect. A flawless summation without distracting from the reaction viewers could see on the screen.
At the end of their final broadcast together, Madden described Summerall as “a treasure” and the “spirit of the National Football League” in a tribute to the partner that complemented the boisterous former Oakland Raiders coach so well.
Summerall played 10 NFL seasons (1952-61) with the Chicago Cardinals and New York Giants, but it was in his second career that he became a voice familiar to generations of sports fans, not only those of the NFL.
“Pat was a friend of nearly 40 years,” CBS Sports broadcaster Verne Lundquist said. “He was a master of restraint in his commentary, an example for all of us. He was also one of the great storytellers who ever spoke into a microphone.”
Summerall started doing NFL games for CBS in 1964, and became a play-by-play guy 10 years later. He was also part of CBS’s coverage of the PGA Tour, including the Masters from 1968-94, and U.S. Open tennis.
When CBS lost its NFL deal after the 1993 season, Summerall switched to Fox to keep calling NFL games with Madden. He had hoped to keep working with CBS for other events like the Masters, but network executives saw it otherwise. At the time, CBS Sports anchor Jim Nantz said he was “very saddened” that Summerall didn’t get to leave CBS under his own terms.
“He is CBS Sports. I always thought he could work here until he was 75 or 80 years old,” Nantz told The Philadelphia Daily News then. “He’s been a much larger influence on my career than I think he realizes. There will be a piece of Pat Summerall on the air as long as I do golf for this network.”
By David A. Clarke Jr.
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