Friday, April 19, 2013

Pat Summerall and me

Here's my Pat Summerall story.

I'm old enough to remember No. 88 place-kicking for the New York Football Giants (as we called them). Summerall wasn't a soccer-style kicker; he employed the straight away approach common until about a decade later.

And like the rest of you, I remember Summerall broadcasting with Tom Brookshier and then John Madden on NFL games, with Tony Trabert on U.S. Open tennis, and with Ken Venturi on pro golf events.

But I best recall the correspondence we exchanged when I was a kid.

Summerall had retired from football and was breaking into announcing as the sports guy on WCBS radio in New York. This was around 1962, when I was 14 and a relatively new, but already rabid New York Rangers hockey fan.

Back then, the prevailing wisdom was that the Rangers were of interest only to the 15,925 who routinely filled the old Madison Square Garden. So you could only find them on TV once a week, Saturday nights on Channel 11, with Win Elliott at the mike. ("He's shilly-shallying the puck!") If the Rangers played an afternoon game, it would air via tape-delay in the evening.

Radio? Get this: WCBS broadcast the last six minutes of the first period, the last six minutes of the second period, then all of the third period. Hard to imagine today.

So I wrote Summerall a letter complaint. And he replied!

It matters little what he said -- something about sympathizing, but not being able to do anything about it.

What did impress this 14-year-old was that he answered. He opened my no doubt near-incomprehensible letter, read it and fashioned a reply.

You have to understand what it was like back then to open your mailbox in the lobby of your Bronx apartment building. You expected to retrieve your parents' bills. Instead you found a personal letter to you, with the CBS logo as the return address, and with a note actually signed by a big time sports guy, which Summerall definitely was in New York, long before he became a national TV star.

Summerall could do no wrong from then on.

In reading his obituaries this week, I was pleased to discover he was widely considered a good guy, in addition to being a great announcer. He battled substance abuse and emerged an even better man.
That was the Pat Summerall I "knew".


Odds and ends:

* As long as I'm playing geezer, please note that I'm one of those baby boomers who ran home from school each day to watch "The Mickey Mouse Club", particularly to see the Mouseketeers, featuring Annette (who also was a part of one of my favorite serials, "Spin and Marty". Annette (we later learned her last name was Funicello) died last week at age 70. Many of us who grew up with her have been feeling a lot older since then.

* When Wolf Blitzer is on CNN, I'm changing the channel. Sorry, Wolf, I "exclusively" won't "stand by."

* Question I didn't hear asked in the wake of that recent Rutgers men's basketball brouhaha: Where were the beat reporters who covered Rutgers all that time when coach Mike Rice was abusing his players? You mean nobody knew what was going on? Reporters either covered-up, or didn't have their arms wrapped about the team about which they were supposed to know all the ins and outs. Either possibility is troubling.

* If you like "60 Minutes" on CBS and you're into sports, you'll also like "60 Minutes Sports" on Showtime. Same people, same format, same strong journalism.

* Here's what I know about Dr. Oz: Oprah made him famous and I get way too much junk email from him. Hey, doc, for my health, cut out the spam.

* Happy for the local guy, Jimmy Fallon of Saugerties, who'll be the next host of "The Tonight Show", replacing Jay Leno. Still bummed out that David Letterman, the best of the later-nighters post-Johnny Carson, wasn't selected instead of the decidedly bland Leno when Carson retired.


I haven't forgotten to write about the recent sale of the Freeman's parent company. I'll do that in this space next week.
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