Last week was a bad one for the good old U.S. of A. There was the bombing at the Boston Marathon, the explosion that decimated the small Texas town of West, and the silencing of one of the most iconic voices in sports broadcasting when Pat Summerall passed away at the age of 82. Each of these tragedies struck a chord with the American public. The death of Summerall left this NFL fan feeling nostalgic for back in the day when Sunday meant football and football meant Pat (Summerall) and John (Madden).
Summerall spent 50 years as a part of the NFL. Ten of those were spent as a kicker for the New York Giants and 40 of them as a broadcaster for CBS and, later, FOX. Although he was a respected commentator for the U.S. Open tennis tournament and the Masters of golf, he was most famous for being one half of the most recognizable duo to ever grace an NFL booth. Summerall’ssmooth, straightforward delivery was the perfect complement to his excitable partner, NFL Hall of Fame coach John Madden. Hearing the clips of Pat Summerall’s broadcasts that were played in tribute last week took me back to autumn Sunday afternoons with the smell of my mom’s meatloaf wafting through the house and my dad stretched out in his recliner as NFC football kicked off with Summerall announcing, “You are looking live at sold out Texas Stadium…” I would usually start those games in the floor in front of the tv, then, if things started going bad for the ‘Boys, I’d migrate to the couch and sometimes as far as the yard to escape the drama. Eventually curiosity would get the better of me and I’d make my way back to the living room, heart pounding, and hoping that as I opened the creaky kitchen door I’d hear, “Emmitt…touchdown.” Sometimes it worked out that way and others it didn’t; but whatever the outcome, Summerall would provide a background for the story unfolding on the field with a soothing, yet commanding style.
A lot has changed in the NFL since Summerall left the mic after the 2002 Super Bowl. Those changes have included everything from how the game is played, to where it is played. If Summerall and Madden were still in the booth, they might be traveling to London this year, not once, but twice as the NFL looks to expand its appeal. On this side of the pond, many of the old stadiums where Summerall helped narrate epic NFL battles have been reduced to piles of rumble, including our very own Texas Stadium.
The legendary broadcast team would also have to get used to terms like “defenseless receiver,” which would have been laughable during their tenure in the booth. Those days are long gone. Defenders are more restricted with every passing year as to how and when they can tackle. Hits that would have been commonplace in Summerall and Madden’s broadcasting days now draw penalties and suspensions.
With the poise and professionalism that Summerall exhibited throughout his career, I’m sure he would have adapted to the new landscape of the NFL. For this fan, it hasn’t been easy, especially when it means saying a final farewell to one of the most loved voices the league has ever known.