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Pat Summerall (1930 – 2013)

“For somebody who has been as close to the game as I have, it is staggering that people heavily involved in the game today wouldn’t know who Jim Brown is, not to mention Landry and Lombardi.  We live in an era of unprecedented communication, in which there is an abundance of sports talk stations and information available on television, radio, and the Internet.  But it seems that the more information there is, the more the actual history seems to get buried.  It’s appalling to me, but then again, history and football have always been two of my biggest loves.”  –Pat Summerall, Giants

George Allen “Pat” Summerall was a piece of history himself.  A three-way player—offense, defense, and special teams—in college and the pros, a good enough basketball player to get an offer from Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp, and a minor league baseball player, he’s best remembered (on the field, at least) for his role as placekicker for the New York Giants.   Summerall was a true throwback—well over six feet tall, an end on defense and offense, and a straight-ahead kicker during an era when special teamers were embraced as teammates, and not the vestigial oddities that seems to be the norm today.  His greatest moment was a 49-yard field goal (the longest boot of 1958) made in a snowy season-ender against the Browns that sent the Giants to the playoffs.  His book Giants, quoted above, is an account of both his time as a player in New York, and an ode to two of his coaches on that team, Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry.

Of course, he’s best known for his broadcast work with Tom Brookshire and then his two decades with John Madden.  His tenure alongside Madden cemented Summerall’s place in the pantheon of football commentators; though his reserved, thoughtful tone as play-by-play caller probably won’t get the same retrospective airplay as his longtime colleague’s, it was every bit as important.  He called 16 Super Bowls, an AFL-NFL Championship game, Emmitt Smith’s breaking of Walter Payton’s all-time rushing record, Masters golf tourneys, and the U.S. Open, along the way racking up awards and accolades, including enshrinement in the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association’s Hall of Fame.

For many folks my age, Summerall and Madden simply were the combined “voice” of football.  In his prime, Summerall was in a class by himself in a way that should inform his peers in every sport.

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