Pat Summerall was the perfect teammate, whether it was on the football field or the press box.
Summerall, always efficient and clear with his words, passed away Tuesday at the age of 82.
He became a media icon working with his polar opposite - John Madden - in the NFL booth for first CBS and then Fox Sports. He was the Voice of the NFL for generations of fans, working a record 16 Super Bowls. His understated style fit the visual medium perfectly, and his ability to set the stage and then get out of the way for his alalyst partners made him worth his weight in gold.
He had the rare ability to make the difficult seem simple.
A play-by-play announcer is part traffic cop, part wordsmith. His job is to convey the essential details of the game while leaving his broadcast partner enough time to try and make a salient point about what just happened -- all before the next snap.
You must do this with a producer screaming in your ear, a spotter handing you the next promo card, a statistician passing you a note all the while trying to quickly take in what is happening on the field as the teams lined up.
No one did it better in such a clear, calm and coherent manner than Pat Summerall.
The best are always true to themselves. They have to be because if you work in front of that camera long enough, you will be thoroughly exposed, warts and all.
They understand who they are, what they excel at and what they should avoid. When you find a partner who compliments your personality, you have pure gold.
Summerall believed his job was to express the facts as succinctly as possible. In summarizing his life, that isn't easy to do.
Summerall was a multi-sport star at the University of Arkansas from 1949-51. His senior season the Razorbacks handed Texas their first loss of the year, 16-14, thanks in part to his 20-yard field goal.
His 10-year NFL career was solid, though hardly spectacular. However, his last five seasons were spent with the New York Giants, where he parlayed his smooth voice into a post-NFL career that would be Hall of Fame caliber. He didn't just excel at football; Summerall was the #1 announcer for tennis and golf at CBS and he even worked a few NBA games for the network.
Summerall always gave credit to his bosses for emphasizing that TV meant less is more from the announcers. Early in his career he worked with Jack Buck and Ray Scott, two of the masters of understatement.
When Summerall switched over to the play-by-play chair, he quickly moved up to the #1 game. His first partner was former NFL player Tom Brookshier, and they were a hit -- on and off the field (more on that a little later).
CBS decided to break up that team when John Madden became available in 1981. They first had Vin Scully do several games with Madden, and then Summerall. A mid-season, the CBS executives took a vote and kept Summerall in the #1 booth with Madden. It was a match made in heaven. When Fox got the NFL contract their first hire was John Madden, and he insisted that they do everything they could to bring Summerall along as well.
The duo wrapped up their time together with the 2002 Super Bowl.
As I said the Summerall-Brookshier worked hard, partied hard and was a roaring success at both. They later admitted that they fully enjoyed the lifestyle and paid for it later on. I had the chance to watch both sides of their partnership up close and personal in the late 70's.
While they worked the NFL, both Summerall and Brookshier had in their contracts that they would work one college game a year and that was, of all games, the Sun Bowl.
Back then if you weren't playing in a New Year's Day bowl, the Sun Bowl was high on the list as a place to spend the holidays. The host committee understood that El Paso was hardly a garden spot, so they pulled out all the stops to entertain the teams and the media when they came to town. Going across the border to Juarez was hardly the danger it is today, and every night there was a party or event that topped the night before.
Texas played in the Sun Bowl after the 1978-79 seasons, and I can personally attest to the fact that if you weren't having a great time, you obviously had assumed room temperature.
I can also attest to the fact that Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier took full advantage of the situation. But on game day they were as professional and smooth as if they were working an NFL play off game.
It is well known that Summerall finally admitted to a drinking problem and he spent the last 20 years of his life stone cold sober. He wouldn't preach about his conversion, but if asked, he would tell his story and its hardships in his typical understated style.
When he retired, he left the business the the same way he worked the booth, graciously with little fanfare.
They just don't make them like that anymore.