The styles of the NFL on television has changed throughout the years but many of us who watched the game know how much Pat Summerall meant to all of us who love how our games are announced. There are many generations, both current and future, who will probably never fully know how great of announcer Summerall was nor will they ever fully appreciate how he handled the games and the stories behind them.
But those of us who watched the duo of Pat Summerall and John Madden on CBS and Fox know of the great chemistry, the friendship, and the ability to entertain fans when a great moment in NFL history was taking place. John Madden was the outspoken an bombastic analyst who brought humor to every tackle, every touchdown, and every down in a game. While Pat Summerall was the stern voice and gave viewers a calm narration to every game of the week in the NFL.
Some can compare him to Jim McKay who gave viewers a calm narration of the Olympics and the stories behind the athletes going for gold. Some compare him to the great athletes turned play-by-play announcers who were defined for their careers behind the mike after their playing days like Frank Gifford, Don Meredith, and Terry Bradshaw.
Summerall played the game but his true legacy is not how he played as a kicker for teams like the Detroit Lions, Chicago Cardinals, and New York Giants from 1952 to 1961. His true legacy is how he set the standard for most announcers and during his career he was a real giant in the booth. He proved to people, including Howard Cosell who doubted whether play-by-play announcers should be behind the mike during games, that athletes can be great announcers after their playing days were over.
Summerall was serious, witty, and classy behind the mike. He was a man who controlled his emotions and not look for funny catch phrases to define himself. When it came to duos, he started well on CBS with Tom Brookshier and the two became the top play-by-play team on CBS's NFL coverage. But his best duo by far was with Madden. That duo will forever be what generations and historians will always associate Summerall with. He also covered golf well on the Tiffany network until the NFC moved from CBS to Fox in 1994.
The amazing thing was that even though Fox was changing how the NFL and sports in general was covered with great emphasis on making the announcers' personalities more colorful, they allowed Summerall to stay the same even though Madden would fit in to any change of a network's presentation. The Fox executives knew that you change many things about an NFL presentation but you change the man with Madden and the chemistry remained the same.
Today, some things in the NFL on television are back to where they were before 1994 but some things have changed. CBS got the NFL back in 1998 with the AFC package and Jim Nantz is the top play-by-play man with Phil Simms. Fox still has the NFC and Joe Buck is the top man with Troy Aikman. NBC's Sunday Night Football telecasts are wonderful with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth calling the action. Mike Turico and Jon Gruden are good on ESPN even their overshadowed by Chris Berman's halftime highlights. And with the NFL Network now telecasting games on Thursday Nights, Brad Nessler and Mike Maylock will no doubt define their legacies in broadcasting the NFL as much as the NFL is redefining football on Thursdays.
But the gold standard for generations of announcers will always be the combo of Summerall and Madden. Summerall sadly passed away this past Tuesday at the age of 82. He overcame a lot of health problems with substance so he can live long to his 80s, but he lived a great life and play-by-play announcing in the NFL is better off today because of Pat Summerall.