Summerall's Low Key Announcing Style a Rarity and a Joy
If it wasn't for the good grooming habits of his roommate, Pat Summerall might never have made a living speaking subtly into a microphone, calling sporting events.
Summerall himself told the story, in a TV special back in the 1990s---a documentary about the history of sports on television.
Summerall was nearing the end of his career as a New York Giants placekicker. His roommate was quarterback Charlie Conerly, who was also in the twilight of his playing days. One day, while Conerly was in the shower, the phone rang.
"It was a TV producer," Summerall recalled. "He wanted to speak to Charlie about auditioning for a sports announcing job after Charlie's career was finished."
Summerall told the producer that Conerly was indisposed. After a pause, the producer asked Summerall if he was available that afternoon.
Thankfully for us, the listening audience, Summerall took the producer up on the offer.
In a business where it seems as if sports announcers are being paid by the decibel and by word count, Pat Summerall offered a quiet calm. Where some of his colleagues sounded as if they were describing the Hindenburg explosion, Summerall kept his wits about him. He proved that louder wasn't always better; that loquaciousness didn't always equal wisdom.
Summerall, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 82, announced pro football with the efficiency of concentrated cleaner. He was a man of fewer words than most of his brethren, but he painted no less vivid of a picture. Summerall knew that his medium, television, was visual---so why paint over the images with needless blather? The folks at home could see what was happening.
So a 40-yard touchdown pass from Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson would go like this.
"Second and ten. (ball is snapped) Staubach......back to pass.....(the play develops; we see Staubach dropping back; the Redskins pass rush converges)...firing.....(there goes the football, in a perfect spiral)...Pearson.....(we see Pearson catch the football in the end zone).........TOUCHDOWN, Cowboys."
Summerall lent his baritone sound to other sports, too---notably golf. He was CBS' lead man at the Masters for years.
Then they teamed Summerall with John Madden, starting with the 1982 Super Bowl at the Silverdome---and Pat had even less incentive to speak.
Madden was the perfect foil to Summerall's low-key style. Where Summerall was staid and dignified, Madden was loud and obnoxious. To Summerall's efficiency with words, Madden offered diarrhea of the mouth.
But they made a great team, quickly becoming CBS's (and evenutally Fox's) lead NFL announcing team. If your team drew Summerall and Madden behind the microphone, it was a proud moment.
Before Madden, Summerall was joined at the hip by another former player, Tom Brookshier, who had once been a standout defensive back for the Eagles. But a serious leg injury ended Brookshier's career, dumping him into announcing in his early-30s.
Brookshier, aka "Brooky", was another good Summerall foil. Brooky was witty, Brooky was clever. Brooky knew football. Their partnership began on the old NFL Films show, "This Week in Pro Football," on which they began pairing in the late-1960s. It carried over onto Sundays as CBS's No. 1 team in the 1970s.
Brooky is gone, too---he passed away in 2010.
Summerall's biggest challenge wasn't behind the microphone, it was under the bottle. He was a recovering alcoholic, and there were some not so pretty times. He became sober in the early-1990s, and stayed that way, though he did eventually need a liver transplant in 2004.
I had the good fortune of speaking with Summerall---and his old Giants teammate turned announcer, Frank Gifford---via phone in December 2008 as the NFL celebrated the 50th anniversary of the legendary championship game between the Giants and the Baltimore Colts. I had asked about the rivalry between the Giants offense and the defense---which sometimes scored more points than the offense, along with snarling and taunting them.
"Yeah, they didn't like us," Summerall conceded to me about the Giants defenders. "The Giants became one of the first teams to introduce the defense on the PA system instead of the offense before games."
I enjoyed listening to Pat Summerall announce pro football. He didn't muddy the air with unneeded words. He let the pictures tell most of the story. A lot better than the loudmouth boobs of today, who want to inject themselves into the moment---screaming at us as if we are unable to comprehend what we are watching.