A year ago at this time, play-by-play man Pat Summerall seemed to have the NFL future of a quarterback who'd just suffered his umpteenth concussion. Pro football's senior broadcaster, long renowned for his economy of words, was beginning to stumble, misidentifying players and downs and uttering the occasional malapropism. Never mind that 11 months later, America would elect a president with similar rhetorical traits; Summerall, the whispers went, should retire.
Meanwhile Summerall, who since 1981 has been paired with analyst John Madden (first with CBS and since '94 with Fox), was preoccupied with whether he should retire his right knee, which had undergone 11 operations since he'd first injured it as an end with the Chicago Cardinals in '55. "It got to where I couldn't sleep," says Summerall of the pain, "and the medication I was taking was no longer working."
The ever-present agony affected his work. When Summerall and Madden cover a game, they prefer to stand throughout. "I didn't think that the pain was a distraction," says Summerall, "but as I go back and evaluate the way I did things, even how gingerly I had to climb into bed at night, maybe it was."
Last February he decided to have the knee replaced. Fortunately, the operation was a success. As Summerall, 70, prepares to call this Sunday's NFC Championship Game, it's worth noting that he's a living NFL museum. As the Giants' placekicker he scored five points in the epic 1958 NFL Championship Game against the Colts. He broadcast perhaps the two most famous championship games: the '67 Cowboys-Packers Ice Bowl and the '82 Cowboys- 49ers game featuring The ( Joe Montana to Dwight Clark) Catch. He has telecast 15 Super Bowls, including the '82 Bengals- 49ers game, which remains the highest-rated (49.1 Nielsen) sports program of all time.
This year viewers have heard a 1982-vintage Summerall. The crisp cadence has returned, and mistakes have been few. "I can't tell you how much better I feel," Summerall says. "Not only the knee, but also in my mind. I have so much more enthusiasm than I did at this time last year." Though his contract expires after the 2002 season, Summerall has no plans to retire.
That's just fine with us.