A New Voice
Pat Summerall who possesses one of the most familiar voices in pro football is now speaking out about a whole new subject.
by Art Stricklin
Pat Summerall, one of the most well-known voices and faces associated with the National Football League over the last 40 years, has now become a faithful voice for his new faith in Jesus Christ - thanks to a remarkable transformation in his life.
Although Pat Summerall, recently retired from announcing NFL football, he's not done talking. The same encouragement he received from Tom Landry he shared with Mickey Mantle.
The recently retired, Sunday afternoon voice of FOX-TV NFL football has become a regular speaker about his new life and journey from the depths of alcohol-laced despair to a new life in Christ.
"Pat's been truly part of a transformation experience in his own life and the transformation is still occurring," says his Dallas-area pastor Claude Thomas. "It's part of what it says in Romans 8 that God is changing us and Romans 12:1-2 that we all have a transformation experience."
Asked to explain the change in his own life over the last couple of years, Summerall, 70, is for once at a momentary loss for words.
"I don't know what to say. It's just what happened to me, this is my story. I don't really know what to call it, but our home is named 'Amazing Grace,' so I thought about, 'The Hour I First Believed' or 'Grace Shall Lead Me Home.'"
Summerall was baptized at the age of 69 at First Baptist Church in Euless, Texas, outside of Dallas. He is now seeking to live a consistent Christian life, with help from a regular Bible study, church fellowship when he is in town, and regular growth - while balancing a busy schedule in a fast-paced and highly competitive work environment.
From the outside, Summerall's life has always appeared to be an All-American story. A prep football star in Florida, he attended the University of Arkansas and became a star kicker for the Razorbacks. He went on to play in the NFL and started for the New York Giants, playing under assistant coach Tom Landry.
After his football career was over, Summerall went into broadcasting. In addition to his football broadcasting, he also became the signature voice of the Masters golf tournament and the US Open tennis tournament while at CBS. He then moved to FOX to broadcast football. He is entering his 22nd season overall with partner John Madden.
Summerall freely admits he became an alcoholic while broadcasting on TV and was ultimately living from drink to drink as his body broke down.
He had been an only child, and his parents divorced before he was born. He says that left him with a sense of emptiness and aloneness.
He first realized the need for a change during the 1994 Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia, the night after making his annual stop at the liquor store to fill up his house for a week-long party.
"I had been getting sick a lot, throwing up blood - and I got sick again at 4 a.m. I looked in the mirror, and the lights started to glow brighter until I saw what a terrible sight I was. I said to myself, 'This is not the way I want to live.'"
A week later, Summerall was lured into a secret meeting, which included 13 of his closest friends and family members. Also there were some big name sports and TV figures - all pleading with him to get some help for his drinking problem. His daughter was there as well, and she told him that she had lately been ashamed to have his same last name.
Summerall spent 33 days in the Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs, California, which helped cure his alcohol problems. It didn't, however, fully address his spiritual vacuum.
After one of his first speeches about his medical recovery, Summerall bumped into his old coach Landry, who helped explain about the spiritual need he still had in his life.
Summerall was also directed to longtime Dallas Cowboys chaplain John Weber, and he began attending Thomas' church near his home.
"Pat is a great story of God's wonderful redeeming grace," Weber says. "Pat is very real, very honest, very candid about his life. He has a realistic approach about where he has been, but he doesn't glory in the past."
One night while talking with Thomas in his house, Summerall shared his story of transformation and asked about the requirements of joining the church. The pastor talked with him about baptism and church membership and what Summerall could be doing to affirm his new walk in Christ.
"He was already on the process of his spiritual journey, and I'm just so glad I was able to come alongside of him and help and encourage him in this time. I told Pat, God has given him a unique platform.
"God used him in a mighty way with his long-time friend Mickey Mantle in speaking with Mantle about the Lord in his final days," Thomas says.
Summerall says he had been around rough and tough football players all of his life, but when he was baptized before a large congregation at FBC-Euless, he felt totally helpless.
"I went down in the water, and when I came up it was like a 40-pound weight had been lifted from me." Summerall says. "I have a happier life, a healthy life, and a more positive feeling about life than ever before."
Weber says others are quick to see a difference in Summerall, who once was the life of every party with a drink in his hand. Now he gets his power and life from another source.
"I'm so happy for Pat Summerall," Weber says. "He is one of the most positive, delightful persons to be around. He is one of the most complete and successful people in his business, and now is one of the nicest."
Thomas said he had watched Summerall's work on TV for a good portion of his adult life and is thrilled that his professional excellence is now matched by his personal peace.
"What Pat presents to me is the entire spectrum of pro football," Thomas says. "He is as current as today, but has the voice and experience of yesterday."
Summerall runs a production facility in Dallas, where he does a lot of off-season work in commercials and specials. He also works with Dallas-based motivator Zig Ziglar on occasion.
"I remember Zig once saying that with Jesus, you are never an only child, and that meant a lot to me because I had always been an only child and had always been lonely, but I don't have to feel lonely any more."
Every summer before the NFL season starts and every week before their feature game, Summerall and Madden take a tour of the NFL teams or visit with the teams they are gong to be broadcasting that week.
Summerall said one week before broadcasting a Dallas-Green Bay game, they met with a coach who told them a true story about Packers Hall-of-Fame defensive end Reggie White and Dallas guard Larry Allen, then a rookie. Summerall says the story makes a vital point about his new faith.
"Reggie White lined up against Larry Allen and on one snap, gave him a good club move and almost decapitated Troy Aikman," Summerall says. "On the next series of downs, Allen gave White a few choice words, but at the snap White slipped past him and buried Aikman once again.
"As he headed back to his huddle, White looked down on the fallen Allen and said, 'Rookie, Jesus is coming, and you're not ready.'"
"Now at last, I know I'm ready, and I hope you are as well."
Words to remember from football's most recognizable voice.
Taken from Sports Spectrum, a Christian sports magazine. Used by permission. For subscription information call 1-800-283-8333.