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A Legend Goes Home

We'll miss you Pat

As a young reporter for the CBS station in Phoenix I met Pat on a cool Sunday afternoon at Candlestick Park in January 1982.  When I saw him I froze and refused to look at him directly because I was afraid he'd see the awe in my expression.  CBS Sports had built a sideline set for their pre game show that afternoon...perhaps the first time the network did what today is commonplace.  I remember the field was a sloppy mess that day and Summerall, surveying the swamp before the Cowboys-49ers NFC title game was standing right next to me.  He commented on the field and seemed to ask me if I'd ever seen a field in such a mess.  Wait a minute, "is he asking me" I thought?  If Pat Summerall could speak to me...damn l could do anything! 

That moment nearly topped Dwight Clark's 'catch' later that afternoon. The two moments together took me from rookie reporter to a broadcast professional.   I could no longer 'root' for my childhood heroes nor fawn over my broadcasting idol.

Over the next 30 years I'd get to know Summerall well enough to call him a friend.  What else do you call it when he invites you into his home wearing pajamas and slippers to talk football and do an interview for a piece I was working on for Super Bowl XLV in Dallas 3 years ago?

I had meaningful conversations with him about his days in New York where he lived in a hotel, his neighbors were Mickey Mantle and Tom Landry.  (Landry lived with his new bride, Alicia). From these two diametrically opposite personalities Pat confided in a life of abuse, denial and shame.  Abuse of alcohol, denial of its existence and shame when he finally admitted he was going to die if he couldn't stop drinking.  When he did, thanks to Cherie his wife, it changed his life...but he often told me his greatest regret was waiting too long to grow up.   By the time he did, he was already an old man.  Much of this riveting testimony is in the interview he gave me at his Southlake home in 1998 for the SportsCentury series featuring Mickey Mantle.   

When his teammate at the Giants was dying of cancer, Pat told me he always wanted to be like Tom Landry but he knew he could never do it...he was just too flawed, too undisciplined - unable to live like the great Christian man-coach.

I think a lot of us identify with Pat - living flawed lives and never quite realizing our best earthly existence.

For me, his passing today is akin to the death of Mantle for generations of baseball fans.  Pat was my Mickey Mantle...larger than life on the field and a role model when it counted most.  

The man who recorded the soundtrack of my youth is gone...I just hope he's hanging our with Coach Landry and the Mick tonight, the 3 of them sitting there at a bar watching baseball and drinking non alcoholic beer.  

What an afterlife!

Tony Martinez

Here is a tribute we made honoring Pat for the Blackie Sherrod awards during Super Bowl XLV week. http://silverhornentertainment.com/project/tribute-pat-summerall