In an era where commentators like Gus Johnson and Kevin Harlan are lauded for their, at times, exaggerated exuberance, Pat Summerall was a true throwback.
Very few people knew that, in a day and age where players played multiple positions, Summerall was a very solid defensive end, tight end and make a name for himself as a kicker with the Giants.
After his playing career, he moved on to the broadcasting booth with CBS and then with FOX, both times pairing up with the legendary John Madden. Together, commentating on CBS and FOX, they became the voices of NFC football.
My earliest memories of Summerall were from the EA Sports Madden NFL series and as I started watching football, I was absolutely enamored with his voice, elocution and football knowledge. Summerall was so subtle with his speech and the way he called games. He was not flashy, nor loud, but he exuded a certain class in the way he called the game. He was just so cool and smooth that he could say three or four words to make a touchdown call and it would still be flawless. “Touchdown, Michael Irvin”: It was short, it was sweet, it was not loud or obnoxious, but it was effective.
We make fun of Madden and his love affair with Brett Favre, but those two had terrific chemistry and worked so perfectly together. Summerall knew his role and let Madden be the one to educate us about the game of football, while he sat back and offered a narrative style of play-by-play. When Madden went to NBC and paired up with Al Michael, I felt the chemistry simply was not there. Michaels tries far too often to be an analyst with his commentating style. He forces his thoughts on the game in a way that alienated Madden and ultimately made it feel like there was two colour commentators. Summerall never did that and his style of play-by-play always ensured that Madden was the main focus.
When Summerall was calling a game, you absolutely knew, without a doubt, that it was the best game of the week. Their pairing made me a fan of the NFC. There was just something about them calling New York versus Dallas games or San Francisco games. But whenever they called the Cowboys against Packers, the aura that Summerall brought resonated on my 16” television like no other. There was no announcing tandem that could’ve done a better job at canvassing the premier rivalry of the 90’s to its viewers.
I consider him a pioneer in announcing football games and sadly, analysts like him are few and far between. He excelled not only in football, but he commentated The Masters as well as the US Open and the NBA Finals. A veteran of 16 Super Bowls (and over 41 years of football broadcasting), I can safely say that Summerall definitely made the big game a bigger spectacle than it was if it was on other networks than the one he is working for. All you need to do is read how the likes of Troy Aikman, Jerry Jones, John Madden and countless others speak so highly of Summerall. “Royalty in the broadcast booth”, as Jerry Jones stated regarding Summerall, does not even begin to tell the story about the type of football man he was.