FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Heading Toward Victory

with Pat Summerall | April 17, 2009
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Fame doesn’t always bring the joy that it promises. Pat Summerall, a former mainstay of the CBS Sports broadcasting team and author of the book Summerall: On and Off the Air, talks with Dennis Rainey about his long-time alcohol abuse and the intervention several years ago that saved his life.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Fame doesn’t always bring the joy that it promises. Pat Summerall, a former mainstay of the CBS Sports broadcasting team and author of the book Summerall: On and Off the Air, talks with Dennis Rainey about his long-time alcohol abuse and the intervention several years ago that saved his life.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Fame doesn’t always bring the joy that it promises.

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Heading Toward Victory

With Pat Summerall
April 17, 2009
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Bob: It was just a few years ago that CBS sports announcer, Pat Summerall, checked in for 33 days to the Betty Ford Clinic to get sober.  While he was there, he also read his Bible.

Pat: As I read it, I started to realize that there was a higher power, there was somebody who was talking to my conscience and telling me the difference between right and wrong and there had been for a long time.  And you have to realize that you need help from an outer source.  I realized it was Jesus Christ.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, April 17th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Today Pat Summerall tells us about the journey that brought him to sobriety and to faith in Christ.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Friday edition.  Before we pick back up in Pat Summerall's story on today's program, I want to give a heads-up to our regular listeners.  We've been encouraging our listeners all this spring to attend one of our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.  And, as you've said many times, Dennis, there are a lot of listeners who have told us that they've thought about going to one of these conferences, they've just never done it.  So we've decided to pull out all the stops and encourage our listeners to go to one of the two or three dozen conferences that we are still hosting this spring in cities all across the country, and here is what we're doing.  If you will register today to attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference, and you buy a registration at the regular price, we will give you a second registration free.  That means your spouse is attending at no cost.

All you have to do to take advantage of this special opportunity is register with us today and identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener.  Either online at and as you register online and you want to take advantage of this special offer, just type the word "Bob" in the keycode box, and that will identify you as a FamilyLife Today listener, and you'll be able to take advantage of this special opportunity. 

Or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  Someone on our team can answer any questions you have about when the conference is coming to a city near where you live, how you can get registered, they can take care of it all over the phone.  You just tell them you listen to FamilyLife Today, and you want to take advantage of the special offer, and when you purchase a regular registration at the regular price, we'll give you a second registration free.

Again, if you have any questions, call us  – 1-800-FLTODAY or go online at, register for an upcoming conference, and take advantage of this special offer.  It's only good until the end of the month, so you don't have a whole lot of time to take advantage of this and, in some of the locations where the conference is being held, we're starting to see some of these ballrooms fill up.  So if you want to make sure you get in, we need to hear from you.  1-800-FLTODAY or online at

Now, we've been talking this week about drugs and alcohol and addictions, and Pat Summerall has joined us in the studio, and you've been using a sports metaphor to talk about his life, Dennis  – how it kind of breaks down into quarters like a football game.  And when we last left the game for an official's timeout, the home team was behind and, frankly, things looked pretty bleak for our squad.

Dennis: It certainly did.  Pat, welcome back to the broadcast.

Pat: Thank you, thank you.

Dennis: Pat's written a book called "Pat Summerall, On and Off the Air."  It's really a compelling biography of a very famous man who did live his life, in my opinion, in four quarters, and he is clearly in the fourth quarter of his life, and I think he could be tabbed a comeback kid.  Not that anyone would think that the first three quarters, as they think about them publicly or losers, but there were some things occurring behind the scenes that a lot of people didn't know, Pat, until you wrote this book.

Bob: And I want to ask you about that.  I'm sure when you sat down to think about writing your story, I mean, there's a lot in your story that a lot of people would like to keep in the closet.

