George Allen Summerall was a superb athlete but his greatest success came as a sports broadcaster.
Born in Lake City, Florida—a former Seminole village along the Georgia border—on May 10, 1930, Summerall was an All-State football and basketball player at Columbia High School. He also lettered in tennis and baseball for the Tigers. After his parents divorced, young George was taken in by an aunt and uncle who had a son named Mike. “My aunt and uncle just started calling me Pat to go with their Mike,” Summerall would say, referencing frequently named characters in Irish jokes told at that time. Pat turned down a scholarship offer from legendary coach Adolph Rupp to play basketball at the University of Kentucky, deciding instead to play football, basketball and baseball at the University of Arkansas from 1949 to 1951. He played defensive end, tight end and kicked for the Razorbacks while being named All-Southwest Conference in both basketball and football. In the summers, he played minor league baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. He graduated with a degree in Russian History before being selected in the fourth round [45th overall] by the Detroit Lions in the 1952 NFL Draft.
Summerall broke his arm during preseason, sat out his entire rookie year and was traded to the Chicago [now Arizona] Cardinals prior to the 1953 campaign. He played defensive end and placekicker for Chicago through the 1957 season before being traded to the New York Giants in 1958 to replace Frank Gifford as kicker. The Giants won the regular season finale in 1958 on the most famous kick of Mr. Summerall’s career, when he drilled a 49 yard field goal through snow and swirling winds at Yankee Stadium to break a 10-10 tie with the Cleveland Browns and send New York to the NFL Championship—later called the Greatest Game Ever Played—where they lost to the Baltimore Colts, 23-17, in pro football’s first overtime game. He remained with the Giants before retiring after the 1961 NFL Championship game, a 37-0 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, having kicked 100 field goals and 256 out of 265 extra points during his ten-year career.
The following season, Pat Summerall was hired by CBS Sports as color commentator for NFL games. By 1968, he had ascended to the network’s lead crew, pairing with Jack Buck and Ray Scott, while also providing postgame coverage of the first few Super Bowls. Midway through the 1974 season, CBS shifted Summerall from color to play-by-play, pairing him with Tom Brookshier and the duo became the network’s top crew. In 1981, Brookshier was replaced by former Oakland Raiders coach John Madden, a pairing that would last for 22 seasons and become one of the finest partnerships in TV broadcasting history. When the Fox network outbid CBS for the NFC broadcast package in 1994, one of their first moves was to hire Summerall and Madden as their lead announcing team and the two remained partners through the 2002 Super Bowl, their final game together. In addition to football, Mr. Summerall also covered golf—broadcasting the PGA Tour while serving as the voice of the Masters for 26 years, as well as tennis, where he covered 21 U.S. Open telecasts. Summerall called basketball [college, ABA, NBA], boxing, and baseball and hosted the Pan Am Games. He also did promos, radio work and served as co-host—along with Brookshier—of This Week in Pro Football in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Pat Summerall may be the finest broadcaster in the history of televised sports. He covered 16 Super Bowls [more than any other announcer] on network television and ten more on radio. He was named the National Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association in 1977 and inducted into their Hall of Fame in 1994. The Pro Football Hall of Fame honored him with the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award in 1994 and he was inducted into the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame in 1999. In 2007, the Florida High School Athletic Association named to Mr. Summerall the state’s All-Century Team.
On this date in 1958, Pat Summerall missed a 31 yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter of a tie game with the Cleveland Browns. With less than two minutes remaining, New York Giants offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi reluctantly sent Summerall into the game to attempt a 49-yarder. Summerall, a straight-ahead kicker, split the uprights for a 13-10 victory and the Eastern Conference title.