R.I.P. Pat Summerall

Pat Summerall, who transitioned from a storied football career to become one of the most recognizable and omnipresent voices in American sports—and, for A.V. Club readers, a guest on The Simpsons—died yesterday from cardiac arrest at the age of 82.

Summerall spent 10 years as a placekicker in the NFL, highlighted by his four-season stint, from 1958 to 1961, with the New York Giants. As a player, he was best remembered for a tie-breaking field goal in a 1958 game against the Cleveland Browns, which kept the Giants alive and in the running for the NFL championships. Summerall also played in the December 28, 1958, game against the Baltimore Colts that was the first NFL playoff game to go into sudden-death overtime, and which has since been enshrined as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”

In 1962, a year after retiring from professional football, Summerall began his broadcasting career for CBS Sports. In his earliest days, when the network assigned specific teams of broadcasters to specific teams, he covered the Giants with Chris Schenkel. During the 1974 season, he was assigned to provide play-by-play commentary alongside former Philadelphia Eagle Tom Brookshier, with whom he’d develop a reputation for off-the-air partying. Summerall would fight alcoholism for another two decades.

But his most durable and memorable partnership began in 1981, when CBS paired him with the less restrained John Madden. The contrast between his thoughtful commentary and that of the more effusive Madden worked so well that the two of them worked together for 22 years. When Fox outbid CBS for NFL coverage in 1994, Summerall and Madden went along for the ride, proving by then that their partnership had become bigger than any one network. (They were even friendly rivals during the commercial breaks, with Summerall serving as spokesman for True Value Hardware Stores, while Madden shilled for Ace Hardware.)

The partnership ended in 2002, when Summerall announced his retirement and Madden, his contract with Fox having expired, switched to ABC’s Monday Night Football. Summerall later had second thoughts and came back to broadcast several games of the 2002 season for Fox. In the end, Summerall was the voice of 16 Super Bowls. He also covered the Cotton Bowl Classic for Fox from 2007 to 2011, and, during his time at CBS, the PGA Masters Tournament and the U. S. Open.

In 1992, Summerall’s family and friends staged an intervention to confront him about his alcoholism, and he subsequently went into rehab, an experience he wrote about with frankness and candor in his 2006 autobiography Summerall: On And Off The Air. He stayed sober, but in his later years was plagued by health problems stemming from his years of drinking, and underwent a liver transplant in 2004. He appeared, as himself, in the movies Black Sunday (1977) and The Replacements (2000), and episodes of The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Ned And Stacey. Summerall was inducted into the American Sportscasters Association Hall Of Fame in 1999 and the National Sportscasters And Sportswriters Association Hall Of Fame in 1994.  

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