Editorial: Pat Summerall’s succinct style was what made him great
The good ones, the ones who blazed the trails and set the standards, are the people we always must remember. They were there first, finding their way in an industry or enterprise that was still locating its footing.
The greatness of Pat Summerall cannot be denied. In some ways he was Abbott to Costello, the straight man who was methodical and even-keeled while allowing his companion, his analyst, to be emotional and draw the fans. AP says Summerall was the calm alongside John Madden’s storm.
Over four decades, Summerall broadcast some of the biggest games in America. He was a man of few words on the air, allowing the action to tell the story and his analyst to explain it. He announced 16 Super Bowls, the Masters and the U.S. Open tennis tournament with what AP rightly termed a simple, understated style that was the perfect complement for the “booms!” and “bangs!” of Madden.
Summerall died a week ago at age 82 of cardiac arrest. He had survived alcoholism and a liver transplant, but a lifestyle he regretted may have finally done him in before his time. All people are flawed. Summerall got a handle on his biggest flaw, and no one can ever say his drinking affected his broadcasts.
Doing play-by-play seems easy to the listener. “Hell, I can do that,” many will say, at least privately. It can be a learned art, but it is a gift, and not everybody can do it well. Summerall could, and he became an idol to many fledgling announcers looking to break in. He played professional football but was an accidental announcer, filling it at the right time. His career was great and his contributions immense.
His final play-by-play words beside Madden were succinct, 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, AP says. Pat Summerall would like that description.