When one mentions the name “Pat Summerall,” chances are the first thing that comes to mind is an excellent broadcaster.
Summerall wasn’t just a jack of all trades in sports during his younger days—he also covered major sporting events like nobody else could from 1962 to 2002.
Summerall worked 16 Super Bowls, 26 Masters Tournaments, and 21 US Open tournaments during that iconic time frame. His pairings with Tom Brookshier and Super Bowl-winning Oakland Raiders head coach John Madden were among the best in sports broadcasting history.
Prior to becoming a legendary sports broadcaster, Summerall played placekicker for the Detroit Lions, the Chicago Cardinals, and the New York Giants from 1952 to 1961.
Summerall’s 49-yard field goal in snowy field conditions led to a playoff game with the Cleveland Browns in 1958. His Giants faced Johnny Unitas’ Baltimore Colts in the “Greatest Game Ever Played” several weeks later.
Truly, Pat Summerall was a sports broadcasting legend whose legacy will live on forever.
Early Life and College Days with the Arkansas Razorbacks
George Allen “Pat” Summerall was born to parents George and Cristelle in Lake City, FL on May 10, 1930.
According to Sports Illustrated’s January 26, 1987 issue, Pat was born with a deformed, backward right foot. A physician named Dr. Harry Bates broke and reset his foot in its proper place when he was still an infant.
It was ironic considering Summerall went on to play in the National Football League as a placekicker.
Pat’s grandparents were named Thomas Jefferson Summerall and Augusta Georgia Summerall. His grandfather fought in the Civil War in the 19th century.
George had separated from his wife Cristelle before Pat came into the world. He worked as a janitor to help make ends meet. He eventually became an executive vice president of a local bank years later.
In Pat Summerall’s 2008 book, Summerall: On and Off the Air, he recalled that he wasn’t close to his dad at all. His mother, Cristelle, took care of him until he was three years old.
George passed away at the age of 58 due to acute appendicitis during the pinnacle of Pat’s sports broadcasting career in 1979, per Sports Illustrated.
Pat’s parents planned to send him to an orphanage during his grade school years. However, Pat’s aunt and uncle, Clarice and Floyd Kennon, thwarted that plan. They allowed him to stay with them so he could attend Columbia High School later on.
Pat became close to Clarice and Floyd’s son, Mike. The two boys were similar in age and size. Their similarities prompted their friends to compare them to the fictional characters Pat n’ Mike.
Hence, George Allen Summerall became known as “Pat” from there on out.
Pat became an all-state selection on the gridiron and the basketball court with the Columbia Tigers. As an offensive end, Summerall established a new Florida high school record for most receptions in a season.
#OTD in 1930, George Allen "Pat" Summerall was born in Lake City, Florida.
On what would've been his 92nd birthday, we wanted to share this classic throwback with Summerall, Madden and the Class of 2022's Art McNally from 1986 to help celebrate Pat's legacy. pic.twitter.com/HtfoxGHotz
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) May 10, 2022
It took one jolt from Tigers head basketball coach Jim Melton to turn Pat Summerall into an all-star.
One day, Melton reprimanded Summerall for wearing gym shorts with another player’s name on them. Melton took that opportunity to chew out Summerall, his tallest player who needed to work on his offense, rebounding, and intensity.
Melton warned Summerall that if he didn’t change his intensity and attitude, he would spend his time on the Tigers’ bench. Before long, Pat Summerall’s confidence grew and he became the Tigers’ best player.
Summerall also excelled on the tennis court. As a 16-year-old high school phenom, he defeated Herbie Flam in the 1946 Florida state junior tennis title match.
Summerall’s passion for tennis began six years earlier when, as a 10-year-old, he went to Young’s Park near his grandmother’s house. The park had two tennis courts. He usually ran into some older guys who needed someone to hit balls with. Pat volunteered regularly and eventually developed his tennis skills.
Summerall spent his high school days shuttling back and forth between his mother’s house in Titusville, FL, and the Kennon residence in Lake City, FL.
Pat couldn’t tolerate the constant fighting between his mother and stepfather, who beat him occasionally with a hose.
Aside from hanging out with the Kennons, he spent a lot of time with his widowed grandmother, Augusta Georgia, a former schoolteacher and the wife of his grandfather who fought in the Civil War. Pat slept side-by-side with her on her bed in grade school and high school, per his 2008 book.