Pat: Well, that's one of the reasons I finally decided to write a book.  Many people had often said to me, "Why don't you write a book?  You've got great stories and great memories" and so on and so forth.  I thought I'd read so many tell-all books and do-all books and stuff like that that embarrassed a lot of people, and I didn't want to do that.  I wanted to wait until I felt I had something to say  – really something to say  – of substance. 

And I wait and waited, and I went through 9/11 in New York, I was in New York when that happened, I saw the second plane hit the building, I can't tell you what an experience that was, and I went through the intervention, I went through the time at the Betty Ford Center and a brush with death, and I felt after that was all over that now I've got something to say that won't embarrass me and won't embarrass anybody else, so that's why I want to do it.

Dennis: Well, I want to explain where the fourth quarter begins.

Pat: Mm-hm, sure.

Dennis: We'll start with the first quarter, that was what I called the "family" quarter.  As a young lad you were abandoned by your mom and dad after their divorce.  You were, for all practical purposes, raised by your grandmother, who had a great impact in your life.  Football took over in the second quarter, you became an Arkansas Razorback, which I'm sure is still your greatest claim to fame.

Pat: And yours?

Dennis: And mine, too, thank you, Pat, for recognizing that.  Football vaulted you not only into the NFL but later into sports with CBS and Fox, and you've broadcast the Master's, the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, 28 Super Bowls, 32 years with CBS.  In fact, I got tired thinking about all the travel.  You should have a few frequent flyer miles in here, but …

Pat: I do.

Dennis: I'm sure.  That was the third quarter, which was the quarter of fame and failure.  And in your book, in the third quarter, you described your life.  You said, "I became a seasoned liar, a cover-up man.  I left my wife to raise her kids on her own while I lived a self-indulgent lifestyle of arrogance."  Wow.

Pat: That's true.  The only thing I got better at during that period was lying.  I became one of the best, most accomplished  – if I told you some of the things that I said and told my family about why I was gone, you wouldn't believe what they believed  – only because they wanted to believe, I think.

Dennis: You know, as I listen to you speak so matter-of-factly of this, I don't remember your exact words, but you wrote about it in your book.  But you said alcohol has a way of so distorting the facts to kind of convince us to believe the lie.  Would that be characteristic of your life at that point?

Pat: I think that's characteristic.  I think that's the way I justified, that's the way I believed.  It wasn't until the intervention, when a group of my friends finally got together and some of them said just exactly what you just said  – it makes you think that you're doing the right thing when you know you're not.

Dennis: That really marked the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter, the intervention.

Pat: Right.

Dennis: Take us to the place where the intervention occurred and describe what happened.

Pat: I was in the middle of a very busy period.  I was in Philadelphia where NFL Films were located.  I was supposed to do the Minnesota Viking highlights.  I was on the way to NFL Films, and I got a phone call in an NFL car from my friend, Tom Brookshire, who said that he was doing a job in Philadelphia, and he had a client that wanted to meet me, he was a big fan.  And I said to Tom, "I don't have time.  I can't make it.  I just can't do it."  And he said to me, "Patrick," and I knew when he called me "Patrick" that something serious was afoot, because he didn't call me Patrick on a regular basis  – just when he was very serious about something  – a fight or a drinking bout or something.

But I wasn't alerted by that, and he said, "Patrick, I've never asked you for a favor.  I'm asking you for a favor now.  I think if I can make a sale to this client if you'll meet with him just for five minutes."  So I said, "Okay, I'll take five minutes and do it," and so we went to a particular hotel outside Philadelphia, which I thought was an odd place for me to meet a client, but we went up to the 12th floor, and the double doors opened, and there were 14 of my closest friends.  Not just social friends, these were people that I respected  – the commissioner of the NFL, the commissioner of the Pro Golf Tour …

Dennis: Oh, wow.

Pat: The head of the Mayo Clinic, various people that I knew that I respected and feared, really.  And they were all sitting around in a room in a circle, and they had gotten together and talked about what they had seen me doing to myself, how much they cared for me, how much they loved me, they said.  And they had written, each of them, three or four pages in longhand about what they had seen me do and what they were ashamed of and what they saw me doing to myself, killing myself, literally, and they each read those letters to me in the intervention, and at the end of each letter, they said, "Will you go for help?  We think you need help.  Would you go?"

