"Feels like we lost football's grandpa."
That line came from the Twitter feed of Sarah Sprague, football foodie and diehard NFL fan. There's really no better way to explain the feeling of millions of football fans after hearing of the passing of Pat Summerall.
My generation never knew Summerall as a player. As a kid, I didn't even know Summerall was an NFL player until one Thanksgiving when his booth partner, John Madden, made a quip about Summerall being able to hit a big kick one of the teams was about to attempt.
Funny joke, I thought. Madden was always the guy to crack wise in the booth and Summerall was the perfect foil—serious and stern from whistle to whistle.
Of course, I soon found out that Summerall actually could have hit the kick, an adept placekicker in his day who not only made the transition to the television booth, but became the signature play-by-play man of his time.
When you think about it in historical context, Summerall's career in the NFL is something of legend, really.
Former players or coaches are in every NFL booth, but almost always serve as the color analyst—rarely, if ever, as the play-by-play man. Not only did Summerall make that transition, he became the best in the business.
Over the years, football fans have grown to appreciate the legacy of John Madden for what he's meant to the game of professional football—from his time as a coach, analyst and video game magnate. Would John Madden be John Madden if it wasn't for Pat Summerall?
Did football's wacky uncle need that grandpa presence next to him to make the character work?
Regardless of whether the two needed each other, viewers benefited from them being together. They were a perfect match.
Madden's statement on Summerall's passing reflected their relationship (via John Ourand and Sports Business Journal):
Pat was my broadcasting partner for a long time, but more than that he was my friend for all of these years. We never had one argument, and that was because of Pat. He was a great broadcaster and a great man. He always had a joke. Pat never complained and we never had an unhappy moment. He was something very special. Pat Summerall is the voice of football and always will be.
Summerall's economy of words allowed viewers to experience the sights and sounds of the game and gave Madden the latitude to be himself without tripping over each other's words.
There was just something about Summerall's cadence that oozed coolness and control. As a football audience, we've grown to expect the overexcited calls, lamenting the announcers who don't call the game with the same level of excitement as a fan in the stands.
That wasn't Summerall, and it didn't have to be. He had Madden for that.
Summerall had the uncanny ability to call any play and all its necessary elements—from a one-yard run to a 50-yard touchdown—with a handful of words. Then, he let the stadium's energy tell the rest of the story.
The football world lost a great announcer when Pat Summerall retired from the booth in 2002; he came back for a smattering of games from 2006 to 2011, but it wasn't the same.
We lost a wonderful man, and a member of our football family, with his passing.