Summerall is diligent with a capital D, whether on the field or in the booth. He keeps a plaque in his office that reads EVERYTHING COMETH TO HIM WHO WAITETH—IF THEY WORKETH LIKE HELL WHILE THEY WAITETH. Some ex-jocks ride on their reputations, but Summerall is a broadcaster first and a former athlete second. He's a survivor in a profession in which the long knives are always sharp (there have been eight presidents of CBS Sports since Summerall arrived in '62) and where this year's hotshots often wind up selling used cars next year.
As tough as he is, Summerall also has a powerfully emotional, sentimental side. He can get misty-eyed just listening to America the Beautiful. "He even cries at K Mart openings," says Chirkinian. Three years ago, Summerall became so emotional when Ben Crenshaw won the Masters that he had to hand over the mike and let Ken Venturi finish the play-by-play.
There's also Summerall the good ol' boy versus Summerall the mover and shaker.
To this day, Summerall is known as a hometown boy in Lake City. During the pro football off-season he used to grow watermelons and teach English and history at Lake City Junior High. He still bends the elbow with his cronies at the Lake City Country Club and enjoys the company of the guys down at the Amoco station. If truth be known, he is an easy touch for a tale of woe, his friends say. "He can't say no to people," says Chirkinian. "Probably anybody could get into his pockets."
Yet Summerall is no country bumpkin. He pulls in more than $1 million a year from CBS and a sizable amount from True Value. He owns, among other things, a printing business, a travel agency, a warehouse complex and (with Pete Rozelle) part of a 105-acre avocado and Christmas tree ranch near San Diego. He has visited the Reagans at the White House, and the people he can ring up for a chat include Jack Kemp, George Bush, Lee Iacocca, Richard Nixon, Burt Reynolds and Florida Senator Bob Graham. More than a few conservative Republican politicians count him among their campaign contributors.
That Summerall can be a little-known figure while at the same time being the voice of pro football in America shouldn't be all that surprising. His obscurity has much to do with his coolness, his reserve, his gift for understatement. Let everybody celebrate John Madden. Of all the sportscasters in the last quarter century, Summerall may be the only one to realize that less is more.
The coolness, says Summerall, is the way he maintains control: "Being reticent, that's the way I've always done it. I've never been a very excitable person, and in many ways I think that helped me as a kicker. You get all uptight and excited, full of adrenaline, jumping up and down, you forget what it is you need to do, you forget to concentrate."
Somebody once called him the Gary Cooper of sportscasters. Exactly right. In all his years behind the mike, he has rarely said more than yup or nope about himself.
Few of his friends realize that Summerall, 56, was born with a deformed foot. His right foot—with which he would kick perhaps the most famous field goal in NFL history—was backward at birth. When he was young, he says, a doctor fixed it by breaking it and resetting it in the correct position.
In his junior and senior years at Lake City High he made all-state in both basketball and football. In football he set a Florida state schoolboy record for most pass receptions in a single year, then won a basketball scholarship to Arkansas, where he played football and basketball and was a Golden Gloves heavyweight boxer. In 1946 he won the Florida state junior tennis championship, beating Herbie Flam, who later made it to the finals at Forest Hills.