Pat did his share of household chores such as washing his own clothes (he only had two sets of shirts and school pants) and shoveling coals into the potbelly stove during the winter months.
During Pat’s downtime, he either played sports or listened to sports on the radio. He credited his mother Cristelle, a former high school basketball star, with instilling his passion for sports in him.
When Pat was in high school, he got a job delivering newspapers on his bicycle. He recalled in his 2008 book that people on his paper route got their deliveries late because he habitually read the sports pages before folding the newspapers.
Consequently, Pat was a Floridian who became a fan of the New York Yankees after reading about their games and exploits on the sports pages. He singled out centerfielder Joe DiMaggio and shortstop Phil Rizzuto as his favorite baseball sluggers.
Pat also pored over newspapers and library books reading about tennis stars Bobby Riggs and Don Budge.
Happy Birthday, Pat Summerall, Arkansas Razorbacks, Detroit #Lions, Chicago Cardinals, #NYGiants, Broadcaster for #CBS & #Fox, the voice of football. #CollegeFootball @SportsHistoryHQ @FilmHistoric @cdwillis83 #Arkansas #Hogs #Razorbacks #NFL #SuperBowl @DrinkallCoach @Jomilmil pic.twitter.com/M6n6ZAWGVh
— History of College Football (@HistColFootball) May 10, 2021
Summerall became such an accomplished high school hoopster that legendary Kentucky Wildcats head basketball coach Adolph Rupp offered him a basketball scholarship. However, he committed to the Arkansas Razorbacks after his high school coach found employment with the team.
Pat Summerall attended the University of Arkansas as a basketball scholar, per USA TODAY Sports‘ Rachel Schuster. He majored in education and earned a master’s degree in Russian history in later years.
Summerall, a three-sport star who excelled in football, basketball, and baseball during his college days, suited up for Arkansas Razorbacks head football coaches John Barnhill and Otis Douglas from 1949 to 1951.
Summerall was a first baseman who played for the St. Louis Cardinals’ Class C team at the end of his tenure with the Razorbacks. During his tenure in the Class C Sooner State League, he met Roy and Ray Mantle. However, Summerall forged a tighter relationship with their more famous brother, Mickey, in subsequent years.
Pat Summerall soon ditched his baseball bat for a helmet and a pair of football cleats and embarked on a decade-long career in the National Football League from 1952 to 1961.
Pro Football Career
The Detroit Lions made Pat Summerall the 45th overall selection of the 1952 NFL Draft.
Summerall was banged up as a Lions rookie in 1952. He fractured his arm during preseason play which forced him to sit out the entire regular season. His fractured right wrist also severely hampered his play on the tennis court, per Sports Illustrated.
Summerall never got to play a single down with the Lions, who won their second NFL Championship while he was watching from the sidelines in the 1952 NFL campaign. They traded him to the Chicago Cardinals at the end of the season.
Summerall spent the next five seasons in the Windy City from 1953 to 1957. In 59 career games with the Cardinals, Summerall made just 41 of 100 field-goal attempts for a 41 percent accuracy rating. He made 121 of his 127 extra point attempts (95.3 percent).
The Cardinals averaged barely four wins per season during Summerall’s five-year tenure in Chicago. Since winning their second NFL Championship in 1947, the Cardinals had missed the postseason nine times in the past 10 years.
Summerall signed with the New York Giants prior to the 1958 NFL season. He went on to spend his final four pro football seasons in the Big Apple.
Future Hall of Fame halfback Frank Gifford observed that Summerall meshed seamlessly with his new teammates in the locker room.
“When he came to us from the Cardinals, he fit right in with everybody,” Gifford said (via The Dallas Morning News).
Summerall, who was born with a deformed right foot, helped the Giants reach the 1958 NFL Championship Game. He defied blustery and snowy field conditions to drain a 49-yard field goal and secure New York’s 13-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
Giants offensive coach and future Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi vehemently opposed Summerall’s 49-yard attempt because he thought it was well out of his range. Summerall had missed a 31-yarder just minutes earlier in the game.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) May 10, 2022
When Summerall made his way to the sideline, he thought Lombardi was going to hug him. To Summerall’s shock, Lombardi shook him and chewed him out for that field goal attempt, per Sports Illustrated.
