Pat Summerall was the calm alongside John Madden’s storm.
Over four decades, Summerall described some of the biggest games in America in his deep, resonant voice. Simple, spare, he delivered the details on 16 Super Bowls, the Masters and the U.S. Open tennis tournament with a simple, understated style that was the perfect complement for the “booms!” and “bangs!” of Madden, his football partner for the last half of the NFL player-turned-broadcaster’s career.
Summerall died Tuesday at age 82 of cardiac arrest, said University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center spokesman Jeff Carlton, speaking on behalf of Summerall’s wife, Cheri.
“Pat was my broadcasting partner for a long time, but more than that he was my friend for all of these years,” Madden said in a statement. “Pat Summerall is the voice of football and always will be.”
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. Adam Vinatieri. No time on the clock. And the Patriots have won Super Bowl XXXVI. Unbelievable,” Summerall said.
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 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.
As former teammate and broadcaster Frank Gifford put it in an accompanying video tribute: “America is very comfortable with Pat Summerall.”
Summerall played 10 NFL seasons from 1952 to 1961 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.
A recovering alcoholic, 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, Summerall checked into the Betty Ford Clinic in April 1992.
“I had no intention of quitting, I was having too good a time,” Summerall said in a 2000 Associated Press story. “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.”