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Pat Summerall, ‘spirit of the NFL,’ dies at 82
A recovering alcoholic, Summerall had a liver transplant in April 2004. The lifesaving surgery was necessary even after 12 years of sobriety.
After an intervention involving, among others, former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, former CBS Sports President Peter Lund and former PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beaman, Summerall checked into the Betty Ford Clinic in April 1992.
“I had no intention of quitting, I was having too good a time,” Summerall said in a 2000 Associated Press story. “The prescribed stay at Betty Ford is 28 days. They kept me 33 because I was so angry at the people who did the intervention, the first five days didn’t do me any good.”
Summerall received the liver of a 13-year-old junior high football player from Arkansas who died unexpectedly from an aneurysm. Summerall had an emotional meeting with the teenager’s family the following year.
Summerall often shared his testimony with Christian groups and told his story when speaking before other organizations. In his 2006 book, “Summerall: On and Off The Air,” he frankly discussed his personal struggles and professional successes.
Long before broadcasting Super Bowl games, 16 for television and 10 more for radio — in fact, before there was even a Super Bowl — Summerall played a role in what is known in football circles as “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” the 1958 NFL championship. The Giants lost to the Baltimore Colts 23-17 in the NFL’s first-ever overtime game.
Born George Allen Summerall on May 10, 1930, in Lake City, Fla., he was an All-State prep football and basketball player there, and lettered in baseball and tennis. He played college football at Arkansas before going to the NFL.
After breaking his arm in the preseason as a rookie for Detroit, Summerall played five years for the Chicago Cardinals before four seasons with the Giants. While he was also a defensive back, Summerall was primarily a kicker, making 100 field goals and 256 of 265 extra points in his career.
When asked about his fondest NFL memories during a May 2009 interview with the AP, Summerall said there were things that stood out as a player and broadcaster.
“You always remember the days as a player. I was in four championship games before there was a Super Bowl, so I remember those very well,” he said. “Broadcasting, I remember the last (Super Bowl) I did. Of course, I remember that. I remember the first one most vividly than any of the rest.”
Summerall was part of the CBS broadcast of the inaugural Super Bowl in Los Angeles on Jan. 15, 1967. After working the first half in the broadcast booth, he switched places with Gifford at halftime and was a sideline reporter during the second half.
“To look at the Coliseum that day and see that there were like 40,000 empty seats and the most expensive ticket was $12, it’s incredible to realize what was going on and what it’s grown to over the years,” he said during the 2009 AP interview. “It’s sort of staggering to me.”
Summerall, who spent his final years in the Dallas area, living in Southlake, was a member of the North Texas Super Bowl host committee for the game played there in February 2011 in the $1.1 billion Cowboys Stadium that opened in 2009.
“It’s a little bit different in that, it’s in my neighborhood, it’s in my home,” Summerall said in advance of that Super Bowl in which Green Bay defeated Pittsburgh. “It’s quite an honor just to be part of it.”
Summerall became a play-by-play announcer in 1974, and it was strictly by accident. He was working with Jack Buck, and CBS boss Bob Wussler thought the two commentators sounded too much alike. Summerall told Wussler that if a change was going to be made that he’d like to do play-by-play, and the following Sunday that’s what Summerall was doing.
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