And as they read  – I was so full of anger, I didn't hear the first two or three letters, but after the repetition and the over and over and the same message from the same people, the anger started to disappear, and I started to listen to what they were saying, and finally Tom Brookshire, who was the last to read, read his letter, and then he read a letter from my daughter, who is my oldest child, and there were many, many things that she said but among the last things in the letter were "the last two or three times we've been out together socially, I've been ashamed that we had the same last name." 

Dennis: Wow.

Pat: And that sort of  – that stunned me.  And I thought, "Well, maybe things are at the point where I need to get some help."

So when Brookshire got through reading that letter and said to me, "Will you go for help?"  I said, "Okay, I'll go."  And I think I stunned all them because nobody thought I was going to go, and they said, "We have a plane for you at the Philadelphia Airport ready to go to the Betty Ford Center."  So I went.  Tom Brookshire went with me, and just to make sure I went and didn't go off into the night somewhere.

Bob: Was your health bad at that point?

Pat: I didn't think so but, yes, it was.  I had already done so much damage to my liver that  – and I didn't realize it at the time, but, yeah.  I was overweight and out of shape and whatever is connected with a decadent lifestyle.

Dennis: Pat, you described the intervention as the most profoundly embarrassing, heartbreaking, wrenching experience of your life.

Pat: It was.

Dennis: But it saved your life.

Pat: That's nothing but true.

Dennis: Eternally.

Pat: Nothing but true.  If I hadn't done that, I'd be dead today.  I wouldn't be talking.

Dennis: You went to the Betty Ford Clinic where they had two books that were available to you.

Pat: Right.

Dennis: And you spent the first five days at the Betty Ford Clinic filled with anger and range.

Pat: Mm-hm.

Dennis: You didn't say in your book what it was you were angry about, but could you put your finger today on what you were most angry about?

Pat: Oh, I think so.  I think  – I went back to the individuals that were at the intervention, the 14 people who were there, and I knew some of them had drinking problems, and some of them had personal problems similar to mine, and there they are lecturing to me?  And I thought, "You son of a gun, who do you think you are talking to me when I know so much about you?" 

And so I resented it, and I was so angry.  In fact, the normal stay at a recovery center like that is 28 days, but they said  – the people at the Betty Ford Center said, "You were so full of anger for the first five days, that we kept you 33 days."  So I stayed five extra days because of the anger.  And I'm glad I did, because the repetition and the lessons sunk in.

Dennis: And the two books that were there for you to read?

Pat: The two books were the Alcoholics' Anonymous bible, "The Blue Book" they call it, which were stories about people who had destroyed their lives similar to what I had done and was doing.  I got bored reading that, and so the other book was the Holy Bible, and I started to read that, and I read it from cover to cover.  And as I read it, I started to question some of the things that I had done, and I started to realize that there was somebody who was talking to my conscience and telling me the difference between right and wrong and there had been for a long time.  I mean, people tell you that you have to realize that you need help from an outer source, from a supreme being, a "higher power," is what they call it.  I realized it was Jesus Christ who had been talking with me and with my conscience.

Dennis: When did you place your faith in Christ, because I know you went ahead and were baptized at your church just west of Dallas?  When did you make that personal commitment to Christ, Pat?

Pat: Well, I think  – I don't want to say that the baptism itself was the key thing, because that makes it sound like that's all I did, was just became Christian because I was baptized, and I'm sure that had a great effect on it, but that's not the reason.  That was the culmination, I think.

Dennis: Right, the public demonstration?

Pat: The public demonstration that I knew what it was to be reborn, to be born again, to be born, really, for the first time. 

Dennis: You received the forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ.

Pat: Right.

