Pat Summerall always maintained that his passion for sports wasn’t just a side effect of being a man with good genes. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Summerall had never been ridiculed for his boyish looks. And when he saw his son, James, ascend to the pinnacle of his chosen career in studio hosting and football analysis, he could not help but be proud of the skills he passed down to his son. And not so surprisingly, it was a tearful Summerall who expressed the most gratitude during his return to sports broadcasting on Thursday, where he marked the 50th anniversary of the broadcast that changed the way sports fans watched games and Summerall’s image was forever altered.
Summerall, 74, had retired from football play-by-play duties only two months before he was diagnosed with leukemia and given a bleak prognosis. A shock replacement for ailing broadcasters on the broadcast of the Dallas Cowboys-Philadelphia Eagles Monday Night Football game in September convinced the network that he could still be a part of the team. As some NFL fans commented on social media, with tears in their eyes, Summerall exuded an authentic dignity and grace that helped make Monday Night Football and the broadcasts of such classics as Super Bowl XXVII feel effortless. And when his voice finally returned, there was no mistaking that Summerall still had a powerful presence that the television audience had missed all too often.
Of course, Summerall will now find himself learning from some new critics. He has been critical of NFL player protests and critical of Texas Rangers pitcher Sam Dyson, who sports a unique Mohawk haircut. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, called the coming out, for an 88-year-old he described as a “great broadcaster, a great friend, and a good man,” “a huge loss for so many people around the league,” “a sports icon” and “an unbelievable pro.” While Summerall is receiving rave reviews for his return to his chosen sport, you will be hard-pressed to find a critic of his outspoken nature or his criticism of players on the ground of his offensive. And during Thursday’s broadcast, he paid tribute to ex-NFL players who have chosen not to participate in the national anthem demonstrations and lauded Dyson for remaining in the game that night. But while he won’t be silenced by divisive concerns, Summerall’s spirit remains steadfastly loveable in the face of bigotry.
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