We see him and we hear him, but not really. He has been TV's voice of reticence and restraint for well over a decade, but for all his visibility—both on CBS and in his True Value hardware ads—Pat Summerall is something of a mystery. We know John Madden. But Summerall? He's simply a voice, albeit a familiar, economical and soothing one. The guy is on the air 50 weekends a year, broadcasting football, golf and tennis, but who really knows him?
Next week, when he works his 11th Super Bowl on TV, Summerall will mark the end of his 25th year as a CBS sportscaster. Has anyone else who has been on the air that long remained so hidden? Even those who consider themselves his closest friends sometimes scratch their heads and say they haven't been able to figure him out.
"He's the most complex human being I've ever met, in or out of the business," says longtime golf and tennis producer Frank Chirkinian. Says producer Chuck Milton, an old New York pal of Summerall's who has worked hundreds of NFL games with him, "A great guy. But if you find out who the real person is, give me a call."
You will find no stunning revelations on these pages, though here are a few things about Summerall that he has never revealed on the air:
Did you know, for example, that there are two Pat Summeralls? One is reticent, retiring, a good ol' boy who has been married to the same woman for 31 years. His principal home is in the same north Florida town, Lake City, where he grew up as one of the best schoolboy athletes the state has ever known. Confederate blood runs in his veins. His grandmother's name was Augusta Georgia Summerall; his granddaddy Thomas Jefferson Summerall actually fought the Yankees. "This is where I'm comfortable," Pat says of Lake City.
The other Pat Summerall is a carouser who stays in big-city hotels most of the year, away from his family, and who often has a cold one in his hand and can drink anyone he's with under the table.
Summerall once said his major weakness in life is that he can't—or won't—call it a night. "The stories are well known," he admits. "There were numerous times when Brookie [his former TV partner and great friend, Tom Brookshier] would say, 'What happened last night?' and together we might be able to piece it together."
Both the homebody and the carouser, by the way, are universally well liked. Summerall may stay up at night for last call, but he'll do it with style and charm and an unsurpassed storytelling ability.
Another paradox: Summerall is a hard guy—and a soft guy.
The only child of a bank janitor, he had a rough childhood. His parents, who were separated, wanted to send him to an orphanage when he was in grade school, but his aunt and uncle Clarice and Floyd Kennon intervened and took him in. They lived a block from the Columbia High School football field, where he would later star. Summerall went on to a 10-year career in the NFL as a two-way end and kicker. He once played a game for the Detroit Lions with a severely fractured right wrist, which eventually cost him his rocket serve on the tennis court.