Sundays with Summerall
A voice I used to hear a lot on Sundays belonged to Pat Summerall, the play-by-play man for NFL telecasts on CBS and Fox (as well as for tennis and golf), who died last week at eighty-two. If the morning was Mass and CCD, the afternoon was Summerall, whose accounting of the actionin a clear and calmly authoritative mannercommanded our attention for most of the remaining day.Tributes have included words like quiet and understated to describe Summeralls style, but dignified is the way I remember ita necessary counterpoint to the voluble performances of color-analyst partners like Tom Brookshier and, famously, John Madden. Summerall also had a way of conferring that dignity on whatever proceedings he described, especially Giants games, which beginning in the early 1980s he seemed to be doing more and more of. It was a sign, in a Giants family like ours: The presence of the voice meant renewed legitimacy for a once-proud team that was then decades removed not only from its last championship, but also competence. Summerall, just by being in the booth, heralded renewed glory.Our belief was equal parts sentiment, devotion, and a willingness to see things others didnt. Summerall had been a Giant himself, his place in lore cemented by a game-winning field goal against the Browns in 1958, in a snowstorm at Yankee Stadium. The owner of the Giants was Wellington Mara, a graduate of Fordham University, where Vince Lombardilater to witness Summeralls kick as a member of the Giants' coaching staffwas one of the famous Seven Blocks of Granite. My father and my uncle grew up outside the gates of Fordham, which they eventually attended (as would I), and then my uncle even spent a few weeks at Giants training camp as a quarterback and punter.Clearly, all of these connections meant something. But they also confirmed a quietly held conviction that, as Giants fans of that time, we were part of something larger: fellow guardians of a tradition shaped by the church and New York City, a community composed largely of second- and third-generation Italian and Irish whose entry into a range of professions proved that hard work paid offand more importantly, could maybe help you buy season tickets.Never mind that Summerall was from Florida. Hed go through his own trials too, and come out the other end healthy and humbled and able to help the fellow afflicted, including Mickey Mantle. But before that, on a Sunday in January 1987, it was his voice that documented what, no matter those professed beliefs, had seemed impossible just a year or two earlier: A Super Bowl victory for the Giants, their first ever.
About the Author
Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.