Leftridge: So Long, Summerall

Pat-Summerall-300There are very few universally beloved sports commentators. Some are an acquired taste, some have hung on long after their expiration date, and some, well, they were just never very good to begin with. None of this holds true for former NFL play-by-play man Pat Summerall, who died Tuesday at the age of 82.

Summerall, who spent 10 years in the league as a kicker, began his play-by-play career in 1974. Though he’d eventually be responsible for manning the mic on 16 Super Bowls, his most notable work, perhaps, was the time spent partnering  with human cartoon John Madden, first on CBS, and then on Fox. A consummate master of restraint—prone to measured mood elevation only when appropriate—he also lent his cool professionalism to both PGA Tour events and U.S. Open tennis. (His versatility was apparent early; in addition to being an NFL kicker in his younger days, he was also an NFL defensive back. According to Frank Gifford, he was “underrated” as a defensive player, mostly due to a lack of playing time, and only because he was too valuable as a kicker. [The coaches were reluctant to risk his health.])

Accolades and praise aside—and sparing you the line-by-line history of a storied career that you can read about any number of other places—I’ll tell you what Pat Summerall meant to me: to me—and a thousand other people my age—Summerall was the voice of a thousand Christmas mornings.

maddenRunning down the stairs, sliding across the floor in socks. Spotting the bounty that Santa Claus left under the tree. Rolling papa onto his side to reduce the possibility of asphyxiation. Tearing past the piles of rubbish to get to the good gift, the important gift, the only gift: that year’s copy of Madden for the Sega Genesis (you Super Nintendo kids can suck it).

Ripping the box open, and then the case. Tossing the instructions into the roaring fireplace that papa drunkenly forgot to extinguish, because fuck instructions. Shoving the cartridge into the console, and then that tinny, robotic voice garbledly proclaiming “E. A. Sports. It’s in the game.” Picking your team (I was always the Buffalo BillsThurman Thomas and an unlicensed Jim Kelly were unstoppable) and picking the weather (snow, always snow, as the speedy Thomas gained enhanced elusive properties on the slippery tundra) and settling in. And then came the magic—Robo-Madden and his cohort, Robo-Summerall.

Madden offered invaluable insight—“Boom! Where’d that truck come from?!”—and Summerall’s computer-counterpart was as appropriately-toned and steadfast as the real thing. When an ambulance came tearing across the field to carry off a severely injured player, Robo-Pat would dryly surmise “Oh no, there’s a man down.

Those six words, those digital shrieks of English approximation, were terrifying.

“Oh no, there’s a man down.”

“Oh no, there’s a man down.”

“Oh no, there’s a man down.”

Who was down? Was it serious? I swear to GOD it’d better not be Andre Reed.

A broken leg? 12 weeks?! Horse shit. Restart! Restart! Restart!

summeruniI’d play for hours, rendering my thumbs crippled and useless. I’d forget to eat, and bathe, and my eyes would glaze over, and then dry out. Had my parents not intervened to stop the madness, this could have gone on for days, so tremendous was my love for the early Madden editions. And all the while, there was Robo-Summerall, calling the action.


“No gooood.”

“And the kick is gooood.”

And so while Pat Summerall’s legacy will live on in a myriad of ways—most indelibly as a classic narrator of a thousand sports memories, a lapel-mic’d documentarian of championship football, and a trailblazing pioneer in the field of athlete-to-broadcaster legitimacy—I will remember him fondly for the way he made his biggest impression on me: as a pixelated host of everlasting nostalgia.

RIP, Pat. You changed the game for the better, in both real life and in 16-bit increments.


Follow me on Twitter, @StanfordWhistle

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4 Responses to Leftridge: So Long, Summerall

  1. smartman says:

    My memory of Pat Summerall is that the dude beat the bottle. Intervention by friends in 1992. 5 weeks at Betty Ford and he NEVER drank again. Anyone familiar with addiction knows that’s a BIG F¤CKIN DEAL.

    Rest in Peace and God Bless You Pat.

  2. Hot Carl says:

    I always enjoyed it when I’d hear him say “And welcome to Golden Tee!”

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