Monday, October 21, 2013

Firsts and lasts from the NFL TV career of Pat Summerall

NFL Network profiles the legendary Pat Summerall on the latest edition of the documentary series A Football Life. The hourlong documentary debuts Tuesday at 9 pm ET with many replays scheduled.

Summerall had a unique career in the NFL TV booth, beginning as an analyst in 1962 on CBS where he eventually ascended to the lead analyst position alongside the likes of Ray Scott and Jack Buck. Midway through the 1974 season, he shifted to play-by-play and formed a memorable tandem with Tom Brookshier as they called 108 games together over 6.5 seasons. In 1981, he started a 22-year run with John Madden including a move to Fox in 1994. Altogether, Summerall worked 400 games with Madden as his lead analyst with 171 of these coming at Fox. In 2004, Summerall filled in for 4 weeks on ESPN Sunday Night Football as Mike Patrick was recovering from a heart attack.

Here is a look at key first and last telecasts of Summerall's career in the NFL TV booth from the research listings at 506sports. (Note: I am not considering preseason telecasts.)

CBS analyst years

  first NFL game: 9/16/1962 Giants @ Browns on CBS (with Chris Schenkel)
  first postseason game: 12/26/1965 Colts @ Packers tie-breaker playoff (with Scott and Chuck Thompson)
  first game with Scott: see 12/26/1965 game above
  first primetime game: 9/10/1966 Colts-Packers (at Milwaukee) - (with Scott and Thompson)
  first game with Buck: 11/24/1966 Browns @ Cowboys
  first Super Bowl as booth analyst: 1/14/1968 SB2 Packers-Raiders (with Scott)
  last game as booth analyst: 10/20/1974 Giants @ Redskins (with Buck)

CBS play-by-play years

  first game in play-by-play role: 10/27/1974 Redskins @ Cardinals (with Brookshier)
  first postseason game in play-by-play role: 12/22/1974 Redskins @ Rams divisional playoff (with Brookshier and Bart Starr)
  first Super Bowl in play-by-play role: 1/18/1976 SB10 Steelers-Cowboys (with Brookshier)
  first game with Madden: 10/14/1979 Falcons @ Raiders (3-man booth along with Brookshier)
  first game as a duo with Madden: 11/25/1979 Vikings @ Buccaneers (link with video of opening to this telecast)
  last Super Bowl with Brookshier: 1/12/1980 SB14 Steelers-Rams
  last game with Brookshier: 1/11/1981 Cowboys @ Eagles (NFC Championship)
  first game after the Brookshier split: 9/20/1981 Saints @ Giants (with Hank Stram)
  first game with Madden after the Brookshier split: 10/4/1981 Cowboys @ Cardinals
  first postseason game with Madden: 12/27/1981 Giants @ Eagles wild-card playoff
  first Super Bowl with Madden: 1/24/1982 SB16 49ers-Bengals
  last CBS game with Madden: 1/23/1993 49ers @ Cowboys (NFC Championship)

post-CBS years

  first Fox game with Madden: 9/4/1994 Cowboys @ Steelers
  last game with Madden: 2/3/2002 Super Bowl 36 Patriots-Rams
  first Fox game without Madden: 9/8/2002 Cardinals @ Redskins (with Brian Baldinger)
  first game on ESPN: 9/12/2004 Chiefs @ Broncos (with Joe Theismann and Paul Maguire)
  last game on ESPN: 10/3/2004 Rams @ 49ers (with Theismann and Maguire)
  last NFL game: 12/9/2007 Rams @ Bengals on Fox (with Baldinger)

Summerall was a versatile broadcaster who CBS also used on basketball in both the play-by-play and analyst roles. He worked as an analyst alongside Don Criqui on ABA telecasts in the early 1970s. For the 1973-74 season, CBS installed him as the play-by-play voice on the NBA where he called regular season games with Elgin Baylor and the Finals with Rick Barry (after the network fired Baylor during the playoffs). CBS also used Summerall on play-by-play during the first weekend of the 1985 NCAA Tournament where he called games with Larry Conley.

He was the longtime voice of tennis on CBS calling many US Opens with Tony Trabert. And he was the lead announcer on CBS golf telecasts for many years primarily alongside Ken Venturi. Summerall also called some college football as he worked several Sun Bowl games with Brookshier in the late 1970s and handled play-by-play for four Cotton Bowl games on Fox (his final network TV assignments).

Monday, October 7, 2013

ESPN documentary on 1970s ABA Spirits of St Louis

The latest installment of the fantastic ESPN 30 for 30 series focuses on the legendary Spirits of St Louis ABA franchise. The 60-minute documentary Free Spirits debuts Tuesday 10/8 at 8 pm ET on ESPN with several replays scheduled on the ESPN family of networks. The ESPN video site has a preview clip of this episode which I am greatly anticipating.

On the court, members of the Spirits included:
  • Marvin "Bad News" Barnes - one of the most talented players and colorful characters of the era
  • Moses Malone - member of the Basketball Hall of Fame
  • Steve "Snapper" Jones - who became a longtime NBA television analyst
  • Mike D'Antoni - future NBA coach
  • James "Fly" Williams - also one of the players profiled in the tremendous 1970s book Heaven is a Playground by Rick Telander
The team's assistant general manager was Rudy Martzke who later became the sports TV columnist for USA Today. To fill the radio play-by-play role, Martzke hired Bob Costas who was fresh out of Syracuse University. Not surprisingly, Martzke and Costas are among the interview subjects in the documentary.

Here is Costas with the radio simulcast call of part of a 1976 Spirits game against the Kentucky Colonels. His broadcast partner is Arlene Weltman - wife of team president Harry Weltman.

Finally, the Silna brothers who owned the franchise negotiated perhaps the greatest financial contract of all time during the NBA-ABA merger.

For more about the history of the ABA, check out the fabulous book Loose Balls by Terry Pluto and a website devoted to remembering the wild 9-year run of this upstart league.