Famous sports announcer Pat Summerall dies at 82

The understated Pat Summerall (left) was the perfect complement in the broadcast booth to the exuberant John Madden.
Ric Feld/Associated Press/file 2002
The understated Pat Summerall (left) was the perfect complement in the broadcast booth to the exuberant John Madden.

DALLAS — Pat Summerall was the calm alongside John Madden’s storm.

Over four decades, Mr. 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 US 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.

Mr. Summerall died Tuesday at age 82 of cardiac arrest, said University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center spokesman Jeff Carlton, speaking on behalf of Mr. Summerall’s wife, Cheri.


‘‘He was an extraordinary man and a wonderful father,’’ said Susie Wiles, Mr. Summerall’s daughter. ‘‘I know he will be greatly missed.’’

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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.

‘‘It’s right down the pipe,’’ Mr. Summerall said. “Adam Vinatieri. No time on the clock. And the Patriots have won Super Bowl XXXVI. Unbelievable.”

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 Mr. 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.


‘‘You are what the NFL is all about, what pro football is all about, and more important, what a man is all about and what a gentleman is all about,’’ Madden said.

As former teammate and broadcaster Frank Gifford put it in an accompanying video tribute: ‘‘America is very comfortable with Pat Summerall.’’

Harry Harris/Associated Press/file 1958
Mr. Summerall, also a defensive back, made 100 field goals and 256 of 265 extra points during his NFL career.

Mr. 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.’’

Mr. 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 coverage of the PGA Tour, including the Masters from 1968-94, and US Open tennis.


When CBS lost its NFL deal after the 1993 season, Mr. 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.

‘It’s right down the pipe. Adam Vinatieri. No time on the clock. And the Patriots have won Super Bowl XXXVI. Unbelievable.’

A recovering alcoholic, Mr. 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, Mr. Summerall checked into the Betty Ford Clinic in April 1992.

‘‘I had no intention of quitting; I was having too good a time,’’ Mr. Summerall said in 2000.

‘‘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.’’

Mr. Summerall received the liver of a 13-year-old junior high football player from Arkansas who died unexpectedly of an aneurysm. Mr. Summerall had an emotional meeting with the teenager’s family the following year.

Mr. 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, Mr. 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 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, Mr. Summerall played five years for the Chicago Cardinals before four seasons with the Giants. Although he was ­also a defensive back, Mr. ­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, Mr. Summerall said there were things that stood out as a player and broadcaster.

‘‘You always remember the days as a player,’’ he said. ‘‘I was in four championship games before there was a Super Bowl, so I remember those very well. 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.’’

Mr. 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 interview. ‘‘It’s sort of staggering to me.’’

Mr. 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,’’ Mr. 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.’’

Mr. 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 sounded too much alike. Mr. Summerall told Wussler that if a change was going to be made he would like to do play-by-play, and the following Sunday that is what he was doing.

After his final game with Madden, Mr. Summerall remained a full-time broadcaster for Fox one more season, doing primarily Dallas Cowboys games during the 2002 season. He decided to step down the following year when he realized that he would spend most of the season away from home.

Mr. Summerall did a handful of NFL games for Fox and ESPN the next few seasons. He did play-by-play for the Fox broadcast of the Cotton Bowl games from 2007-10, then for the bowl’s 75th anniversary in January 2011 conducted interviews as part of the pregame show and game broadcast.