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From Family to Football to Fame

with Pat Summerall | April 16, 2009

From rags to riches. Legendary sports announcer Pat Summerall tells Dennis Rainey about his humble beginnings and his fast rise to fame.

From rags to riches. Legendary sports announcer Pat Summerall tells Dennis Rainey about his humble beginnings and his fast rise to fame.

From Family to Football to Fame

With Pat Summerall
|
April 16, 2009
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: Those who live their lives in the public eye often live two lives – the public life and the private life.  For sports announcer Pat Summerall, the public life was one characterized by success and fame.

[sounds of football game, cheering]

Meanwhile, his private life was very different.

Pat: I was working on the weekend, and I was working every day during the week, so I was never home, really.  I guess maybe I was bored with my wife, I was bored with life at home, and I didn't realize what was happening to me.  Maybe I did realize and didn't want to admit it to myself.  I think that's probably a better description.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, April 16th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll hear today what happened when Pat Summerall's private life and his public life collided.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  Before we introduce Pat Summerall, let me just let our listeners know about something that our team has decided to do here that – actually, I'm pretty excited about.  As you know, we've been encouraging folks all spring to attend on of our upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences, and we still have two or three dozen of these conferences taking place in cities all across the country this spring.

And the team has decided to do something very special for the rest of this month.  Between now and April 30th, if you register for an upcoming conference, and you buy a registration at the regular price, we're going to give you a second registration absolutely free.  And, by the way, it's a pretty good idea for you to go in pairs, so you buy one registration at full price, and your spouse attends at no cost.

Now, in order to take advantage of this special opportunity, you need to identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener.  Either call 1-800-FLTODAY and say, "I want to go to a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember and I listen to FamilyLife Today and I want the special offer," or go online and register and FamilyLifeToday.com and when you fill out the registration form, you'll come to a keycode box.  Just type my name in there.  Just type "Bob," and that will take care of getting you the special offer. 

You pay for a full registration, and the second registration, your spouse's registration, is absolutely free.  We are really hoping that throughout the rest of the spring, those of you who have been thinking about attending a conference will quit thinking about it and will take the plunge and join us at one of our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.

All the details are online – FamilyLifeToday.com or simply call 1-800-FLTODAY, and, again, to take advantage of this offer, you have to respond while we still have seats available, and in some of these upcoming locations, the seating is filling up very quickly.  So to take advantage of this opportunity, you need to call today or register online – FamilyLifeToday.com is the website, or call 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY – 1-800-358-6329.

Now, I don't know if you know this, Dennis, but my son, Jimmy, cannot wait for our guest today to retire because he wants …

Dennis: … to take his place.

Bob: Yeah, he wants his job.

Dennis: I figured Jimmy would be here with us, because we have a fellow broadcaster with us from a little different career stripe than you and me.  I'm not going to tell our listeners immediately who he is, but he was a kicker with the legendary New York Giants in the late '50s and early '60s.

Bob: In fact, you watched him play in the greatest game every played on your little black-and-white TV in Ozark, Missouri, didn't you?

Dennis: I sure did, I sure did.  He served in broadcasting for more than 32 years with CBS.  In fact, I know our listeners recognize the name of Pat Summerall.  Pat, welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Pat: Thank you very much. 

Dennis: Pat has written a book called "Pat Summerall, On and Off the Air," and I want our listeners to know they're going to hear a lot about this book in the coming months and years because this is an authentic look into a man's life, and this is no plastic book, this is no veneer look.  This is a real honest look and, Pat, I hope you'll give me the liberty of boiling your life down to four quarters.  You've made a living broadcasting, among other sports, football, and I broke it down to four quarters.

The first quarter was that of family, and the family you grew up in and the grandmother that raised you, and we want to talk about that in a second.  The second quarter is football, lots of football, both in college and I hasten to mention, Bob, he was an Arkansas Razorback, my alma mater.  So we'll take that.  The third quarter, after halftime, though, was fame and failure – soaring success but privately a lot of choices that cost him dearly.  But then, like all football games, there's always a fourth quarter, and there's a chance of a comeback, and I think you're in the fourth quarter, Pat, and I call this one forgiveness and a future. 

Now, looking over your life, would you say those four quarters describe a little bit of what you've been through?

Pat: I hadn't thought of it that way, but that's a pretty good description.  I hope the fourth quarter lasts a lot longer.  That has a finality feel to it, and I feel so good, and my health is so good, that I hope the fourth quarter goes into overtime.

Dennis: I do, too, and I hope God gives you a long time to tell the story of what you've been through because I think it will bring hope to a lot of people.

Pat: I hope so.

Dennis: Let's go back to your family, though.  You grew up in a little town called Lake City.

Pat: Right.

Dennis: And it wasn't a storybook beginning for you, was it?

