For years when he was growing up, Summerall was shunted, with no warning, between his mother and stepfather's house in Tidesville, Fla., and his uncle's house in Lake City. The shuttle system ended when he followed his high school coach to Arkansas. He was a good student, but a hell-raiser, in high school. Mike Kennon, his cousin, and brother for all intents and purposes, says, "Pat set his mold early. Everything he got, he got on his own. He said, 'I'm going to have to make it myself. And I'm going to prove to my parents what I can be.' I noticed that once he began to hit the big time, getting all-state and all-Southern and all that, his family then began to say, 'Whoa, lookie what we got here!' "
But by then Summerall had fled the barn. He was the punter, not even the field goal kicker in college. And he was nothing more than a competent pro during his five seasons with the Chicago Cardinals, though he became something special with the New York Giants in the late '50s, the era of Charlie Conerly, Frank Gifford and Kyle Rote. Summerall's right foot was a radar device. In fact, if it hadn't been for his kicking, the hallowed 1958 Alan Ameche championship game between the Giants and Baltimore Colts, the game which helped put the NFL on the map, would never have been played.
Two weeks before that game, in a blinding snowstorm that obliterated the yard marks at Yankee Stadium, Summerall booted a field goal estimated at 49 yards that gave the Giants a 13-10 win over the Cleveland Browns to tie the Browns for the Eastern Division title. A special one-game playoff between the two teams was held the following week; the Giants won, giving them the right to face the Colts.
The old AP photos from that first Browns game show a smiling No. 88, pointing to the toe of his squared shoe. Summerall recalls that Vince Lombardi, who was a Giants offensive coach at the time, argued against the field goal try. When Summerall jogged off the field amid the tumult, Lombardi raced up, grabbed him and started shaking him. "I thought he was going to hug me," Summerall recalls, "but then I realized he was angry. 'C'mon,' Lombardi began screaming, 'c'mon, you son of a kangaroo [or some such], you can't kick it that far!' "
Providence accounted for Summerall's start at CBS shortly before he retired from the NFL in '61. He was watching TV in the New York apartment he shared with Conerly, when James Dolan, who was the head of CBS radio sports, called to tell Conerly when to report for a sportscasting audition. "Conerly was in the shower," Summerall recalls, "so I jotted down the information and was just about to put down the receiver when I heard the guy yell, 'Hold it a second! Why don't you come, too?'" Summerall beat out Conerly, Rote and Alex Webster for a five-minute daily sportscast that paid $725 for five shows a week.
The following year Rote gave him a lead on the TV analyst's job for the Giants' games. Summerall then became a morning show host, spinning records and reading traffic reports, for WCBS radio. And in 1964, with a tip from Chris Schenkel, his Giants broadcast partner, he became sports director at WCBS-TV.
Though it seems longer, Summerall has been doing NFL play-by-play only since '75, when he was teamed with Brookshier; Summerall and Madden, who have become the consensus choice as the best two-man team in sports TV, were first paired in '81. Loyalty—whether to CBS, the Giants or the Lake City Elks' Club—is a big item with Summerall. His heart still belongs to the Giants, but he so controls his emotions that for all a listener can tell, the Giants might as well be the Jets.
Another thing about Summerall is that, like a famous Republican he admires, he's something of a Teflon man. Grit and grime just don't stick.
In '74 he was scheduled to call the NBA playoffs, which were likely to feature the Boston Celtics. CBS found out that he and two buddies, former teammate Dick Lynch and pitcher Whitey Ford, had an ownership interest in, among other businesses, the Celtics, and, for obvious reasons, became concerned over a potential conflict of interest. But the issue became moot before the playoffs when the three men sold off their share of the team because of their financial difficulties, and Summerall continued his impartial broadcasting.
Nor was he affected by CBS's "winner-take-all" tennis scandal that broke in '77, when it was revealed that the matches weren't winner-take-all, but that players, win or lose, were being paid big guarantees. Summerall had been the chief announcer on the bogus series. Higher-ups at the network, it turned out, had lied to Summerall, leading him to believe that none of the players had received guarantees. It was as though his guardian angel was on 24-hour all-points alert throughout the scandal. Other people left under fire shortly before an FCC inquiry in 1978, but Summerall emerged unscathed. Although he was infuriated by the deception, he remained calm and cool publicly.