John Madden is prime time now--Monday nights, magazine covers,
video game boxes and, who knows what's next, the $5 bill?
But what about the guy who helped nail up his star? The guy who
put his own light in a shoebox for 21 years so Madden's could
You know where 72-year-old Pat Summerall is? He's out there
somewhere with the world-famous analyst Brian Baldinger,
broadcasting Fox's fourth or fifth best game to 4% of the
It's not right, is all.
Would Madden be the No. 1 broadcaster in sports without
Summerall? "He saved my bacon all the time," Madden says. "He had
this way of taking all my babbling and making sense out of it."
Summerall knew where Madden was going even when Madden didn't,
helped him get there and brought him back. Madden was the box of
64 Crayolas and Summerall the lines in the coloring book.
Together they drew America's favorite NFL picture.
Yet Fox figured their success was all due to Madden. The network
kicked Summerall to the curb, left him for dead and/or Brian
Baldinger. And Fox had help from writers like USA Today's
unaccountably powerful Rudy Martzke, who made a point of
enumerating Summerall's mistakes in print.
Summerall believes it was ageism. "If I weren't 72 years old, I
don't think they'd be counting mistakes," he says. "If I weren't
72, they wouldn't have broken up John and me. We'd have stayed
another three or four years." Madden, 66, looked around, saw Al
Michaels sitting in the train wreck of the Monday Night Football
booth and signed a $20 million, confetti-strewn deal.
Next on Fox: World's Stupidest Ideas!
Summerall had to make a choice: a) quit, or b) start covering
games in Palookaville. Summerall chose Palookaville. "I knew he
wouldn't quit," says Madden. "Pat can't even say the word retire.
The only place he's going to retire is to bed. He's a football
guy. He's had a football game every week for 60 years. I don't
think he can live without it."
There were times when you were sure he couldn't live with it. A
bleeding ulcer in 1990. A hitch at the Betty Ford Center for
alcohol rehab in '92. A bum knee that became excruciating in
1998. A staph infection around his artificial knee in late 2001
that forced him to charter flights because he couldn't walk
through airports. And a bleeding vein near his stomach wall in
August--"probably from my battles with alcohol," he says--that kept
him in the hospital for a week.
My Lord, how could he not quit?
"I guess I've seen too many friends in football who hung it up
and then got tired of playing golf, got tired of being around the
house, had wives who got tired of them being around the house,"
Summerall says. "They ended up with an existence, not a life."
So, in his 50th NFL year he's limping to fourth-class
games--Sinatra plays Branson, Mo.--because, "I still have a passion
for the game. There's still magic in it for me." And he is still
great. He still gives you more goose bumps per syllable than any
other play-by-play man alive. Perhaps because he's the only one
who doesn't think he's getting paid by the word. Remember?
"Montana ... Rice ... touchdown!"
"Don't feel sorry for Pat," says his agent, Sandy Montag. "He's
happy. He's still got his games." No, feel sad for us. We don't
get to hear him anymore. Instead, we flip on the TV to see Madden
working with Al Michaels, and it's like watching Bewitched with
the wrong Darrin.
Madden just isn't right at night. He's Sunday afternoon and a
Dagwood sandwich on your lap. It's as if half of him is missing.
"I watch them," Summerall says of the new MNF team. "They just
don't seem comfortable."
It's Ebert without Siskel. Starsky without Hutch. Trinidad and no
Tobago. Worse, for the first time in 21 years, Madden and
Summerall won't be coming over for Thanksgiving.
"I don't know what I'm supposed to do," Madden says of spending
the holiday at home. "I don't know where I sit, and I sure don't
know how to carve the turkey."
For Summerall, it will be worse. "I live 20 minutes from Texas
Stadium," he says. "Maybe I'll wander over there and watch the
game." Pat Summerall sitting in the stands, watching mutely as
the Cowboys play on Thanksgiving Day?
You talk about heartburn.
Now it's like Ebert without Siskel.