Dennis: There was also some forgiveness to be sought from your children …

Pat: A pile of it.

Dennis: And your wife?

Pat: Yes, and I'm …

Dennis: Tell us about that.

Pat: Well, I don't think it happened immediately.  I know it didn't happen immediately.  I had lost real contact with my daughter and my two sons and with my ex-wife, but when I was sick and in the hospital, and they saw how strong my faith was, when they all came to the hospital and  – my ex-wife didn't come  – but the children did, and I had a chance, with a captive audience, the three of them standing at the foot of the bed, I had a chance to tell them of my faith and what had happened to me and how I had become a Christian and how I had been reborn, and I had a chance to really, sincerely share it with them, and I think that really  – whatever resentment, whatever bad feeling that we had, was dissolved at that particular time.

Bob: Pat, there are undoubtedly men or women listening who have compartmentalized their lives the way you had, and they think, "I don't have any problem," and maybe they've been listening, and their conscience has been pricked through this program.

Pat: I hope so.

Bob: What would you say to them?

Pat: I would say to them, I think, it's never too late.  As you compartmentalized things into four quarters, I'm in the fourth quarter, I know that, but it's never too late.  I was baptized into the church when I was 66 years old.  I didn't think I'd live through the liver transplant, I did, and now I've got another chance at life.  So I think when you get to the point where I am now, and the way I'm living now, as healthy as I am now, I think the message I'd really like to impart is it really is never too late.

Bob: This is as good as the Buffalo comeback in the playoff game where …

Pat: Frank Wright  – right, yeah.

Bob: … Frank Wright came in and brought the team back.  I think your fourth quarter is looking a lot like his, don't you?

Pat: Well, I hope it lasts a little longer.


Dennis: Pat, I just want to thank you for having the courage to face your alcoholism.

Pat: I didn't do it without a lot of help.

Dennis: We know that, and I think back to what Tom Landry said about God sent angels to brighten that mirror that day so you could see your life as clearly as possible so you could decide to change.  And, you know, there's a lot of people who look in that mirror, Pat, and they turn away from the mirror.  They never decide to do business with God, and they miss life as a result.

Pat: Yes, and it's never too late.

Dennis: And it's never too late, and I didn't want to trivialize your life by boiling it down into four quarters, but I …

Pat: Why not?

Dennis: Well, really, the fourth quarter idea of where you are right now is such a hope-filled image for people who think they've so messed up, and they've so fouled up their life there is no returning.  But I read your story and you know what?  I don't know of many worse.  I mean, I don't mean to speak disparagingly, but you were at the top of your game professionally, but privately a lot was wrong that needed to be righted, and you had the courage to face it.  I'm thrilled we have the privilege of sharing your story.

Pat: Well, thank you.

Dennis: And I trust that God's going to give you a lot of opportunities as you move forward in the future to tell that story.

Pat: Well, I think  – I'm still reading the Bible, and I can't tell you how many times I've read it from cover to cover, and every time I read it, I discover something else that I didn't know about.

Bob: And your health is good, is that right?  I don't know how many of listeners know that you, not long ago, had a liver transplant surgery.  A 13-year-old boy who died, his liver was transplanted to you, and you actually met the family after the surgery was over, right?

Pat: The meeting with that family was the most emotional thing I've ever done in my life.  African-American family from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, of all places, and a group in Little Rock arranged for us to meet the family, and I've prepared for Super Bowls, I've prepared for the Master's, I've prepared for this conversation, I've prepared, you know, for everything, but I could not prepare for that meeting.  I didn't know what to say.  How many times can you say "thank you."  How many times can you say "God bless you, I feel for your loss."  I just could not prepare.

And when Marva Shelby, the lady who is the mother of the donor, grabbed me and hugged me and said, "I feel like I'm hugging my son."  I can't tell you the emotional period that was.  There were lots of tears, and I didn't know what to say.  All I could say was "God bless you," and that's the most profound thing I could say.

