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Sportscaster Announces Divine Intervention
For 40 years of sports broadcasting Pat Summerall commanded the airwaves, and at the same time, lost control of his life. In his book he reflects on life and its ultimate meaning.

Millions know his voice—and when he speaks, people listen.

Pat Summerall

Pat Summerall broadcasted 16 Super Bowls and teamed with John Madden as the NFL's No. 1 on-air team for 21 seasons. Now retired from the booth, the veteran sportscaster has given voice to his own story.

The former NFL kicker and announcer has chronicled his colourful but troubled life in his book, Summerall—On and Off the Air (Nelson Books).

"I'd been approached for a long time to write a book because I had so many memories and stories," he tells Living Light News. "But I really didn't want to write it. I wanted to wait until I had something to say that might help somebody about the trials I went through."

Raised by his paternal grandmother, Summerall excelled in sports at Lake City, Florida. Offered a football scholarship, he enrolled at the University of Arkansas in 1948. After four years as a Razorback, the Detroit Lions drafted the end/kicker in the fourth round of the NFL draft.

Swapped by the Lions to the Chicago Cardinals following his rookie year; the Florida native languished with one of the league's worst teams for five seasons. But the tables turned when the Cardinals traded Summerall to the New York Giants in 1958.

The ex-Lion and Cardinal arrived in the perfect place at the perfect time. Professional football had replaced baseball as television's most popular sport, and playing in New York guaranteed Summerall maximum exposure.

When he retired from the Giants in 1962, CBS hired the former kicker as an analyst. A year later, his duties expanded to a Monday through Friday morning sports reporter for WCBS in New York. From those small beginnings, Summerall's broadcasting career soared to unparalleled heights over the next 40 years as he covered multiple Super Bowls, Masters golf tournaments, and United States Open tennis championships.

Summerall's meteoric rise was accompanied by a quiet shadow: the bottle. At first, it posed no threat.

"Recreational drinking was after all a big part of the sports-broadcasting scene," he explains in Summerall—Onand Off the Air.

But slowly the habit got out of control. "The drinking and the partying got to be a habitual thing" he describes." " … the truth was that I couldn't stop drinking."

The hard drinking eventually affected his work at CBS.

"I was living drink to drink and my body was breaking down. The constant boys' night out lifestyle had caught up to me, just as I'd been warned it would," says Summerall.

A severe ulcer in 1992 caused him to miss several game broadcasts. "It should have been a wake-up call for me," he says.

"It was taking less and less for me to get drunk, another bad sign. After that, I drank very little in public. I simply hid my drinking, pouring myself drinks in the privacy of my hotel room or wherever I was staying."

Shortly after, a group of family and friends including his former broadcast partner Tom Brookshier intervened on his behalf to enrol him at the Betty Ford Clinic for alcoholism treatment.

While undergoing therapy, Summerall began to read the Bible and found many answers to life's purpose. "I kept coming back to the Bible. To my surprise I found it engrossing," he describes.

"My stay at Betty Ford was a life-altering experience. After my first stint there, I lost all desire for alcohol. My thirst for alcohol was being replaced by a thirst for knowledge about faith and God.

"Before I got out, I discovered that's how I wanted to live, but I didn't know exactly how."

Dr. Claude Thomas, former pastor of the First Baptist Church of Euless (Texas), provided Summerall the answers he sought.

Summerall discovered that Jesus Christ " … had been the missing ingredient in my world all those years, a void I had often filled with alcohol and fast living. Now I revel in the redeeming grace that God has bestowed upon me.

"In all of those years as a football player and broadcaster, I had vainly thought I was in control of everything in my life, but I wasn't. God was—and is. All I had to do to build a relationship with Him was to invite Him in," recounts Summerall.

The announcer accepted Christ and in 1996 was baptized. "I felt ecstatic, invigorated, happier and freer," describes Summerall. "I never had such a feeling."

With his newfound faith, Summerall began sharing the joy of his personal relationship with Jesus Christ across North America. Because of his renown and charisma, he found receptive audiences everywhere.

But in 2003, his faith faced a grave challenge. The broadcaster discovered his immune system had weakened and prospects for recovery appeared bleak. Doctors recommended a liver transplant, but Summerall's age and the adverse publicity generated by baseball legend Mickey Mantle's death, shortly after his 1995 transplant, made the odds of Summerall finding a donor almost impossible.

Fortunately, the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, secured a donor, a 13-year-old boy named Adron Shelby from Pine Bluff, Arkansas who died of a brain aneurysm. Seventeen months after the operation, Summerall met with Shelby's family to thank them personally for making it possible for Adron's death to give him life.

Following the surgery, the broadcaster questioned why someone so young had saved him from death's door. The answer became clear when he realized Jesus Christ had made the same sacrifice for everyone, and he encourages everyone to seize the opportunity to accept Him as their personal Saviour.

"If you get a second chance in life, take advantage of it," the 76-your-old says. "It can turn your life around. It's never too late to make a change in your life."

John Hillman is a writer from Waco, Texas, who covers sports part-time for several publications including the Waco Tribune-Herald. He and his wife, Kathy, have authored three sports devotional books, Devotions from the World of Sports, Devotions from the World of Women's Sports, and Devos 4 Sports Fans. They are members of Columbus Avenue Baptist Church.

Originally published in Living Light News, January/February 2007.

 

 
 
 
 

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