Pat Summerall played in the NFL for a decade, but far more fans remember him for what he did in the broadcast booth than for what he did on the field.
And the real tribute to Summerall, who died today at the age of 82, is that the people who knew him say he deserves to be remembered most of all for how he treated people.
John Madden, Summerall’s on-air partner for 22 years, told Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times that the news of Summerall’s death hit him as “a damn shock,” and that Summerall was never once anything other than a great friend.
“He was so solid and a good friend and a real pro,” Madden said. “He was always up, always had a joke. Was low-maintenance for everyone. . . . In all the time I worked with him, we never had one argument. That was because of him. I’m not the easiest person to get along with, but he was.”
Summerall lived in Dallas and became friends with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, and Jones said today that Summerall’s friendship extended to everyone from the most powerful people in America to the average fans who would seek him out to talk football.
“Pat was the NFL’s narrator for generations, with a voice that was powerful, eloquent and distinctive,” Jones said. “His presence at an NFL game elevated that event to a higher level. He was royalty in the broadcast booth. He was respected and admired by players, coaches, commissioners and Presidents of our country—and always a gentleman—someone who had time for the fans in the parking lot after the game.”
Few men have spent as many years as a part of the NFL as did Summerall, who was drafted by the Lions in 1952, was hired as an NFL broadcaster immediately after his playing career ended, and was a nearly constant presence in the broadcast booth through the 2002 season.
“Pat Summerall was one of the best friends and greatest contributors that the NFL has known,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “Pat spent 50 years as part of our league, first as a player on the legendary New York Giants teams of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Pat was also a Hall of Fame broadcaster for CBS and FOX. His majestic voice was treasured by millions of NFL fans for more than four decades. Pat always represented the essence of class and friendship. It is a sad day in the NFL. Our hearts go out to Pat’s wife Cheri and the entire Summerall family. Pat will always be an important part of NFL history.”