As Pat Summerall came to grips with his alcoholism, he began to read the Bible daily and opened his heart to God.
Sometimes a voice has a personality all its own. One of those voices went silent this week at age 82.
You could almost hear the years of drinking and smoking in Pat Summerall’s craggy delivery, the years of living on the road, first as an NFL player and then as a legendary television play-by-play man. For a lot of his life he was a wild man, a carousing raconteur, the life of the party. But behind the microphone he was almost Spartan in his lack of verbosity, letting the game, be it football or tennis or golf, speak for itself. And if he ever did find himself lost for words, broadcast partners like the voluble John Madden more than made up for it.
But lost Pat Summerall was. By age 62 he was fighting a losing battle with the bottle and everyone but him knew it. Finally, in 1992, his family and friends staged an intervention and confronted him about his drinking. The great announcer was bitter and furious. He was, after all, the voice of the NFL and the Masters golf tournament. But when his daughter said she was no longer proud to share their last name, he broke down and agreed to enter the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California.
There he came to grips with his alcoholism and began to read the Bible daily. As he became sober he opened his heart to God. Though eventually he required a liver transplant, he never took a drink again.
I can’t count the number of mind-numbing hours I have spent in front of the television watching sports. But there was always something about Pat Summerall’s voice that made it more than just a game, especially after his public sobering up. Even if he was calling the Super Bowl I couldn’t help but be aware that the man behind the microphone was a living miracle whose personal redemption informed everything else he did in life, that that unforgettable voice carried a message far greater than the final score.
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