The win propelled the Giants into a tie with the Browns for the Eastern Division lead. New York won their subsequent one-game playoff to lock up a spot in the Championship Game against Johnny Unitas’ Colts.
Unfortunately for Summerall and his team, Baltimore prevailed in the “Greatest Game Ever Played” in overtime, 23-17.
Summerall was a more accurate placekicker during his four-year tenure with the Giants. He made 59 of 112 field goal attempts for a 52.7 percent accuracy rating. He also made 136 of his 138 extra point attempts for a 98.6 percent conversion rate.
The Giants averaged nine wins per year from 1958 to 1961. They reached the NFL Championship Game three times during that four-year stretch but lost every time.
Summerall retired from pro football following the 1961 NFL season.
During Summerall’s 10-year NFL career, he went the extra mile to make a living. He harvested watermelons in his yard and moonlighted as an English and history teacher at Lake City Junior High School, per Sports Illustrated.
After Pat Summerall concluded his stint on the pro gridiron, he stumbled upon the sports broadcasting industry—a field where he excelled for the next four decades.
Post-Football Life and Death
Pat Summerall became one of the most legendary and iconic figures in the sports broadcasting industry after he retired from the National Football League in 1961. He began his career at CBS in an unexpected fashion.
Summerall and Giants quarterback Charlie Conerly shared an apartment during his time in the Big Apple. One day, CBS radio sports head James Dolan called Conerly and asked him to show up at an audition for aspiring sportscasters.
Summerall answered the phone for Conerly, who was taking a shower when Dolan called. Summerall wrote down the information for Conerly and was about to put the phone down when Dolan invited him to the audition at the last second.
Summerall auditioned well and the rest was history. His first role at CBS entailed doing a five-minute daily recap of sports highlights that paid him $725.
Summerall exceeded expectations as a sports media personality. His former Giants teammate and WNBC sportscaster Kyle Rote made him the lead television analyst for Giants football games. Before long, Summerall also ventured into radio as a morning show host for WCBS.
Pat Summerall became WCBS-TV’s sports director just two years after his CBS audition.
Summerall teamed up with Tom Brookshier and began doing NFL play-by-play commentary for CBS in 1975. They became one of the most popular sports broadcasting teams in the mid-to-late 1970s.
Regrettably, CBS split them apart because of their carousing. Summerall’s partying lifestyle caused his first marriage to fizzle out and his children to become estranged from him, per ESPN’s Steve Wulf.
Summerall’s pairing with former Oakland Raiders head coach John Madden in 1981 eclipsed the previous duo. When CBS executives were looking for Madden’s partner in the broadcast booth, they whittled down their shortlist to Summerall and legendary Los Angeles Dodgers sportscaster Vin Scully.
Madden worked four football games with Scully. The former then worked the next four with Summerall, who won a majority vote among CBS bigwigs, 4-1, per ESPN.
Summerall and Madden worked together with CBS and FOX for the next 22 years until Summerall’s retirement in 2002.
Madden, who guided the Raiders to seven division titles and a Super Bowl title in the 1970s, told Sports Illustrated in 1987 that Summerall gave him the best gift of all—time.
Madden wanted to attend his sons’ college football games that year. Since the boys played on Saturday, their games conflicted with Madden’s and Summerall’s film sessions for their Sunday broadcasts.
Madden had to switch their film session to Friday that week. Not only did Summerall happily oblige, but he also attended a dinner tribute for Madden two days earlier.
“The best gift you can give is the gift of time. He gave that,” Madden told Sports Illustrated. “And the best thing about is he didn’t bitch about it…He never hung it over me, never said, ‘I’m doing this for you.'”
Summerall also did Brookshier, his drinking buddy and partner in the broadcast booth in the 1970s, a favor in the early 1990s.
Brookshier reached out to Summerall at the conclusion of the Masters Tournament in Augusta, GA that year. Brookshier asked him if he could appear at a meet-and-greet with one of his corporate clients in Cherry Hills, NJ.
Despite Summerall’s suspicions and time constraints, he went. He just wanted to help Brookshier.
To Summerall’s shock, “Brookie” led him into a room of 14 people that included his first wife Kathy, PGA tour commissioner Deane Beman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers president Hugh Culverhouse, and several other friends.
The lone person Summerall didn’t recognize was somebody from the Betty Ford Clinic in Palm Springs, FL. He explained to Summerall that the whole setup was an intervention for his chronic alcoholism.