Pat: No, there have been a lot of people who have overcome poor childhoods.  I mean, my story is not unique.  My parents were divorced before I was born.  I was raised by an aunt and an uncle in the beginning and then a grandmother.  There was talk of sending me to an orphanage.

Dennis: Do you know why your mom abandoned you after the divorce?  Did you ever find that out?

Pat: No, I really don't know.  I never have asked anybody who is in a position to know.  I know that I never was unhappy.  I don't remember – it sounds like such a terrible beginning, but it wasn't, because I had athletics at an early age.  Anytime I had a bouncing ball, that was okay with me, and I was happy.  I didn't know we didn't have enough clothes, I didn't know we didn't have enough money, I just didn't realize it at the time.  So I don't remember – it sounds like it should be an unhappy childhood, but I don't remember it being.

Bob: Do you remember any point where you thought, "I had a deficit whether I knew it or not."

Pat: No, I don't, I really don't.  I was so enamored with the box scores when I was old enough to read them, I was so enamored with football and basketball and whatever sport was in season, that I didn't take time to realize that we had less than anybody else.  It just didn't matter.

Dennis: One last question about this first quarter before we move into the second quarter of football, your grandmother had a great impact in your life.

Pat: She really did.  I don't know the correct adjectives to describe the effect that she had on my life, but she was so gentle, so firm at the same time, such a loyal person.  She was – I don't know how old she was.  I just don't have that memory.  I don't know how old she was at the time, but when I first really got interested in playing sports, she could barely walk, she was so feeble.  But I would take an old straight chair out into the side yard of the house where we lived, and she would sit in that chair and play catch with me – throw the ball, and I think, really, her patience and her kindness at that time were what really caused me to develop as a receiver, because she didn't have a very good arm, and she was kind of wild, and there were a lot of diving catches, but she was very, very patient and so kind.  I really think that if I had to look at a guiding light that formed personality or ethics or whatever, I think she'd be the person I'd point to.

Dennis: Spiritually, did she have an impact on your life?

Pat: Well, yes, she did.  She was very religious, very much a Christian.  At that time, I didn't know what she was talking about and didn't care to learn, but, yes, that was my first exposure.

Dennis: Well, we're going to shorten the second quarter here, Bob, on football, because every other interviewer that's going to interview you is going to talk about your football exploits, but I have a key question I wanted to ask you.  I think I know how you'll answer.  What was the most important game you every played in?

Pat: Well, I think it has to be the Giant game against the Colts in Yankee Stadium, the first of the overtime games, the greatest game every played, they say.  We had to beat the Browns to get into that game, and I kicked a field goal of some 50 yards.

Dennis: You had missed a field goal earlier …

Pat: Yeah, and I got back to the bench after missing, and all the teammates said, "We're going to get you another shot," and I really didn't think that was going to happen, but when Jim Lee Howell, the head coach, sent me in to try a field goal at midfield …

Dennis: … there was a blizzard, too, wasn't it?

Pat: It was snowing very heavily.  You couldn't see the goalposts, that's probably why it was good.  But, at any rate, when I got to the huddle, the holder, who was the quarterback, Charlie Conerly, said to me, "What the heck are you doing in here?"  And I said, "They sent me in to kick a field goal."  Nobody in the huddle could believe it, but we tried, and I made it through the snowstorm with a lot of room to spare.  It's as good as I've ever hit a kick, I think.  But, anyway, that has to be the most memorable game to me.

Dennis: It was your pro career that ultimately launched you into an opportunity to get into broadcasting.

Pat: Right.

Dennis: And also moves us into the third quarter of your life – tremendous fame but also failure.  You had a chance to be in the broadcast booth with Tom Brookshire – I'm trying to think of the others – Madden.

Pat: I started off with Chris Schenkel, the late Chris Schenkel; then I went with Jack Buck, who was another legendary figure.

Dennis: That's right.

Pat: After that, Ray Scott from whom I learned an awful lot.  I counted up one day when I was in a meeting with nothing to do, I counted up the people I had worked with, and the list got up to 124 people.

Dennis: Wow.  Do you have a favorite?  Is it fair to ask you that?

Pat: I think the happiest time, the happiest times, were certainly with Madden and Brookshire.  Tom and I, both being ex players, became very, very close friends – like brothers almost – I never had a brother.  But he and I became very close.  He was the best man at my wedding.  We still talk on a weekly basis.  He lives in Philadelphia, I live in Dallas, but we still speak.  He and I became very, very close.

John and I became good friends in addition to working together for 21 years.  For whatever reasons, the chemistry of however it happens, John and I never had any kind of hand signals or foot signals or kicking each other.  He always had a sixth sense about when I was through talking, and I always had a sense about when he was through talking, which is a combination that you rarely get.  You usually have to work out some kind of a signal system so that I can tell you when my thought is finished or you can tell me when your thought is finished.  But John and I never had that, from the first time we ever worked together.

