The first football game I can recall watching--and really, the one that launched my long love-affair with the Pittsburgh Steelers--was Super Bowl XIV on January 20th, 1980. Pittsburgh defeated the Rams that day to capture the franchise's fourth Lombardi trophy in a six year period.
It was an epic moment, a moment where few words were really necessary. And I find it fitting that CBS' lead NFL play-by-play man at the time, Pat Summerall, was the man who quietly filled in the blanks for a national television audience.
Summerall, who had a very polished if understated way of calling the action, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 82.
Because Super Bowl XIV has always meant so much to me, I often find myself re-watching it over and over again. As a seven year old viewing the game live, I obviously didn't even begin to appreciate the work Summerall did during the telecast. But as a grown man, many years later, I can't help but marvel at how Summerall let the action do the talking.
Here's a clip from the game-winning 73-yard touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw to John Stallworth early in the fourth quarter.
In-case you didn't click on the Youtube link, here's how Summerall described the play:
"Deep for Stallworth. Touchdown for the Steelers."
I'd put an exclamation point at the end of that call, but that wasn't Summerall's style.
There were other instances in that game where Summerall's understated approach really stood out--some bad interceptions by Bradshaw, a critical late INT by Jack Lambert, and a second, even more difficult over-the-shoulder catch by Stallworth that sealed the deal for a Pittsburgh victory--and all were called in a similar fashion by Summerall.
According to Summerall's wikipedia page, he played in the NFL for a decade as mainly a place-kicker before moving into the broadcast booth in the early 60s, where he covered NFL games for both CBS and Fox until retiring from full-time broadcasting following the 2002 season.
In addition to his NFL duties, Summerall also provided play-by-play for the Masters, the U.S. Open tennis tournament, the NBA and college football during his remarkable broadcasting career.
I was mostly unaware of his other broadcasting duties, but that's what made Summerall so great. He quietly remained in the background, gently nudging the story along and not making himself part of it.
Much like Steve Sabol and John Facenda, Summerall was one of the story-tellers who helped shape the NFL of today that I love so much.
I suppose I could end this article by using one of Summerall's catch-phrases as a tribute, but to my knowledge, he didn't have any.
That was Pat Summerall.