George Allen “Pat” Summerall, celebrated sports broadcaster and one-time NFL player, was born into difficult circumstances in rural Lake City, Florida, on May 10, 1930. He was the only child of George Allen Summerall, Sr., a bank teller, and Cristelle (Wells) Summerall. His parents separated shortly before his birth, and neither parent shouldered much responsibility for his welfare. When his mother considered placing him in an orphanage, Summerall was taken in by an aunt and later raised mostly by his paternal grandmother. Compounding his challenges, Summerall was born with a twisted lower leg that had to be surgically broken and reset while he was still an infant. He was not expected to ever walk normally, much less play sports. Defying his physical limitations, Summerall quickly developed into an exceptional athlete, excelling in football, basketball, and tennis. He attended Columbia High School in Lake City. As a young man, he eventually grew to six feet four inches and 230 pounds and was named to Florida’s All-State high school football and basketball squads. Although named after his absentee father, Summerall assumed the nickname “Pat” as a youngster.
Summerall was recruited by several colleges but chose to attend the University of Arkansas, where he was allowed to try out for both football and basketball. Eventually focusing solely on football, Summerall played both offensive and defensive end and also took on place-kicking duties. The University of Arkansas experienced only mediocre finishes during Summerall’s years there, but it was enough to get him noticed by the Detroit Lions professional football team, who drafted him in the fourth round in 1952. Summerall’s teammates included legendary Lions quarterback Bobby Layne. After one season, in which his arm was shattered, a trade brought Summerall to Chicago, where he played five seasons for the lackluster Cardinals before they relocated to St. Louis. In his off seasons, Summerall supplemented his modest football income by teaching school and farming back in Lake City. He married Katharine Elliot Jacobs in Florida in 1955. They had two sons and a daughter.
Fortunately for Summerall, another trade took him to the New York Giants in 1958. The Giants had innovative coaches including Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry, and the roster was loaded with talented players such as Kyle Rote and Frank Gifford. In a celebrated and crucial 1958 game against Cleveland, Summerall was brought onto the snow-covered Yankee Stadium field to attempt a last-minute forty-nine-yard field goal amid terrible weather conditions. Summerall booted the ball through the uprights to win the game and send the Giants into the playoffs. After three more seasons with the Giants, Summerall retired as a player after the 1961 season; he scored 100 career field goals and more than 550 points overall.
Through a stroke of good luck, he quickly landed a chance audition as a sports announcer in New York. While still playing football, he had done some sports programs on CBS radio. In 1964 he began broadcasting NFL games for CBS with experienced play-by-play announcer Chris Schenkel and later worked with Jack Buck, Ray Scott, and Tom Brookshier. Luck may have gotten him into broadcasting, but talent kept him there. He was on the broadcasting team at the inaugural Super Bowl on January 15, 1967. In 1974 he became a play-by-play announcer. Summerall’s minimalist narration style and rich, resonant voice were a perfect fit for his new vocation. Summerall went on to a highly successful four-decade broadcasting career and called hundreds of NFL football games (including sixteen Super Bowls), twenty-seven Masters Golf tournaments, twenty US Open tennis tournaments, and many other sporting events for CBS Sports and FOX Sports. His longest and most successful pairing in the broadcast booth was with John Madden, former head coach of the Oakland Raiders, from 1981 to 2002. In recalling Summerall’s broadcasting abilities and his understated approach that let the game action speak for itself, Madden later commented, “When you listen to Pat, it’s comfortable, it’s a big game, you’re bringing a gentleman into your house.”
Summerall's years of carousing and hard partying on the road began to catch up with him in the early 1990s. His drinking had already caused a bleeding stomach ulcer, and his health was quickly deteriorating. Led by former drinking buddy Tom Brookshier, a worried group of friends and business associates gathered to stage a surprise intervention following the Masters Tournament in 1992. Initially angry and in denial over his alcoholism, Summerall finally agreed to enter the Betty Ford Clinic. After five weeks of successful treatment, he relocated to the Dallas area and expanded his already close ties to the local community. His first marriage had failed and ended in divorce in 1995. Summerall married Cherilyn Burns in 1996 and sought a new beginning. He developed a new sense of spirituality and maintained his sobriety. He became a born-again Christian and was baptized into the Baptist Church. But his liver was already irreparably damaged. In 2004 a desperately ill, seventy-three-year-old Summerall received a donor liver from a thirteen-year-old Arkansas boy who had died of an aneurysm.
Summerall spent his final years speaking about his newfound sobriety and spirituality, repairing frayed family ties, and doing occasional broadcast work, including some NFL games for ESPN and the annual Cotton Bowl Classic. He also served on the North Texas Super Bowl Committee that helped bring the 2011 Super Bowl to Cowboys Stadium. During the course of his career he received a number of prestigious honors. The Pro Football Hall of Fame gave him the Pete Rozelle Award in 1994. That same year he received a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame. He was an inductee into the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame in 1999. He made movie and television appearances in Black Sunday (1977), The Simpsons (1989), and The Replacements (2000).
On April 16, 2013, Pat Summerall died of cardiac arrest in Dallas at Zale Lipshy University Hospital, where he was recuperating from hip surgery. He was laid to rest in the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery in Dallas. He was survived by wife, Cheri; children Susan, Jay, and Kyle; and ten grandchildren.