One awfully good football team will be broken up after Sunday's Super Bowl, when Pat Summerall and John Madden part company, ending 21 years of broadcasting NFL games together.
Summerall's low-key play-by-play provided the perfect complement to Madden's sometimes frenzied analysis. They were a comfortable fit together, the old coach benefitting from the ex-placekicker's even-keeled approach.
"I tend to ramble," Madden said. "I'd say about three or four paragraphs that didn't make any sense and he would say three words that would make sense out of my three paragraphs that didn't make any sense.
"It's a heck of a confidence boost to know that I don't always have to make sense every time I talk -- that I have someone standing to my left who'll make sense out of it."
And then Madden made perfect sense.
"Pat is just smooth," he said. "He's silk."
There is a nice symmetry about Summerall's career. He's been involved in the NFL for 50 years as a player and broadcaster, kicked 100 field goals in 10 seasons and then broadcast more than 1,000 games in the next 40.
His formula is simple. "I try not to spoil the fact that the game is the thing," Summerall said.
This will be Summerall's 17th Super Bowl and the eighth he's done alongside Madden. They were teamed up for the first time in 1981 and hit it off immediately.
"I knew he was going to make it," Summerall said of his partner. "He had an ability to convey the message that needed to be conveyed in a short period of time, the 25 or 28 seconds we have between plays.
"I knew he knew a lot about the game, both sides of the ball. The first time he talked, there was no doubt in my mind that he'd be very good."
That was news to Madden.
"I was just trying to stay afloat, just trying to learn what I was supposed to do, figuring out the TV business as it related to football. In life, there are floaters and sinkers. I'm a floater."
That season, they broadcast their first Super Bowl together and it was a defining moment, largely because after doing their pregame standups, Summerall couldn't find his headset. The reason: Madden was sitting on it.
They recovered nicely, and the game at the Silverdome between Cincinnati and San Francisco produced a 49.1 rating, still the highest in Super Bowl history.
Summerall's most memorable Super Bowl was the first one, a sort of experiment born out of the merger between the AFL and NFL that ended the pro football wars of the 1960s.
The leagues were at peace, but NBC and CBS were not. Both insisted on showing the game.
"The first game was a game nobody thought would become what it is," Summerall said. "Nobody thought it would grow to the magnitude it has. It was in Los Angeles. We had one meeting the entire week and that was to flip a coin to see who would produce it. It's more complicated now. NBC won the flip and Chet Simmons produced the game.
"The stands were half empty. None of us at CBS thought Kansas City was good at all. We thought they barely had uniforms. They turned out to be a very good team."
Before Madden, the seat next to Summerall was occupied by ex-NFL defensive back Tom Brooksheir, a solid analyst and, 30 years ago, one half of the greatest Super Bowl interview in history.
Dallas Cowboys running back Duane Thomas had pouted his way through the 1971 season, refusing to talk to the press, carrying a giant-sized chip on his shoulder.
Now came the Super Bowl against Miami. Thomas rushed for 95 yards in a 24-3 Dallas victory, and in the euphoria of the Cowboys' locker room came the word. Thomas was ready to break his silence. The Sphinx would speak.
After Summerall signed off, Brooksheir rushed in to conduct the interview. Excited by the exclusive, he crafted a long preamble that was more a tribute than it was an inquiry, ending it by saying, "You're pretty fast, aren't you?"
When he had finished, Thomas looked him squarely in the eye and, in a place where words were tumbling over one another all week long, he ended a season of silence with just one.
"Evidently," he said.
END ADV for Sunday, Feb. 3
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