Talking with a legend and his Buc connections
When you hear the name Pat Summerall what immediately comes to mind:
The calm, metronome-like cadence of Summerall’s play-by-play? Summerall’s pairing with Hall of Fame coach John Madden? The most important NFL games of the past 30 years?
If you think of all the above, you are not alone. Pat Summerall possesses one of the greatest voices in broadcasting and his partnership with John Madden produced multiple Emmy’s over two decades as the voice of the NFL on CBS and later FOX.
But there is one other image that should jump to mind when you hear the name Pat Summerall: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In a recent interview, Pat Summerall discussed his career as a broadcaster, his first visit to Tampa Stadium, his relationships with Hugh Culverhouse, John McKay and Tony Dungy and of course, the first game he broadcast with John Madden at old Tampa Stadium.
Summerall’s award-winning tenure as a sports broadcaster greatly overshadows the fact that he had a solid NFL career. Summerall was a placekicker for various teams but is best known for his stint with the New York Giants in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. It was during his time in New York that Summerall answered a phone call intended for a teammate which changed his life forever.
“We had played a preseason game in Newark, New Jersey against the Packers. We were training up the Hudson River, by West Point and a bunch of us were staying in New York because we had four days off including me and my roommate Charlie Connerly (New York’s quarterback),” Summerall recounted.
”I was watching television one afternoon during that four day period and the phone rang while Charlie was in the shower. I answered the phone and this voice I never heard before said he would like to speak to Charlie. I said, ‘He is in the shower,’ and the gentleman said, ‘Would you remind him when he gets out that he’s supposed to be at CBS this afternoon to read an audition script at four o’clock.’”
“I said, ‘Yes, I’d be glad to tell him.’ I was just about an inch from hanging up the phone and I heard this gentleman say something so I put the phone back up to my ear and he said, ‘What are you doing this afternoon?’”
“I said, ‘Go drink beer with the boys or see a movie, I’m not sure.’” “He said, ‘Why don’t you come along with Charlie and read the audition script?”
“So there were four of us that read the script. Kyle Rote, Alex Webster, Charlie and me. This was for CBS Radio and they liked the way I sounded so they hired me for the job. This was in 1960.”
That was the beginning of a relationship that would last for almost 35 years. In the beginning Summerall teamed as a color analyst with Chris Schenkel, Jack Buck and Ray Scott. “It was called ‘color man’ in those days,” Summerall said of his duties. “I think I learned from them the mechanics of doing play-by-play by observing.” He learned well enough that he made the transition from analyst to play-by-play man and eventually moved to broadcasting sports other than football. “I did two years of the NBA, golf, tennis and the CBS Sports Spectacular.”
During his burgeoning career Summerall never strayed too far from his Florida roots. Born and raised in Lake City, Florida, Summerall sought local advice when it came to handling his increasingly complicated finances. The man he turned to was a Jacksonville accountant and tax attorney named Hugh F. Culverhouse.
“He was one of my attorneys,” Summerall said of the man that would one day own the Tampa Bay franchise. “I met him in Jacksonville long before he owned the Buccaneers. He represented me in tax situations. I remember him telling me one time when there was a question of if I owed the IRS, ‘I’ll take it as far as you want to take it. I’ll pursue it as hard as you want me to pursue it, but let me give you some advice. If it’s not going to kill you, pay it. Don’t let the IRS get after you because if they get after you once, they’ll stay after you.’”
In the 1970’s Summerall teamed up with former Philadelphia Eagle defensive back Tom Brookshier to form CBS’ “A-Team.” Together the two men covered the most important NFC games of the decade. Interestingly, one of their games was a non-descript 1977 contest between the Buccaneer and New York Giants at Tampa Stadium. When asked why CBS would send their number one crew to a game featuring winless Tampa Bay and 3-5 New York, Summerall explained the thought process behind broadcast assignments.
“It depends on what the rest of the regular schedule was. If we were the ‘A-Team,’ they wanted us to be seen back in New York. So that is why the assignment was made, because the game was televised back in New York. That was the idea behind that. The ‘A-Team’ should be seen in New York at the network headquarters.”
The Buccaneers lost 10-0 to the Giants that November day, but a little over two years later Summerall would make his second trip to Tampa Stadium, this time with a partner he would be permanently identified with.
The press box at the late, great home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was the site of the first NFL broadcast featuring Pat Summerall on play-by-play and John Madden as analyst. The Bucs 23-22 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on November 25, 1979 is almost a footnote to the larger story of the broadcast crew, a pairing that Pat Summerall recently said was just a temporary fix to help get through the holiday weekend.
Summerall and Brookshier had called the Thanksgiving Day game between Chicago and Detroit and were assigned to fly to Tampa for the Viking-Buc game, but Brookshier couldn’t make it.
“That game was the Sunday after Thanksgiving I think,” Summerall said from his home in Dallas. “I was working with Tom Brookshier. Tom’s daughter in Philadelphia had a social obligation and Tom had the same obligation so they put Madden with me.”
