If mere mortals speak these names of mere mortal players they sound dull. Maybe even squeaky. But when Pat Summerall uttered the name of a Dallas Cowboys lineman or a Washington Redskins cornerback those players assumed the majesty of noble warriors.
They became gentlemen of the gridiron.
In his 40 years as an NFL announcer, Pat Summerall had a voice and a delivery that were cool, confident and smoothing, even amid inaccuracies. In a 1985 game between the Cowboys and Chicago Bears, Summerall said Bears rookie Keith “Or-TAY-go” was in to return a punt. The next time Ortego took the field Summerall said “I’ve been told the correct pronunciation is OR-tuh-go.”
Simple. Direct. It may seem like a small thing but there must be a reason it’s remembered by at least one person nearly 30 years later. It was the way a broadcaster should be: devoted to accuracy and subtlety. It was just the way Summerall did things.
Pat Summerall’s career as a broadcaster of football, golf, basketball, tennis and other ventures followed an impressive stint on the field.
He played defensive end, tight end and place kicker at Arkansas and was selected by the Detroit Lions in the fourth round of the 1952 NFL draft. He stuck primarily with kicking in the pros but occasionally put his hand in the dirt on offense and defense, playing with the Chicago Cardinals from 1953 to 1957 and then for the New York Giants from 1958 through ’61. He finished with 100 career field goals and 563 points.
Summerall was as cool on the field as he was in the booth. In 1958 he kicked a last second 49-yard field goal amid the snow and wind at Yankee Stadium to help the Giants beat the Cleveland Browns. The Giants needed that victory to force a playoff with the Browns a week later, which they also won before losing to the Baltimore Colts in the NFL Championship Game, “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”
Summerall’s jersey numbers over his ten NFL seasons were 84, 85, 83 and 88. When was the last time you saw a kicker with an 88 jersey? It was probably Pat Summerall.
When Summerall was with the Giants the team’s defensive coordinator was Tom Landry. The offensive coordinator was Vince Lombardi. Since Summerall played on both sides of the ball he was coached by both of them.
Maybe Summerall should have become a coach.
Pat Summerall’s life wasn’t perfect and neither was he. He was born with a “bum leg” which had to be surgically broken and he spent the first six weeks of his life in a cast. His parents, as Summerall writes in his autobiography, Summerall: On and Off the Air, didn’t want him and he was brought up by relatives, primarily his grandmother, who struggled to provide for him during the depression and World War Two.
Summerall learned the art of storytelling from his grandmother and developed into a superb athlete and broadcaster but a flawed person. His autobiography begins with him describing finally getting treatment for his alcohol abuse. The year was 2002.
Imagine a poor kid from a small town in Florida with a bad leg. He listens to the radio, reads the sports pages and runs and jumps under the watchful eyes of an old woman who tells him stories about the Civil War and lets him know he is loved.
There were voices in Pat Summerall’s soul and power in his leg.
There was delight and dignity in his voice. From a small town in the South to a snow day in New York to the ears of several generations who listened closely.