Summerall-Madden team signing off

After 21 years on air, it's last game together

February 03, 2002|By Bill Lyon | Bill Lyon,PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

NEW ORLEANS - Together, they are 136 years old. Between them, they have more than a century of football.

Paired for 21 years, they are the longest-running duo in sports. And in terms of television, their run has outlasted such venerable vehicles as M*A*S*H, Cheers and Happy Days.

And today, they will be put asunder.

When Super Bowl XXXVI wobbles down the stretch, it is apt to get a little misty in the Fox network TV booth.

Pat Summerall and John Madden will say goodbye to each other. The booth is much too small to accommodate a victory lap, so they'll stand and look at each other and ... well, nothing's been rehearsed. What will be, will be.

"If it's true emotion," said Madden, "then you just let it play."

Oh, this will be true emotion, because they genuinely like each other, which has been abundantly clear almost from their first telecast together, which is roughly 450 NFL games ago.

"One of the most difficult things in this business is to find somebody you fit with," Summerall said.

They have fit like the way your body slots into an old easy chair.

"If you can't get along with Pat, you can't get along with anybody," Madden said.

Summerall is 71, and from the beginning has understood the concept of less as more.

He was a good player himself, and a very good place-kicker, and was first teamed on CBS with Tom Brookshier. They fit, too, in a casual, comfortable, unstrained, two-guys-in-a-saloon way.

"I'd start off on something and get to floundering out there in deep water, and Pat would reel me back to safety," Brookshier said.

They were Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. Especially off the air. Summerall was determined to never not have a good time. Brookshier frequently rode shotgun, and drove home.

It was Brookshier who arranged the intervention of family and friends, Brookie who flew across the country to the Betty Ford Clinic holding his alcoholic pal's trembling hands.

"I owe him my life, that's all," said Summerall.

Today, he is on the board of directors of that clinic.

He and Madden first teamed in 1979. Madden had retired from coaching, having averaged 10 wins a season for a decade with the Oakland Raiders.

He didn't intend to stay in the booth. But, of course, he had no idea he'd end up as he has, enormously popular, with remarkable staying power. He is 65, which is ordinarily a career-death age in television, especially sports TV. Yet despite the risk of over-exposure, his appeal crosses age, gender, race, and agenda.

"John's like everybody's favorite uncle," Summerall said. "He just makes everyone feel comfortable."

They have fit because Summerall doesn't grip the reins. Madden is free to wander off.

An entire generation has grown up celebrating Thanksgiving Day with the two of them. Madden would analyze the five drumsticks on that year's bird, while Summerall would remind people of the score. And who was playing.

Madden has one year left on his contract. He's probably going to be paired with Joe Buck, Jack's son, and it won't be an easy adjustment for either of them.

As for Summerall, he's talked about getting back to doing sports other than football and spending more time at his home near Dallas.

It has a name.

Amazing Grace.

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