DALLAS – Pat Summerall stood in the front row at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, on Easter Sunday, next to his wife Cheri, as the congregation sang “The Old Rugged Cross.”
“I looked over there at Pat, and big tears were streaming down his face,” Prestonwood Pastor Jack Graham said. “Of all the times I’ve watched him on television, of all the times I’ve heard his voice, my greatest memory is going to be remembering Pat with his eyes lifted up to heaven, tears soaking his face, singing ‘The Old Rugged Cross.’“
Summerall, the famed NFL broadcaster, died April 16 in Dallas of cardiac arrest at age 82. He had been in Zale Lipshy Hospital after surgery for a broken hip.
Graham said with all the accolades and applause that Summerall received for his sports broadcasting work, his walk with Christ is what mattered the most to him.
BP file photo by Joni B. Hannigan/Florida Baptist Witness
Legendary sportcaster Pat Summerall, left, a member of First Baptist Church, Euless, Texas, shares a minute with Joe Ford, vice chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, at a Feb. 4, 2005, luncheon honoring Summerall in Jacksonville, Fla. Summerall died April 16.
“He finished well,” Graham said. “His faith was strong in Christ and he was prepared for eternity. His commitment was stronger than ever. Even though he was battling illness and the personal challenges of aging, he was joyful and constantly engaging people with his life and his testimony. He was always willing to share what Christ had done in his life and the transforming power of Jesus in his life.”
After 10 years in the NFL as a kicker, Summerall spent more than 40 years calling NFL games for CBS and FOX, most notably with analyst John Madden. Prior to Madden, Summerall teamed with analyst Tom Brookshier.
“We lost one of the all-time greats yesterday in Pat Summerall,” said Mike Greenburg, host of ESPN’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning,” on his April 17 show. “He was one of the great football voices – maybe the greatest football play-by-play man there ever was.”
Summerall accepted Christ later in life.
His partnership with Brookshier extended beyond the broadcast booth, as the two became close friends and drinking buddies. Much of Summerall’s life was characterized by alcoholism and abandonment of his family.
In 1992, Summerall’s friends and family staged an intervention on his behalf, encouraging him to get professional help for his alcohol problems. He chafed at the idea and burned with anger throughout the intervention as his friends took turns speaking.
Finally, Brookshier read a letter from Summerall’s daughter Susan.
“I hadn’t been there much for my kids, but Susan’s letter made it clear that I’d hurt them even in my absence,” Summerall wrote in his autobiography, Summerall: On and Off the Air. “She recounted one incident after another. I was numb to most of it, sad to say. Yet, her final words made my knees buckle: ‘Dad, the few times we’ve been out in public together recently, I’ve been ashamed we shared the same last name….’”
Summerall began weeping tears of regret and reluctantly agreed to enter rehab at the Betty Ford Clinic. It was a decision that changed his life. At the clinic, Summerall not only found freedom from alcohol. He also encountered the grace of God.
“My thirst for alcohol was being replaced by a thirst for knowledge about faith and God,” Summerall wrote. “I began reading the Bible regularly at the treatment center, and it became a part of my daily routine. The more I read, the more I felt a void in my life that needed to be filled.”
He was later baptized at First Baptist Church in Euless, Texas. Summerall described emerging from the water and said he had surfaced to a new world.
“[F]or the first time in my life, I knew what people meant about being ‘born again,’” Summerall wrote. “I had already accepted that Jesus Christ was the Son of God who died for our sins. Now, I felt I was truly part of his family. I felt ecstatic, invigorated, happier, and freer. It felt as though my soul had been washed clean.”
Graham will preach Summerall’s funeral, which will be held at Prestonwood at 11 a.m. Central time on April 20. The service will be broadcast live at www.prestonwood.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Ellsworth is editor of BP Sports and director of news and media relations for Union University in Jackson, Tenn.)