Bob: Can I step back into the second quarter just for a second, because I'm wondering if during the football years if that's when patterns and choices started being made in your life that marked you for the future?  Is that when you started drinking?  Is that when …

Pat: Yeah.

Bob: What was the morality of the league at that time?

Pat: Well, certainly there was no even mention of steroids.  There were uppers and downers available.  The team doctor would say to you before the game ever started, "Do you want something to get you going?" or something like that.  I never thought, being a kicker, the calmer I was the better off I would be.  So I never tried any of that stuff.  There was beer-drinking afterward, there was hard-liquor drinking during the off times, not during the practice times, obviously, and not during the time that you were preparing for a game, it just wasn't a factor at that time.  It wasn't until I got into the broadcasting business that I really became what you'd call a "serious drinker."

Dennis: You drank a certain beverage when it was hot, and another beverage when …

Pat: Vodka when it was hot.

Dennis: And what was the choice …

Pat: Jack Daniels when it was cold.

Dennis: And you and Tom Brookshire enjoyed some …

Pat: We enjoyed – I don't know if that's why we became so close, but if they had stayed together, if they had kept us together, if they hadn't split us up – we were having such a good time, I think we'd both be dead by now.  One of us would have killed each other or something would have happened to us because we celebrated every city we went to.  We had a lot of friends throughout the league, all over the country.  We partied in every city at every opportunity.

Dennis: In the third quarter, there was great fame and, at the same time, all this drinking and there's a relationship with another woman that took place for, like, 17 years.

Pat: Right.

Dennis: What was taking place at home, Pat, with your wife, Kathy, and your three children?

Pat: Well, I was not a very good father, to begin with.  My relationships with them, my three children and with my wife, deteriorated and began to fall apart.  I didn't realize it.  I didn't want to admit it to myself that I was not a very good father but pursuing the career and those false thoughts that you have that "I want them to have the things that I didn't have when I was growing up," those justification thoughts that you have all went through my head, and I thought – I was working on the weekend, and I was working every day during the week, so I was never home, really, because I was just – I guess maybe I was bored with my wife, I was bored with life at home.  That was not my life.  My life was on the road, and I became less and less of a father, less and less of a husband, and I didn't realize what was happening to me.  Maybe I did realize and didn't want to admit it to myself.  I think that's probably a better description.

Dennis: Pat, I had to wonder as I read your words about this quarter of your life, did you ever sit down at the breakfast table or the dinner table and, as a man, look across the table at your three children and your wife and say, you know, "I'm really missing something really important here."  Was there ever any inkling of that?
 

Pat: I don't ever remember doing that.  I thought I was doing them a great service by furnishing material things.  I thought, to myself, this material success that I have is really what it's all about, and that became what my life was about – a total – not disregard, I don't think I ever disregarded their well-being or totally disregarded my relations with my wife, but certainly they were on shaky ground.

Bob: Did anybody ever pull you aside and say, "Pat, the drinking, you've got to watch that," or "You need to take care of business at home?"  Did anybody try to point you in those directions?

Pat: No, I don't remember – I remember one of my companions on the golf broadcasts – one of their wives took me aside one night in Charlotte, North Carolina, I'll never forget it, for the Kemper Open at the time, and she said to me, "Hey, you don't have to be the first guy at the dance.  You don't have to be the last guy to leave the party, you don't have to drink the most, you don't have to be the life of the party every night.  Why don't you slow down a little bit?"  But that had very little effect.

Bob: That's as close as anybody got to ever stepping in and trying to stop things?

Pat: Right, right.

Dennis: Do you think you were so at the top of your game professionally that people just looked at you as invincible?  Because, I mean, Pat, you were the best.

Pat: I looked at me as invincible.  I don't know if other people did or not.  That lady would not have said those words to me if she thought I should slow down.  But I looked at me, like, "Hey, I've accomplished this.  I've done it all on my own.  I've had no help.  Whatever talent I have," I didn't even take the time to look back and think about who gave me that talent, where the talent came from.  It was a totally self-intwined – if that's a correct word – look at success.  It was such a thing as, "Hey, I'm responsible, I've done it all."  It was such a macho thing, such an inward success and such an inward satisfaction that I never questioned where the help came from.

Bob: And was there ever a time when your drinking or your lifestyle interfered or affected – did you ever walk away from a game and go, "Boy, if I had been a little more together, that wouldn't have gone that way."

Pat: Well, I think everybody who has ever been in the broadcasting business goes back and relives what they'd done, and you think those thoughts – "I wish I had said this," "I wish I had done that."  But I never got to the point where I thought if I had been …

Bob: … a little more clearheaded …

Pat: A little more clearheaded – I never thought that I had done something incorrectly because of my behavior the night before.

Bob: And everybody around you is probably saying, "Great game, Pat.  Another solid game, way to go."

