Column: A salute to Summerall
Published: Thursday, April 18, 2013
Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 16:08
Every game is a story.
It has a beginning and an end, and quarters, periods or innings sandwiched in between with all the plot details. Some contests even have heroes and villains. But all, of course, finish with a winner and a loser.
Now, the quality of any story is directly tied to how it’s conveyed by the storyteller. Sports, in this sense, differ slightly because our eyes serve as a mute narrator for any game we watch and in this way, you and I just call it for ourselves. However, when a true storyteller is able to coordinate our eyes with our ears, that story can become something quite special.
It becomes an epic, if you will.
Last Tuesday, we lost one of sports’ best storytellers who used to place us square in the middle classic sagas every Sunday.
His name was Pat Summerall.
Summerall, a former NFL player and color commentator during the 1950s and 60s, is best known as football’s premiere play-by-play man until Super Bowl XXXVI, when the Patriots defeated the Rams 20-17 in a game that lives as a true epic of league history.
Since his death, NFL players, coaches and owners have gone above and beyond to honor his memory.
“For a man who could dramatically capture a moment with very few words,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told the press, “there simply aren’t enough words to adequately describe what he meant to sports and broadcasting in this country.”
Jones couldn’t have said it better.
It’s strange, though. Summerall, while a world-class gentleman and broadcaster, never did play a down in the NFL after 1961. He never coached. Thus, he never was the story. Yet, he was as responsible for how people came to know the gridiron and its tales as anyone else during his era, if not more so.
You can see it in Jones’ words above, and in the comments made by league personnel, who live, breathe and die by the sport. Pat Summerall, for a long, long time, even from up in the booth, was the NFL.
This is because together with John Madden, Summerall framed football for us for over two decades with his remarkable storytelling. Over this time, he accomplished what all great broadcasters do: He not only shaped the moments, but became married to them in our minds.
Think about it.
1980 – The US national hockey team defeats the USSR in the Olympics for perhaps the most shocking, important upset in sports history.
What’s the next thing you remember about that night?
Does the phrase, “Do you believe in Miracles? Yes!” ring any bells?
Of course it does, like any given church on Christmas morning.
Al Michaels, another world-renowned storyteller, is now a part of that great game because of the way he brought it to us in such incredible fashion. He captured the moment and thus became a part of it. Michaels is still calling games and presumably will for quite some time. Yet, when he stops or unfortunately passes away, there will be a similar hole left behind in the sports world.
Now, while the passing of Hall-of-Fame coaches and players will always deservedly get our attention and make us reflect on the legendary games they took part in, it’s important to also halt after the deaths of the Hall-of-Fame storytellers who told us those stories. The men who dedicated their lives to serving as a mediator between special sporting moments and their audiences became, in the process, woven into them.
Pat Summerall was one of these broadcasters. Today’s masters of the microphone – Michaels, Jim Nantz, Joe Buck and Mike Tirico, among others – follow in his football footsteps. So just know that without them, we would have no voices to tell the beautiful stories of our beloved games. Or worse yet, you and I would have to endure below average storytellers in their place, who sometimes make yours truly feel like he’s going to make a local area psychiatric hospital a lot of money while watching his favorite teams.
Thankfully though, during the most important game that my favorite team ever played, that Patriots-Rams Super Bowl, I had Mr. Summerall on the call. “It’s right down the pipe. Adam Vinatieri. No time on the clock. And the Patriots have won Super Bowl XXXVI. Unbelievable,” he said.
And for that, I am forever grateful.
Rest in peace, Pat. You won’t ever be forgotten.
You were unbelievable all on your own.
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