Pat Summerall & the voices of yesterday

Posted: April 17, 2013 by shawnfury in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

I actually thought of Pat Summerall during the Masters, during one of the intros he used to do. Just those little spots talking about the Masters on CBS, maybe with the sponsors mentioned. Jim Nantz handles those now, the same way he handles all the big events for CBS. I’m not as anti-Nantz as many people, who are either tired of his omnipresence or the little Nantzian puns that end the Final Four and the Masters. Nantz is no Summerall, but that’s hardly his fault. No one else was either, and no one can compete against the voice of the man who narrated our youth.

Summerall died Wednesday at the age of 82 and the moment millions of people heard they news they surely thought back to Summerall broadcasting a Cowboys game from the ’80s or a Montana touchdown or a Nicklaus birdie or a McEnroe ace against Connors.

As Chuck Klosterman wrote on Grantland, one of the things listeners admired about Summerall was there wasn’t a narrative, just the play-by-play. This sounds simple, but listen to any game in any sport and hear how rare that is today. Mike Breen can’t get through any NBA game without spending an hour talking about various storylines, some of which involve the teams on the court, others about the NBA as a whole.

Summerall never screamed but his inflection told you if a big moment was about to take place. He worked perfectly with his partners, whether it was his most famous pairing with John Madden or Tony Trabert on the U.S. Open on CBS.

Every generation has their announcers they grew up listening to who then took them into adulthood before fading away or leaving the booth. In 40 years a kid who’s 12 today will probably remember Nantz as fondly as so many are remembering Summerall, though if I’m still around I’ll have to tell them why they weren’t the same. But surely nostalgia does play some role in all of this, in the emotions that many sports fans feel when they hear about Summerall’s death.

As a child of the ’80s, here are the other voices that still play in my head, three decades after the games they broadcast.

Hardly the greatest announcer in the world, today Stockton is especially shaky, struggling with names. He wasn’t an all-time great in the 1980s but he was the voice for an all-time great era, responsible for calling so many of the classic moments from the NBA during that transformative decade. Even during his younger days he could struggle with the odd phrase — I remember him saying once during an impressive run how aroused the Lakers had become, an especially disturbing image. Still, he was there for those Sunday afternoon games during the regular season and then the playoffs. He also narrated the Greatest Sports Docuementary Ever Made — 1985’s Return to Glory.

It’s not his fault he had Tommy Heinsohn next to him. I’ve gotten to know many Lakers fans who grew up in LA in the 1980s and they grew up listening to Chick Hearn, the best basketball play-by-play man ever. I remain jealous, although I have acquired a few DVDs that have Chick’s original calls.

Stockton’s a decent consolation prize.

Not even saying “This one’s for all the Tostitos” could erase the goodwill Brent built up with four words he said countless Sunday mornings: “You are looking live.”

NFL studio shows are basically a joke these days, primarily because there are too many of them that are on for too long and include too many, well, jokes. There are too many people on-camera and not even solid hosts like James Brown can control the chaos. But The NFL Today was a half-hour and had four people: Brent, Jimmy the Greek, Irv Cross and Phyllis George. I can remember the Greek’s picks and some of the features from Cross but really all that mattered was the opening. (and this was not the great opening music the show used in the early ’80s).

Brent also handled play-by-play on many of the classic NCAA title games in the ’80s, including Villanova’s upset over Georgetown, before he was fired and replaced by…Jim Nantz.

Pat Summerall and John Madden handled CBS, Enberg and Merlin took care of the big games on NBC. Of course Olsen was a daily presence on my TV, as I’d often watch reruns of Little House on the Prairie after school.

Enberg was everywhere, including handling tennis with Bud Collins — Breakfast at Wimbledon — and I loved watching him when NBC had college basketball, when he was teamed with the legendary Al McGuire. Even then NBC seemed to have a lot of Notre Dame games on — I saw way too many David Rivers games with the Irish, and then one too many games of him on the Lakers — but I think they were the best college hoops duo.

I know nothing about figure skating. I watch it one night every four years. So why is Dick Button’s voice stuck in my head, excitedly talking about triple-toes and salchows?

LA fans had it pretty good in the ’80s. Chick Hearn on Lakers games, Vin Scully on the Dodgers. Fortunately, national audiences at least got to enjoy Scully, whose most memorable call to me is Kirk Gibson’s homer in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Scully still works games today and anytime he pops up on MLB Network I make sure to take in a few innings. He’s not at the top of his game or the broadcasting game anymore but there’s still no one like him.

Baseball in the ’80s meant the NBC Game of the Week, so I also grew up listening to Joe Garagiola, Bob Costas and Tony Kubek, who was probably the best analyst of them all. ABC also had baseball and a good crew, with Al Michaels, Tim McCarver (before he became, “Oh god, it’s McCarver”) and Jim Palmer.

Summerall’s gone now. Merlin’s gone. Imagine when we lose Vin. Actually, don’t. Pretend he’ll be around forever, just like the memories he narrated.

  1. Kolbe says:

    Vin Scully’s call of Gibson’s game 1 walkoff in ’88 is obviously a classic, but in my opinion, his call of the Mets’ unbelievable 10th inning comeback against the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series (the Buckner game) is supremely underrated… plus it’s an integral part of one of the original youtube hall of famers: Game 6, NES RBI Baseball Style… Speaking of video games, who could forget Summerall’s iconic ‘There’s a man down!’ call from all those great Madden games… God, now I’m longing for the days of Troy Aikman, James Lofton, and Thurman Thomas… WHY DO WE ALL HAVE TO GROW OLD!?!?!

  2. Jerry says:

    I think the beauty of the Vin Scully call is that he said nothing for over a minute. I just cannot imagine Breen or Nantz having the awareness of the moment or the self control to be quiet for that long. Vin understood it was a big moment and that he was on TV and that the picture was telling the story and that he didn’t need to add anything to the moment. It would be interesting to see how long he was silent after the ball went through Buckner and Knight scored.

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