Pat Summerall broadcasted the NFL to fans for many decades. His most famous partnership with John Madden will never be forgotten, but before his broadcasting days, he was an NFL player. Pat reflects on his entire life in his new book Summerall: On And Off The Air. Pat talks about his battles with alcohol, his friendship with Mickey Mantle, and his time in the NFL.
Listen to the Pat Summerall interview:
Chris Yandek: How long did it take you to reflect upon all those decades of memories in your book [Summerall: On And Off The Air]?
Pat Summerall: “Well, actually from the time I first started, it was much more difficult than I thought it would be. From the time I first began, it took about five years. Basically, I started a long time ago and then I happened to be in New York on 9/11 and saw what happened to New York City, and saw the second plane hit the building with my own eyes and I sort of stopped writing a book at that time just because of what was going on in our country and didn’t pick it back up for another year or so until after I had a liver transplant. Overall, it took about five years, but actually hard work, it probably took a year, something like that.”
CY: While a college player at the University of Arkansas in the 1950s you kicked a winning field goal to upset number four rival Texas [16-14]. What do you remember about the game and how different is college football today?
PS: “I don’t remember much about that game. I remember the field goal was good and the place went wild. I remember that. College football, my gosh as pro football has grown immensely beyond the magnitude I ever imagined. The equipment’s better. The players are bigger, better. The diets are better. The coaching’s better. There are so many more coaches. Traveling is so much easier. There’s so many changes that it’s hard to numerate all of them, but it’s changed. I think maybe not for the better, but it’s certainly got a whole lot bigger.”
CY: You were drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1952 and your contract was $6000 with a $500 signing bonus. What do you remember about being part of the early years of the NFL with the Detroit Lions and are you amazed at how much has changed and how much these guys get on their contracts now?
PS: “Well, I’ve seen it grow. I was a part of it in the broadcasting business after I got through playing. So I watched the growth with my raw eyes as John Madden likes to say. I saw it happening in front of me. It’s just mind boggling to think what kind of player would you get for $6000 today? You wouldn’t even get somebody’s attention for that price. At that time, I thought that was a good offer, a good contract. But certainly it’s grown beyond everybody’s imagination and expectation.”
CY: What was it like to be part of the 1952 Champion Detroit Lions and then go to the Chicago Cardinals in 1957 and a team that struggled to many under 500 seasons while you were there?
PS: “Well, it was a big disappointment. The Lions were on the threshold of being that NFL Champions at that time. They had a lot of marquee players, a lot of nice guys. The atmosphere surrounding the team was all positive. Everything was good, and then to go to the Cardinals where everything was exactly the opposite. The equipment was poor. The practice facilities were poor. The attitudes were poor. We had some good players, but not nearly enough of them. It was going from the proverbial outhouse to the house guess. I don’t exactly know how to express it. But the whole atmosphere was depressing as opposed to being very optimistic in Detroit.”
CY: You got traded to the New York Giants in 1958. What do you remember most about your offensive coach Vince Lombardi and your defensive coach Tom Landry?
PS: “Well, I had an opportunity. I played both ways. I was an offensive end and a defensive end. I had the opportunity to go to the offensive meetings and the defensive meetings. They were very different in their approach. They were both superb teachers. Lombardi was dynamic, flamboyant, loud, but you listened to what he had to say and you realized that he knew exactly what he was telling you. If you did what he said, you would more than likely be successful.
He was, I learned more in the offensive meetings under Lombardi than I learned the whole other time that I was in football. Landry was the same, entirely a different personality, but the results were the same. He was an excellent teacher. He was far less emotional than Lombardi, but again he said if you do what I say we’ll win and usually he turned out to be right.”
CY: What was it like to play football for the New York Giants in Yankee Stadium and have Mickey Mantle’s locker room for a football season?
PS: “Well, it just happened that I got the locker he used during baseball season. It just happened that when we moved in, I got assigned the same locker that he used. I had know Mickey when we were both playing minor league baseball in Oklahoma. It was not like I was in awe of him or anything at the time. It was just a situation where we were friends and remained friends, and actually became very close friends.”
CY: And what was it like to play in Yankee Stadium for football overall?
PS: “Well, the atmosphere, the Giants had played in the polo grounds in the early years of the 50s. They moved to Yankee Stadium in 1956. There was something about playing in Yankee Stadium, the aura of Yankee Stadium, the memories, the tradition. It made it a special place to stay and a special place to play. It was a first class atmosphere. No question about it.”
CY: You retired at the beginning of the 1960s from the New York Giants and signed on at CBS Sports. What do you remember about the early days of the NFL being broadcasted on TV and being part of it?