A furious Summerall cursed at everybody inside the room. After he lashed out, each of them read a letter showing love, affection, and concern for his overall well-being, per his 2008 book.
Before Summerall got a chance to lash out at Brookshier, the latter pacified him by reading a letter from his daughter, Susan. Her final paragraph shook him to the core:
“Dad, the few times we’ve been out in public together recently, I’ve been ashamed we shared the same last name,” Susan Summerall-Wiles wrote.
Summerall cried the first tears of regret in his life. His daughter’s written words prompted him to board a plane bound for Palm Springs, FL, and check in at the Betty Ford Clinic for rehab.
Pat Summerall’s nights out and habitual carousing were officially over. It was at the Betty Ford Clinic in Palm Springs, FL in the early 1990s when Summerall ditched his drinking glass for a Bible.
“My thirst for alcohol was replaced by a thirst for knowledge about faith and God,” Summerall wrote in his 2008 book. “I began reading the Bible regularly at the Betty Ford treatment center, and it became a part of my daily life.”
Summerall became a baptized Christian at First Baptist Church in Euless, TX. He later became a member of the Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX.
Prior to Summerall’s conversion, some of Summerall’s co-workers thought he was a hard man to figure out.
“He’s the most complex human being I’ve ever met, in or out of the business,” CBS golf and tennis producer Frank Chirkinian told Sports Illustrated in January 1987. “A great guy. But if you find out who the real person is, give me a call.”
There were two sides to Summerall—he was one part homebody and one part carouser. He admitted to Sports Illustrated that he was a night owl who enjoyed drinking into the wee hours of the morning.
Summerall was also a paradox in terms of his character. Although he was a toughie, he also showed a soft and vulnerable side. Summerall teared up whenever he listened to America the Beautiful and watched K-Mart openings. He also broke down on national television when golfer Ben Crenshaw won the Masters in 1984.
Summerall also fought back tears on national television when CBS gave him a short tribute on The NFL Today to commemorate his 25th year with the network.
When Summerall was three decades into his iconic sports broadcasting career, he earned $1 million annually from CBS—a huge amount in the late 1980s. Summerall also had other sources of income, including a printing company, a travel agency, a warehouse complex, and a San Diego, CA-based ranch in partnership with NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.
Summerall also provided a condominium for his aging mother Cristelle in his hometown of Lake City, FL.
Pat Summerall served as a color analyst on a record 16 Super Bowls during his historic 40-year run as a sports broadcaster from 1962 to 2002. He was also in the broadcast booth for 26 Masters Tournaments and 21 US Open tournaments,
Summerall’s plethora of awards include:
- The National Television Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Lifetime Achievement Award for Sports
- The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle Radio-Television-Award
- 2002 George Halas Award
- National Quarterback Club Lifetime Achievement Award
- The Touchdown Club of America’s Golden Mike Award
Summerall is also a member of the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame, National Federation of State High School Associations Hall of Fame, the Florida High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame, and the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame.
Summerall’s close confidants included New York Yankees centerfielder Mickey Mantle, President Gerald Ford, and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, per The Dallas Morning News.
Summerall played a pivotal role in Bill Parcells—another close friend—becoming the Dallas Cowboys head coach in 2003.
Summerall experienced several health issues during his iconic sportscasting career. His various health scares from 1990 to 2008 included a bleeding ulcer, a liver transplant, cataract surgery, hip replacement surgery, and internal bleeding due to medication.
Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman credited Summerall with his emergence as a football analyst following the latter’s liver transplant in the spring of 2004. The duo first worked together on the Troy Aikman Show in 1994.
“Pat has been a tremendous friend and mentor for me,” Aikman said (via The Dallas Morning News). “Since retiring from football and going to work for FOX, Pat has continued to provide me with invaluable advice.”
Sadly, Pat Summerall passed away on April 16, 2013. He was 82 years old.
A family friend told The Dallas Morning News that Summerall passed away at Zale Lipshy University Hospital while recuperating from hip surgery.
Prior to Summerall’s death, he watched the 2013 Masters Tournament from his hospital bed. He promised his visitors he would walk again.
Summerall left behind his wife Cheri, sons Jay and Kyle, and daughter Susan. He and Cheri have 10 grandchildren.