Bob: Well, I'll tell you what, you've said a lot of profound things in your book, which is called "Summerall, On and Off the Air," and I just want to encourage our listeners, Dennis, to get a copy of this book.  I think of this as a great tool you could share with someone who is a sports fan, somebody who doesn't know Christ but who loves sports, they are going to be very interested in stories that Pat tells in the book, and the pictures that are included, his whole life and how it's revolved around sports, but they are also going to hear about something and someone who has become much more important to him than professional sports, and that's Pat's relationship with Jesus Christ.

We've got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and you can request a copy from us online at  Again, it's, information about the book is available there, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329.  Someone on our team can let you know how you can get a copy of Pat's book.

Andd let me quickly remind you about the special offer we are making this month for our listeners.  We've been encouraging you all spring to attend one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences, and many of you have attended, but we keep running into folks who say, "Yeah, I've been thinking about doing that," and we thought, "We want to get folks to quit thinking about it and start attending one of these fun, romantic getaway weekends for couples.

So  – between now and the end of April, if you will register for an upcoming conference, and we still have them going on in two or three dozen cities the rest of this spring  – if you register now and identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener, you can buy a registration at the regular price, and we'll give you a second registration free.  That means that you come at the regular price, and your spouse comes for free.

All you have to do is go online and get the information you need, get registered online and, again, identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener by typing my name in the keycode box on the registration form.  Just type "Bob" in there. 

Or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  We can answer any questions you have about the conference, about when it's coming, dates and location, all of that, and then just identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener and buy one registration at the regular price and your second registration is free.  Again, the toll-free number is 1-800-FLTODAY or you can register online at, and we hope you'll make plans to attend one of these upcoming conferences.

Now, before we wrap things up today, we've got a few minutes left, and, Pat, you were sharing with us earlier.  I wonder if you'd mind telling our listeners about the opportunity that you had to have a conversation with one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived, and to share your faith with him at a particularly important time in his life.

Pat: Mickey Mantle knew he was going to die.  He was very sick.  After he had the liver transplant, he had cancer already when he had the transplant, which is what killed him.  But he was at Baylor Hospital in Dallas, and he  – there were just the two of us in the room, and I was about to leave.  The visiting hours were over, and I was about to leave and go back home, and I was walking out the door, and Mickey said to me, "Patrick, wait a minute," he said, "I want to talk to you."

So I came back to the bedside, and he said, "Have you ever been baptized?"  And I had been shortly before that, and I said, "Yeah, I have."  He said, "What's it like?"  And I told him of what I'd been through and my thoughts and so on and so forth.  He said, "Do you think you can get me baptized?"  This was two days before he died.  And he said, "Do you think you can get me baptized?"  And I said, "I probably can."  Of course, obviously, I didn't know he was going to die, and he didn't, either, at the time, and I said, "I probably can."

"What denomination are you?"  And he said, "What what?"  I said, "Are you a Baptist, Methodist, whatever?"  He said, "I ain't never been to church."  I said, "You don't know what"  – he said, "Well, no, we never went to church."  I said, "Well, being from Oklahoma, you're probably a Southern Baptist."  He said, "Whatever, that's okay with me.  Whatever you say, I'll take it."  So I said, "I'll see if I can arrange it."  He said, "Wait a minute," he said, "There's some water involved, isn't there?"  I said, "Yeah."  And he said, "Well, you know, I can't swim."  I said, "Mickey, I didn't know you couldn't swim, but they're not going to drown you.  They're going to baptize you."  And he said, "Do you think you can arrange it?"

So I said, "Yeah, I probably can."  And he said, "Would you do that?  I'd like to be baptized."  So I called Bobby Richardson, who was the second baseman on the great Yankee team that Mickey was on, and Bobby is an ordained Methodist minister in South Carolina, and I told him the story, and he flew from South Carolina to Dallas, baptized Mickey, the three of us in the hospital room the next day, and the next day he died.

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