LR Touchdown Club: Summerall Foresees NFL Strike, Reminisces on Time With Razorbacks

LITTLE ROCK — Legendary sports broadcaster Pat Summerall told members of the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday that he believes NFL players will strike next season unless there is a concession from team owners.

Unfortunately, he doesn't believe a concession is forthcoming.

"There will be a work stoppage unless there is a concession from the owners," he said in response to a question from the audience. "I don’t know what we're gonna do with our Sundays next fall."

Summerall also noted that there shouldn't be any extra pressure on the Dallas Cowboys to make the Super Bowl since the game is being played in Cowboys Stadium — which he called a palace — this year.

Other teams, especially the old Los Angeles Rams, have faced the same prospect many times, he said.

Summerall, recognized worldwide for his iconic voice and effective minimalist delivery of NFL games over a broadcasting career of 40-plus years, was the guest speaker at Monday's weekly meeting of the Little Rock Touchdown Club, held at the Embassy Suites. A former Razorback football player and longtime two-way end and kicker in the NFL, he reminded the full house that he's still a Hog at heart.

"I still follow the Razorbacks. I still call the Hogs," he said.

Summerall, a stand-out prep player at Lake City, Fla., followed his high-school coach to Fayetteville in 1948. His coach became an assistant under John Barnhill, and as a two-way end Summerall was a key component to the Razorback freshmen team's undefeated season. Summerall became a varsity standout end (on both sides) and kicker for the Hogs, his late field goal in 1951 enabling Arkansas to beat hated Texas, 16-14, the first win over the Longhorns in 13 years.

While he never made first team all-Southwest Conference, Summerall was a fourth-round pick of the Detroit Lions in 1952 and would go on to play out a 10-year career in the NFL with the Chicago Cardinals and New York Giants, his latter days primarily as a kicker. He played in the 1958 NFL championship game between the Giants and Baltimore Colts at Yankee Stadium; a contest generally considered the Greatest Game Ever Played and to have marked the beginning of pro football's popularity surge.

In 1961, he was given an audition, along with several Giants teammates, for a broadcasting gig at CBS. He got the job and began broadcasting full time in 1962. His became a household name, if not before, certainly after he was teamed with John Madden as the lead NFL broadcasting team for CBS in 1981. The pair eventually moved to Fox in 1994. Summerall retired after the 2001 season, but has returned to the booth since to call occasional NFL games as well as the last three Cotton Bowls.

Summerall has broadcast 16 Super Bowls on network television, more than any other broadcaster. In addition, he's worked 10 more Super Bowls as a pregame host or analyst for CBS Radio.

On Monday, he shared stories about his playing days in Fayetteville, his playing career in the NFL and his years in the booth. He was candid as well about his bout with alcoholism that landed him in the Betty Ford Center in 1992.

He is a member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of fame and the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame.

Highlights from his Monday appearance included:

  • Summerall's relationship with Jesus Christ was born while he was in treatment at Betty Ford for alcoholism. It was an intervention of 16 of his closest friends and colleagues, including former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle (who was introduced to his second wife by Summerall), that convinced him to address his addiction. The tipping point for Summerall was a handwritten letter from his daughter in which she said that she was ashamed to share his last name. When he left the Betty Ford Center, Summerall said a man in the Palm Springs airport asked him if CBS would hire back a drunk like him. "Thank goodness they did," he said, "and I didn’t miss a beat."
  • His CBS audition almost didn’t happen. Summerall was taking a message for his Giants roommate, QB Charlie Connerly. The call was from CBS to remind Connerly about an afternoon audition later that day. Before Summerall could hang up the phone, the voice on the other end asked if he'd care to join Connerly at the audition. The rest is history.
  • In 2004, Summerall received a liver transplant. He would come to learn the liver came from a 13-year-old from Pine Bluff. Summerall and the family have since become close friends.
  • During his playing career, Summerall became close friends with New York Yankee legend Mickey Mantle. In the '50s, the football Giants played their home games at Yankee Stadium, and the two shared lockers.
  • Summerall's roommate at Arkansas was Dave "Hawg" Hanner, a defensive tackle from just outside of Parkin. Hanner would go on to an all-pro career with the Green Bay Packers. Summerall would occasionally go home with Hanner, and the two would double date in Hanner's old pick up. "I thought I'd met every kind of person in life until I went to Arkansas and met Dave," Summerall said. "He chewed Red Man in his sleep. I'd wake up every morning to see a big brown patch on his pillow."
  • During Summerall's playing tenure with the Giants, both Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry were on staff. Landry was his kicking coach. Summerall said one of the few times he ever saw Coach Landry smile was when he saw him at a golf tournament in the 1990s and told him he'd been baptized.
  • "I still value the days I spent at the University of Arkansas. I'm proud I still know how to call the Hogs. I went back there years ago to accept a journalism award. Of course, I couldn’t pass English while I was there."