John Madden, one year removed from the Oakland Raiders sideline was a very raw broadcasting talent. In fact, just a few weeks earlier he had been in Tampa Stadium as the color analyst with Dick Stockton during Tampa Bay’s 21-3 victory over Green Bay. The Buc-Packer game was just Madden’s third game as an analyst. A few weeks earlier, Madden had been the third man in the booth with Summerall and Brookshier when the duo broadcast a Falcon-Raider game in Oakland.
“He was more of a guest,” Summerall said of Madden’s appearance at Oakland. “Brookshier was the analyst and I was the play-by-play man. We interviewed him during the course of the game.”
Summerall wouldn’t team with Madden regularly for another two years, but the former coach definitely made an impression on Summerall during that first game. “I knew that he was very articulate and very enthusiastic about the game.”
When asked what set him and Madden apart, Summerall demurred. “I don’t think I’m qualified to say what set us apart. I think respect for each other, respect for the game, and loyalty to each other. I think the fact that both of us listened to each other helped. I think people get into broadcasting and don’t listen to what the other person is saying. We had chemistry from the beginning.”
Madden and Summerall would be infrequent broadcasters of Tampa Bay games after their 1979 debut. In the third week of the 1980 season, Summerall teamed with Brookshier to call Tampa Bay’s 28-17 loss to the Cowboys at Texas Stadium. Madden teamed with Gary Bender for the 1980 season finale, a Saturday afternoon game against the Chicago Bears, a 14-13 loss.
Later in the 1981 season, Tampa Bay’s 18-16 loss at Oakland was Summerall-Madden’s next pairing for a Tampa Bay game. In the strike shortened 1982 season, Summerall-Madden called Tampa Bay’s 32-17 loss to the New York Jets at Shea Stadium and the 30-17 loss to Dallas in the 1982 playoffs. The next year the duo called an embarrassing 27-0 loss to the Bears in a monsoon at Tampa Stadium.
The duo wouldn’t broadcast another Buccaneer game until a 22-20 loss to the New York Giants at the Meadowlands in 1985 (with the Bucs entering the game with a record of 0-8, you can rest assured the only reason Summerall-Madden called it was for the benefit of the New York audience.).
In 1987 the players walked out on strike, subjecting the sporting public to replacement players. The Buccaneers went 2-1 during the replacement games, bringing the team’s overall record to 3-2 when the 4-1 Chicago Bears came to Tampa Stadium for the first game after the return of the regular players. The fact that Tampa Bay had a chance to tie for first place was enough for CBS to assign the team of Summerall and Madden to the broadcast. The Bucs blew a 20-0 lead in the game, losing 27-26. The heartbreaking loss would mark the last time Summerall and Madden would call a Tampa Bay game until 1997, a full decade later.
When the Buccaneers catapulted back to respectability under Tony Dungy in 1997, Summerall and Madden were assigned to their games. A 21-16 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field, a 20-10 victory over the Lions in the playoffs (also the last game ever at Tampa Stadium) and a 21-7 loss the next week to Green Bay in the divisional round were all broadcast by Summerall and Madden.
Over the next four years, Summerall and Madden would cover another ten Buccaneer games, making a grand total of 20 Tampa Bay games the duo covered. When it was pointed out that Tampa Bay went 3-17 in those games, a bemused Summerall was open to taking good-humored blame. “I don’t know that we were responsible but you can certainly do that,” he said with a laugh.
Summerall and Madden’s partnership ended in 2002 when Madden went to Monday Night Football. Summerall enjoyed his memories of Madden, but also pointed out that he enjoyed his memories of working Tampa Bay games.
As a native Floridian and friend of Hugh Culverhouse, he admitted he followed the Bucs closely but never took the unprofessional step of rooting for them. “Because of my friendship with Mr. C, I hoped they would keep doing what they were doing (when they got to winning).”
Summerall also enjoyed his conversations with the coaches, especially John McKay and Tony Dungy, whom he said had different personalities. “He (McKay) was a very honest and straightforward man and told us exactly what they had to do, or what he thought they had to do, to win the game. Many coaches were very reluctant to tell us everything they had in mind, but John McKay was always very honest.”
“I don’t remember that he didn’t use clichés, but he did say some things that I couldn’t tell you and couldn’t be printed,” Summerall said with a laugh.
More than ten years after McKay, Summerall got to know Tony Dungy and came away highly impressed. “I think he was very low-key as opposed to the other coaches that would scream and wave their arms. It was more of a conversation than an interview. He never criticized players in his evaluation to us, very much a gentleman. We were aware of his religious beliefs and devotions so we were careful of what we said. Dungy was such a nice man and helpful.”
While Summerall has retired from the NFL he still stays busy in his Dallas home. The production company he runs makes industrial films for which he provides narration. Also, the past few years Summerall has been the play-by-play voice for FOX network coverage of the Cotton Bowl. When asked if he’ll continue covering the Cotton Bowl, Summerall said, “If they ask me.”
In closing Summerall stated that he appreciates the career that he started over forty years ago with an accidental telephone call. For fans of the NFL and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, we can only say we are very happy he wasn’t quick to put down the receiver. Tampa Bay football history wouldn’t have been the same without his voice.
Denis Crawford, June 2009