Pat Summerall, who passed away this week at age 82, remains the gold standard all broadcasters aspire to.
In February 2002, it was fitting that in the final Super Bowl that Pat Summerall called, the game ended with Adam Vinatieri’s long game-winning field goal. Vinatieri also kicked an improbable long field goal in the snow two weeks earlier in the infamous Tuck Rule game – much like Summerall once kicked a 48-yard field goal in the snow to win a critical late-season game in 1958.
‘Adam Vin-a-TIERI!!’ was Pat’s call as the kick went through the uprights. No other explanation was needed, the New England Patriots had just won the Super Bowl.
There are other outstanding talents in the business, now as in the past. Al Michaels has now been at it himself for three decades, Jim Nantz has an incredible way of somehow bringing numerology and history into the equation, and Keith Jackson was just as legendary calling college football.
The fact that Summerall called 16 Super Bowls speaks for itself (check out part of the broadcast when he was working with Jack Buck at Super Bowl IV in 1970).
It’s said Summerall worked his telecast with no notes, which I find remarkable. The great Chick Hearn, also a broadcasting icon, used many color coded cards to bring out facts while doing basketball telecasts. Obviously each announcer brings his or her own style. Pat’s talent was stating a point in five words rather than two sentences. Simplicity was his style.
One of my pet peeves later in Pat’s career were columnists and bloggers and people in social media who couldn’t wait to push him out the door. True – his age started to show in his work. The last few Cotton Bowls he worked for FOX Sports were somewhat painful to listen to, since I knew this was a broadcasting giant on his final legs. That said, I would still take Summerall over most people currently calling games.
As his football playing career wound down, a New York station had wisely discovered that Pat’s voice would make him a natural for the relatively new medium at the time called television. There have been hundreds of former players who have populated the color commentary ranks through the years. But like former Giants teammate Frank Gifford, Summerall was more than good enough with the mic to evolve into play-by-play and many other aspects of the medium.
Ultimately his career encompassed more than just football. Summerall worked PGA Tour events, and before Nantz took over, he was the voice of the Masters. His voice could even be heard on the immensely popular Golden Tee video game.
Summerall even called pro basketball, first ABA telecasts (when CBS held that property), and later the first few years of the NBA on CBS. He even called the epic Game 6 between the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics in the 1974 Finals.
More than anything else however, the most impressive thing about Summerall was that his colleagues would say that he was the classiest man in the business. We should also be glad we didn’t lose Pat a few decades ago, when he had a private battle with the bottle that he ultimately won.
One other factoid – Pat’s real name was George. He became known as ‘Pat’ due to his name appearing in the box scores in regards to extra points: “PAT – Summerall.”
R-I-P, P-A-T, you are already missed.