Pat Summerall dies at 82; NFL broadcaster teamed with John Madden
Pat Summerall, who was half of one of the best known announcing teams in television sportscasting history as John Madden’s broadcasting partner for more than two decades of NFL games, has died. He was 82.
Summerall, who lived in Southlake, Texas, died Tuesday at a Dallas hospital, where he was recovering from surgery for a broken hip. Fox Sports spokesman Dan Bell confirmed his death.
Known for his deep, resonant voice and a smooth, understated delivery that wasted no words, Summerall worked with Tom Brookshier on the NFL for CBS from 1975 and was paired with Madden in 1981. Summerall and Madden went as a team to Fox in 1994 after that upstart network acquired NFL rights, and the pair remained a team through the 2002 Super Bowl.
“He was one of the card-carrying good guys,” Madden told The Times on Tuesday. “He was so solid and a good friend and a real pro.
“You know in TV some of these guys have all the numbers and stats and notes?” Madden continued. “Pat would come to a broadcast with nothing. It was all in his head.”
Summerall was the low-key, concise counterpoint to Madden, the former NFL coach who offered meandering yet knowledgeable analysis.
“In one sentence he could say what would take others two or three paragraphs to say,” Madden said Tuesday. “He’d hit it right on the head. That was why he was so great to work with. In all the time I worked with him, we never had one argument. Even off-air.... That was because of him. I’m not the easiest person to get along with, but he was.”
In 1999, Summerall was inducted into the American Sportscaster Assn.'s Hall of Fame. At the time, fellow sportscaster Dick Enberg said of Summerall, “His play-by-play coverage with John Madden epitomizes the highest level of talent in our profession.”
Summerall worked 16 Super Bowls for CBS and Fox, the most by any network announcer.
In 2002, Madden left for ABC, and Joe Buck replaced Summerall as Fox’s lead NFL play-by-play announcer. Summerall said at the time that he wasn’t ready to retire and did some regional games for Fox and ESPN over the next few years. He also called Fox’s Cotton Bowl telecasts from 2007 to 2010.
In 1983, after Dodger announcer Vin Scully left CBS to do baseball for NBC, Summerall became the host of CBS’ golf coverage, which included the Masters. He also served as the host of CBS’ U.S. Open tennis coverage from 1971 until leaving the network in 1994.
Before becoming a broadcaster, Summerall played 10 seasons in the NFL, primarily as a kicker with the Detroit Lions, Chicago Cardinals and New York Giants. His best years were with the Giants, who reached the NFL championship game in three of his four seasons with the team.
Summerall battled alcoholism throughout much of his life and wrote about it in his 2006 autobiography, “Pat Summerall: On and Off the Air.”
A bleeding ulcer almost killed him in 1990. The ulcer ruptured after he broadcast an NFL game in Washington and was flying home to Florida and having drinks on the plane. He ended up in a Jacksonville hospital, where a doctor told him, “If you drink, you die.”
But that didn’t stop Summerall. Seven months later, he began drinking again. “I drank in private,” he told The Times.
In 1992, an intervention by about a dozen friends and family members and an ensuing 35-day stay at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage finally got him to stop. Despite maintaining sobriety, he had a liver transplant in 2004.
George Allen Summerall was born May 10, 1930, in Lake City, Fla., with a deformed foot that required surgery to repair. Reared primarily by his paternal grandmother, he got the nickname “Pat” when he was a boy. In high school, he was all-state in football, basketball and tennis, and he also lettered in baseball.
At the University of Arkansas, he was both an offensive and defensive end and a kicker on the football team. Besides earning a bachelor’s degree in education, he also got a master’s degree in Russian history and planned to teach and coach after college.
In 1952, the Detroit Lions picked him in the fourth round of the NFL draft and offered him an annual salary of $5,000. He told The Times in a 1986 interview that he wasn’t sure he wanted to play football. But once the Lions agreed to also pick up a $250 tab Summerall had run up at a bar in Fayetteville, Ark., he was sold.
His entry into broadcasting came by accident. In 1961, Summerall, playing for the Giants, was rooming with quarterback Charley Conerly at a hotel before an exhibition game. Conerly was in the shower when a CBS radio executive called to remind Conerly of an upcoming audition. Summerall answered the phone and was invited to come along. Two other Giants players, Alex Webster and Kyle Rote, also went to the audition, but it was Summerall who got the job.
Summerall started out as a commentator. But Bob Wussler, the head of CBS Sports, decided Summerall and his play-by-play partner, Jack Buck, sounded too much alike, so Wussler moved Summerall to play-by-play and paired him with Brookshier.
Besides his wife Cheri, Summerall is survived by his three children from his first marriage to Katherine Jacobs, sons Jay and Kyle and daughter Susan.
Stewart is a former Times staff writer.
Times staff writer Sam Farmer contributed to this report.
Must-read stories from the L.A. Times
Get all the day's most vital news with our Today's Headlines newsletter, sent every weekday morning.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.