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Summerall Steps Down, Not Out

January 23, 2002|LARRY STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pat Summerall, who has been involved with the NFL as a player and broadcaster for 50 years, announced Tuesday that the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 will be the last game he will work with John Madden.

He emphasized he is not retiring from broadcasting, just stepping down as Fox's lead NFL play-by-play announcer. Summerall and Madden have been together for 21 years.

Joe Buck, Fox's lead baseball announcer, is expected to be named Summerall's replacement.

Summerall's announcement answered a lot of questions before they could be asked during Super Bowl week in New Orleans.

"I figured I would be getting a lot of questions," Summerall said, "and since I had already made up my mind I might as well make the announcement now."

The announcement has been a year and a half in the making. It was leaked to reporters in July 2000 that Summerall would be retiring after the Super Bowl in 2002.

But the next day at a news conference at a Century City hotel, when Summerall was asked why he was retiring, he said, "I'm not retiring."

This caused embarrassed Fox executives to do an about-face.

"He can do whatever he wants," Fox Sports chairman David Hill said at the time.

The party line since was that the Summerall issue would be addressed after the upcoming Super Bowl. And whenever asked, Summerall would say he hoped to remain with Madden.

But Summerall decided about two weeks ago that he would step aside.

He said the decision was his and no pressure was put on him.

"It was totally my move," Summerall said. "However, I'm not saying they're not glad I decided to do this."

Although Summerall hinted that he might be headed back to CBS, where he spent 33 years, he did not rule out staying at Fox.

Asked about the possibility of being paired with Troy Aikman, Summerall, who lives in the Dallas area, said: "Troy is a rising star, and I'm not sure working with me would be a step up."

Summerall said he met with Hill and Fox Sports President Ed Goren last week, and also talked with Bob Stenner and Sandy Grossman, who have been the producer and director on the Summerall-Madden team for years.

He said he and Madden discussed his decision at length last weekend in St. Louis, where they announced the Rams' playoff victory over Green Bay.

Hill and Goren declined to comment Tuesday, but Goren issued this statement:

"Pat Summerall is not only a Hall of Fame broadcaster, but one of the classiest men to ever work in the business. His 50 years as a player and broadcaster is a record that will never be broken. Quite simply, for generations of fans, Pat Summerall was the voice of the NFL."

Summerall had his left knee replaced in March 2000, and in all has had 10 knee surgeries to correct injuries sustained during his playing career.

"Health does not play a factor in my decision," he said. "I haven't felt this good since I quit drinking [11 years ago]."

Summerall played 10 seasons in the NFL as a tight end and kicker with the Detroit Lions, Chicago Cardinals and New York Giants. He began broadcasting while still with the Giants.

Summerall's style is a study in word economy. He uses as few words as possible.

"Early on, a producer on a golf event I was working told me, 'Don't ever forget this is a visual medium. You don't have to tell people what they see. If I ever hear you say he made that putt, you're fired.'"

Summerall said that even though the networks are putting emphasis on attracting young viewers he believes there is still a place for older announcers.

"Look at Chick Hearn, look at Keith Jackson, look at Ernie Harwell," he said.

"Announcers like these take people back in time and provide a connection between sons and fathers."

As for being emotional about his last game with Madden, Summerall said that no doubt would be the case.

"Someone once said I cry at Wal-Mart openings," he said. "So I guess you can say I might get a little emotional."

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