PS: “Well, I remember I wasn’t making much money in my first CBS contract. It was an honor to be a part of it. We had no idea at that time. I was just doing Giants games. I was an analyst working with Chris Schenkel who was a great teacher. But it seemed, it was all new to me. I was in awe of being able to have that opportunity. I was living in North Florida and commuting to New York or wherever the Giants played every weekend. So I was the analyst as I said, but it was a thrill to be a part of it. We had no idea at the time what it was going to become, what pro football was going to be.”
CY: What are your memories of the time you spent with Howard Cosell besides his ability to drink more than most of the country under the table?
PS: “Well, Howard and I lived in nearby communities. I lived in Stanford, Connecticut, he lived in PoundRidge, New York, which were bordering towns and we got off the air at ABC in his case and CBS at my case about the same time. So we rode the same train home at night, almost every night, every weeknight at least. So we got to be very good personal friends. When Howard had an audience, in other words more than one person, he was a performer. When it was just him and me, he was the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet.”
CY: After John Madden left for ABC and Monday Night Football, did you think about calling it a retirement since you weren’t calling the big stage game every week anymore?
PS: “Yeah. I did. In fact I did. That was when I stepped down and decided not to do it anymore. My health was failing at that time too. So it was a good time for me to step down.”
CY: What do you remember about the Thanksgivings and all the other times you spent with John Madden during that holiday and with the Madden Cruiser and all that great stuff?
PS: “Well, I remember a lot of Thanksgiving dinners on the Madden Cruiser. When he first got the bus, I was a little bit skeptical about whether or not he would be able to keep up the travel because they’d send us, it didn’t make any difference. Travel consideration was not a factor. So we went from long distances and I wouldn’t sure he was going to be able to make it from week to week, but he did. He never was late. He never missed a game. But it turned out that the bus was a blessing.
That’s where we had production meetings, we had an awful lot Thanksgiving dinners. That’s where he and I really got to be very close friends in addition to being broadcast partners. Nothing about the bus is a bad sour memory to me because we had an awful lot of good times with both John and with the drivers.”
CY: Your problem with alcohol is well documented through the book. What would you say to anyone who is listening or reading this interview that might have a problem with alcohol?
PS: “I would say that I never thought I had a problem with alcohol until there was an intervention. A group of people got together and said to me we think you’re drinking too much, we want you to go for help. I think that’s what makes the disease so insidious. Nobody ever thinks it’s a problem. I know I have told myself over and over again that I can quit anytime I want to. It’s not a problem with me.
I don’t crave a drink. I can stop. I am bigger than this is. I am more powerful, I’m stronger. Nobody is willing to ever admit that they do have a problem and I think that’s the key to beating the problem, to curing if there is a cure and that is to realize that you have to be honest with yourself and you have to admit that you do have a problem and until you do, you’re never gonna get over it.”
CY: You had a very close relationship with Mickey Mantle and spent a lot of time with him in his last years. What are your fondest memories of him and did you ever feel bad for him when he would call you on Sundays during the NFL season for some inside information if he was down from gambling on College Football on Saturdays?
PS: “My relationship with Mickey, he became a very close personal friend. We spent a lot of time together, played a lot of golf together. It’s true that he called me. He liked to bet on college football and on the pros. When he had a bad day in college, he’d call me no matter where I was on Sunday morning and asked me what I thought about the pros that day. The biggest mistake I made was being correct a couple of times. Then he called every week. He thought I was some kind of genius. It never affected our relationship. I just knew he’d like to bet and I’d tell him whatever I knew.”
CY: You needed a new kidney [actually a liver and not a kidney] to live and you did get the transplant, but how close do you feel physically before you got the transplant that your life might be over and that we might not be having this conversation right now?
PS: “Well, I didn’t need a kidney. I need a liver.”
CY: Excuse me. Yeah.
PS: “I got the liver transplant and I was close to being dead. I knew that. The doctor, after the operation was a success, told me I had about 18 hours to live or it would of been over if I didn’t get a new organ. Now the operation was a success and I probably feel better than I have felt in over forty years. I feel stronger. I have more stamina. I just feel good when I get up in the morning and I am so grateful. If anyone has ever had an organ replacement operation and it works this well, you should be just as thankful as I am because I have never felt better.”
CY: Finally, will we see you in any kind of future projects down the road?
PS: “I have no idea. Right now there are no plans. I’d like to do some work on football games or baseball games or whatever the sporting event might be, but right now I don’t know. I can’t say that you will see me.”
CY: So it’s still never say never?
PS: “Still never say never.”
You can purchase a copy and out more information about Summerall: On And Off The Air at following link: