Pat Summerall: New York Giants Kicker's Greatest Performances with Big Blue
Earlier this week, Pat Summerall, a legendary broadcaster who formed an infamous game-day duo with former NFL head coach John Madden, passed away at the age of 82. While Summerall is most famous for his work in the booth, he was also a professional placekicker in the 1950s.
The Detroit Lions selected Summerall in the fourth round of the 1952 NFL Draft, but he never attempted a kick during his stay in Michigan. The former Arkansas Razorback then landed a job with the Chicago Cardinals from 1953-57. Finally, Summerall settled in New York for the final four seasons of his career.
During his four-year stint with the New York Giants, Summerall made several clutch kicks. No. 88 converted 52.7 percent of his kicks with Big Blue, including 69 percent in 1959, a career-best for accuracy and relatively high mark for pre-soccer style kickers.
While Summerall, who was 6'4" and 228 pounds in his playing days, primarily handled kicking duties, he also lined up at both the offensive and defensive end during his career. He was coached by both Vince Lombardi (offensive coordinator 1954-58) and Tom Landry (defensive coordinator 1954-59) during his first season in New York, which prompted him to write Giants: What I Learned About Life From Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry in 2010.
This slideshow will highlight the late kicker’s most memorable performances with the Giants.
November 9, 1958: Baltimore Colts at New York Giants
The first six weeks of Summerall’s inaugural season with the Giants were a bit tumultuous. New York throttled the Chicago Cardinals, Summerall’s former team, 37-7, in the season opener only to fall by a field goal a week later to the Philadelphia Eagles, an Eastern Division rival who only mustered two wins the entire 1958 season. After bouncing back against the Washington Redskins in Week 3, the Giants plummeted again, losing handily in the fourth game of the season to the same Cardinals team they slaughtered in Week 1.
The Giants finally strung a pair of wins together in Weeks 5 and 6, defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns. Clinging to a 4-2 record, the Giants would host the Baltimore Colts minus Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas at Yankee Stadium in Week 7. Even with Unitas sidelined by an injury, New York was still faced with the challenge of containing backup quarterback George Shaw, the first overall pick out of Oregon in 1955.
Shaw filled in for Unitas seamlessly, tossing two touchdown passes in the first half. The Colts took a 14-7 lead into the break, but the Giants battled back in the third quarter, scoring on a touchdown catch by left-end Kyle Rote and a touchdown run from All-Pro halfback Frank Gifford. The Giants led 21-14 momentarily.
Shaw answered New York’s rally by tossing a four-yard touchdown pass to halfback Lenny Moore. With the game knotted at 21 late in the game, New York trudged into scoring position one final time, allowing Summerall a shot at a game-winning field goal from 28 yards out.
Summerall’s kick was good, and the Giants won narrowly 24-21. New York celebrated its three-game winning streak as it improved to 5-2 on the season. The Colts, who were previously undefeated, would not forget this game. This Week 7 battle ultimately became a prequel for "The Greatest Game Ever Played".
December 14, 1958: Cleveland Browns at New York Giants
After a bumpy start to the 1958 season, in which New York dropped two of its first four games, the Giants started to hit their stride. Heading into the final game of the season and boasting one of the league’s most dominant defensive units, the Giants had only suffered one loss—a Week 8 match-up with the Pittsburgh Steelers—since their early season-struggles.
The 8-3 Giants, however, were facing a 9-2 Cleveland Browns squad. A Browns win would secure the Eastern Division title and NFL Championship appearance for the Ohioan favorites; a Giants win would force a one-game playoff a week later. The Giants had topped the Browns, 21-17, earlier in the season, but this game would be different. New York was up against Hall of Famers in head coach Paul Brown and fullback Jim Brown. At the time, both men were easily considered the greatest of all time at their respective duties.
Right away, Jim Brown showcased his dominance, tearing through the stingy Giants defense for a 65-yard touchdown in the game’s opening quarter. Things settled down in the second frame, as Summerall and Cleveland’s Lou “The Toe” Groza exchanged field goals. The Browns led at the half, 10-3.
Both teams buckled down in the second half, providing the 63,000 in attendance at Yankee Stadium with a scoreless third quarter. In the final period of play, New York was finally able to exploit a weakness in the Browns’ formidable defense, as Frank Gifford found Pro Bowl end Bob Schnelker in the end zone on a halfback option pass.
With the score tied at 10 points apiece, New York had one last shot to ensure a playoff. Summerall took the field in a driving snowstorm and lined up a kick from 49 yards out. It was a kick he had to make—a tie game would clinch Cleveland’s trip to the NFL Championship game.
Summerall got a firm foot on the ball, forcing it through the freezing precipitation and the far-off field goal uprights. The Giants won 13-10 and shutout the Browns in their ensuing playoff game. From there, they hosted a rematch against the Baltimore Colts, which was later deemed "The Greatest Game Ever Played".
September 26, 1959: New York Giants at Los Angeles Rams
In the fall of 1959, Summerall and the Giants were ready for a comeback. The previous winter, New York had been losers in the first NFL Championship game to be decided by an overtime period. The game had garnered a ton of spectator attention, placing the quasi-archaic league in the national spotlight. When games finally resumed the following September, Summerall took center stage.
The Giants opened up their season across the country, taking on the Los Angeles Rams at the Memorial Coliseum. Summerall was the first Giant to etch his name onto the scoreboard that 1959 season, knocking one through the uprights in the first quarter and giving the Giants a 3-0 lead.
New York continued to roll through the majority of the first half, building a 17-0 lead on Bob Schnelker and Frank Gifford scores. The Rams narrowed the deficit to only 10 points with a touchdown run by Hall of Fame running back/flanker Ollie Matson.
Matson’s score must have provided some momentum for the Rams, as Los Angeles quarterback Billy Wade found fullback Joe Marconi and All-Pro end Del Shofner for two separate touchdown strikes. In two years time, Shofner would be traded to the Giants, where he would team up with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Y.A. Tittle en route to three consecutive NFL Championship appearances. But on this day, Schofner scalded the New York secondary for 130 yards and a touchdown on 5 catches.
Leading the Giants’ 21-17, the Rams were in the driver's seat. The fourth quarter, however, would belong to Summerall. His first score of the final frame was a 14-yard field goal, which cut the Rams’ lead to only one point. Before the final whistle blew, Summerall booted an 18-yarder for a 23-21 win and a 1-0 start to the season.
The win set the tone for the Giants’ 1959 season, one of New York’s most dominant in franchise history. The Rams, on the other hand, never recovered from the early season loss, recording just two wins in only the franchise’s second losing season since moving to Los Angeles.
November 8, 1959: Chicago Cardinals at New York Giants
Excluding the Philadelphia Eagles, who put up 49 points in a Week 2 shellacking, the Giants were proving themselves to be the one of the toughest teams to beat in 1959. The wins weren’t always pretty in Weeks 3-6, but for those four games the Giants’ defense only allowed an average of 8 points per game. A lot of the team’s success rode on its defense and special teams; New York’s Week 7 win over the Chicago Cardinals was no exception.
The Giants came into the contest boasting a 5-1 record and riding a four-game winning streak. Summerall, who converted on a career-best 69 percent of his field goal attempts in 1959, was having one of his finest seasons. Since joining the Giants, the 29-year-old kicker was 1-1 against his former squad. He had played a minimal role in both games, kicking only one field goal in the two games combined.
November 8th would be different. Summerall put the Giants on top, 3-0, in the first quarter on a 37-yard field goal. His replacement in Chicago, Bobby Joe Conrad, who later became an All-Pro flanker with the St. Louis Cardinals, delivered a kick of his own, knotting the game up at 3-3 before the half.
The Cardinals squandered the few scoring chances the Giants’ defense may have offered them by turning the ball over five times. New York’s offense was almost as sloppy, committing three turnovers, which forced the Giants to rely upon Summerall’s leg for points. He connected on a 49-yarder in the third quarter, allowing New York to seize a 6-3 lead.
Summerall added a 20-yard insurance field goal in the fourth quarter, giving the Giants a six-point lead that would hold until the final whistle. The Giants had found a way to win and it was their kicker who repeatedly bailed the team out with three-pointers. They found a way to win four more times in 1959, finishing the season with a league-best record of 10-2.
Summerall hit 20 field goals, a career-high, during the 1959 season, which ended for New York in Baltimore against the Colts in a rematch of the previous season’s championship game. This time around the outcome was a little less memorable, as the Giants surrendered 24 points in the fourth quarter and lost 31-16.
November 13, 1960: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants
The Giants played in three of the four NFL Championship games that took place between 1956-1959, defeating the Chicago Bears in ’56 and falling to the Baltimore Colts in ’58 and ’59. They would go on to compete in three straight NFL Championships from 1961-1963. During this stint, in which they dominated the NFL Eastern Division, the 1960 season was the only time that the Giants finished worse than second place.
The team’s hopes were still high in mid-November though, when the Giants were hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers at Yankee Stadium in Week 7. A hot start propelled the Steelers to a 24-7 lead in the second quarter. With one loss, one tie and five wins, New York was quickly losing grasp on its mid-season grapple with the Steel City.
Before the half, Frank Gifford was able to swing the momentum in New York’s favor, converting a 57-yard pass from quarterback Charlie Conerly into six points. Summerall’s extra point made the halftime score 24-14. Summerall would own all the points in the third quarter, as the Steelers’ lead shrunk to a one possession margin.
In the last quarter of the game, Conerly tied the game at 24-24 with another touchdown pass to Gifford, who finished the game with over 100 yards from scrimmage and three scores. The Southern California running back may have been the player of the game, but the kicker from Lake City, Florida would be remembered as the hero. Before time expired, Summerall put the Giants ahead, 27-24, for the first time in the contest, proving his clutch foot yet again.
After Summerall’s game-winning kick over the Steelers, the 1960 Giants mustered only one more win, finishing the season far short of the championship expectations they had grown accustomed to. Summerall came back for one more go-around in 1961 at 31 years old, but it turned out to be one of his least accurate seasons. He did not play following the Giants’ 37-0 season-ending loss to the Green Bay Packers in the 1961 NFL Championship Game.