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John Madden is prime time now—Monday nights, magazine covers, video game boxes and, who knows what's next, the $5 bill?
But what about the guy who helped nail up his star? The guy who put his own light in a shoebox for 21 years so Madden's could blaze?
You know where 72-year-old Pat Summerall is? He's out there somewhere with the world-famous analyst Brian Baldinger, broadcasting Fox's fourth or fifth best game to 4% of the country.
It's not right, is all.
Would Madden be the No. 1 broadcaster in sports without Summerall? "He saved my bacon all the time," Madden says. "He had this way of taking all my babbling and making sense out of it." Summerall knew where Madden was going even when Madden didn't, helped him get there and brought him back. Madden was the box of 64 Crayolas and Summerall the lines in the coloring book. Together they drew America's favorite NFL picture.
Yet Fox figured their success was all due to Madden. The network kicked Summerall to the curb, left him for dead and/or Brian Baldinger. And Fox had help from writers like USA Today's unaccountably powerful Rudy Martzke, who made a point of enumerating Summerall's mistakes in print.
Summerall believes it was ageism. "If I weren't 72 years old, I don't think they'd be counting mistakes," he says. "If I weren't 72, they wouldn't have broken up John and me. We'd have stayed another three or four years." Madden, 66, looked around, saw Al Michaels sitting in the train wreck of the Monday Night Football booth and signed a $20 million, confetti-strewn deal.
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Summerall had to make a choice: a) quit, or b) start covering games in Palookaville. Summerall chose Palookaville. "I knew he wouldn't quit," says Madden. "Pat can't even say the word retire. The only place he's going to retire is to bed. He's a football guy. He's had a football game every week for 60 years. I don't think he can live without it."
There were times when you were sure he couldn't live with it. A bleeding ulcer in 1990. A hitch at the Betty Ford Center for alcohol rehab in '92. A bum knee that became excruciating in 1998. A staph infection around his artificial knee in late 2001 that forced him to charter flights because he couldn't walk through airports. And a bleeding vein near his stomach wall in August—"probably from my battles with alcohol," he says—that kept him in the hospital for a week.