News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 27, 2013

RONN MOTT: Remembering Pat Summerall

Ronn Mott
Special to the Tribune-Star

---- — I don’t remember how I first became aware of Pat Summerall, but the first time I heard him was on a New York radio station (WCBS, I think). He was doing the sports for the morning man and exchanging some opinions about sports and such with him.  

I thought at the time, that’s a good idea, an actual football player who knows a lot about the sport voicing his opinions on the radio. And, at that time, the flood of ex-jocks doing sports had not yet reached a crescendo.

Everybody talks about Pat’s voice, but I didn’t think that was his outstanding feature. I thought in the era of Don Meredith and Howard Cosell, he was a steady hand and a voice of reason.

Of course, in broadcasting sports, a voice of reason may not be the most popular thing, which explains Pat’s 20-some years of working with John Madden and why they were such a good pair. Opposites attract.

Pat, like a lot of people, started in New York broadcasting and found alcohol an almost constant companion. It would not be for some years that he realized he had a serious problem. However, he overcame it and continued his good work on CBS-TV.  

My favorite story about Pat Summerall was when he was kicking field goals and points-after for the New York Giants. His offensive coordinator, or offensive coach, was the stubborn and soon-to-be relished Vince Lombardi. The Giants, with Pat kicking, were lined up to try a 50-yard field goal. Lombardi did not want to kick knowing Pat Summerall would not make it. It was beyond his range. But the head coach overruled Lombardi and told Summerall to go ahead and kick the field goal.

Lombardi went to Summerall and said, “We’re going to kick the field goal, but you won’t make it.” Summerall said, “It’s a little beyond my range but I think I can make it, coach.” Lombardi said, “You can’t make a 50-yard field goal.” Then he walked away. Summerall took the field, lined up the kick, placed it through the uprights and the Giants won the game.

The players were rather happy when they came off the field. Summerall said to Lombardi, “Coach, did you see that?” And Lombardi said, “I know, I know, but you can’t kick a 50-yard field goal!” Summerall just stood there and watched the coach run off the field.

I don’t know if that was reverse psychology or not, but it was something Pat Summerall remembered all of his days.  

We’ve had many good sportscasters, some very famous, some not so famous, but all add something to the game they’re reporting whether it’s radio or TV. You’ve probably read this already, but from my observation point, Pat Summerall was simply one of the best.

Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.