Pat: Oh, yeah, that's one of the things that you get into when you get into that shell, when you're the number-one horse, people tell you how great you are, and that's not really the case.

Dennis: There was a moment that occurred near the end of the third quarter in the midst of great fame and great failure, where you were doing the Master's Tournament, and I assume you were staying on the property in one of the cabins there on the Master's.

Pat: Yes, yes.

Dennis: I'd like to go do that some day.  I've heard of that, but that may be in heaven for me.  But, anyway, you had an experience before the tournament.  Share that with our listeners.

Pat: Well, I was staying in Augusta, Georgia, in a strange house.  It didn't really – you know how it is when you stay in a strange place, you're not really sure where everything is, and you run into the coffee tables and whatever.  I had made sure, as I say in the book, that the house was well-stocked with liquor, and I had a few drinks before I went to bed, and I got sick, and I got up at 3:00 in the morning, and I went into the bathroom and threw up, and I looked at – this is kind of gross – but I looked at what had come out of me, and I didn't realize what it was.  It was part of my stomach and it was blood.  And I thought, "What the heck, what's wrong with me?"

And I didn't have any more serious thoughts.  It's 3 a.m., as I said, and I looked in the mirror, and it was one of those old-fashioned medicine cabinets with the fluorescent lights all the way around the edge of the mirror, and as I looked at myself, the lights seemed to get brighter and brighter and brighter until I could look at my eyes and see the bloodshot veins in my nose and see how red my eyes are and, honestly, how terrible I looked.  And I thought, "My gosh, what are you doing to yourself.  You've got to stop.  This has got to stop.  Take a good look at yourself," and I made a decision right then that I was going to stop drinking.  I didn't do it.  I think every drunk, every alcoholic who has ever been through it says, "Well, that's my last one.  I'm not going to have another one."

I didn't do it, but I thought to myself, "You don't want to live this way, you don't want to look like this, you're killing yourself," and it really was a revelation.

Bob: How old were you?

Pat: I guess I was in my early 60s at that time.  I'm not sure.  But I remember, it had a profound effect – later on and this, I don't think, is in the book, I didn't tell this, I don't think, but later on I told that story at a luncheon in Dallas, and when I got through speaking, I talked about the lights getting brighter and me being able to see, and I turned around into the face and looked into the blue eyes of Tom Landry, who was standing right behind me, and he said to me, "Would you like to know why those lights kept getting brighter and brighter so you could see yourself like that?"

And I said, "I certainly would, Coach."  And he said, "God sent the angels to brighten those lights so you could have a good look at yourself.  That's why that happened.  And I said that sort of stunned me and made me start to think a little bit about where are you going, what are you doing?  But I didn't take it seriously enough to stop drinking at that time.

Dennis: Well, Pat, that story is in your book.

Pat: It is?  I didn't remember that.

Dennis: And I found that to be an incredible statement to you that was a part, ultimately, of the third quarter ending and the fourth quarter beginning.

Pat: Yeah.

Dennis: And unfortunately, Bob, our listeners are going to have to wait.

Bob: We have to take a timeout here, I mean, all good games get interrupted by an official timeout.  You know, the guy coming on the field and says, "We have an official timeout on the field," and then you break for the commercial, and so that's what we're going to do here.

We want to let listeners know how they can get a copy of Pat's book, which is called "Summerall, On and Off the Air," and how they can information about other resources we have here at FamilyLife to help couples who are strugging with the kinds of addictions that the Summerall family struggled with.

Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and the information about Pat's biography and about other resources we have available can be found there.  Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com, and don't forget, I mentioned this earlier, FamilyLife Today listeners have the opportunity to register for one of our upcoming FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences. 

If you register between now and the end of April and identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener, when you purchase a registration, we're going to give you a second registration absolutely free.  So you buy a registration for yourself, your spouse comes along at no cost.  The reason we're doing this is because we want to see as many of our listeners attend one of these conferences as possible this spring, so let me encourage you to get more information online at FamilyLifeToday.com or to call us at 1-800-FLTODAY.

And register quickly.  In some locations this spring, we've already had the conference sell out in a number of areas, and we've got some areas where we're approaching sellout status as well.  If you want to attend, and you'd like to take advantage of this special offer, register today at 1-800-FLTODAY and as you fill out your registration form online, just identify yourself as a radio listener by typing "Bob" in the keycode box, and they'll know you're one of my friends, and you get the special rate.

Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, register over the phone, and just mention that you heard about the special offer on FamilyLife Today and when you buy one registration at the regular price, we'll give you a second registration for free.  The number again – 1-800-FLTODAY or register online at FamilyLifeToday.com.

Well, tomorrow we'll call time in and start the final quarter of the game and hear about how God has been at work in Pat Summerall's life, and I hope you can be back with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow. 

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