Pat Summerall was famous before the whole world knew what his voice sounded like. As the kicker for the 1958 New York Giants, he delivered a game-winning 49-yard field goal in the final two minutes of the last game of the regular season to beat the Cleveland Browns, 13-10. The win brought the Giants a division playoff game with the Browns a week later, which they would win to advance to the championship game that would come to be known as "The Greatest Game Ever Played." (Which they would lose, to the Baltimore Colts.)
Summerall was the Giants' kicker for the final four of his 10 professional seasons. But what ended up making him truly famous was that voice, which would become one of the iconic voices in sports history during a broadcasting career that spanned six decades and included a record 16 televised Super Bowl broadcasts. He lived in Dallas, which meant he called a lot of Dallas Cowboys (and, therefore, NFC East) games during his career with CBS and Fox. But he rose to the very top of the football broadcasting industry and became the play-by-play voice for his networks' biggest games.
He was the on-air broadcast partner of John Madden for 22 years, and it's possible that team stands as the most well-known pairing in NFL broadcast history. A generation has come to know Madden as the name of a popular football video game, but those of us who grew up watching games on Sunday afternoons in the 1980s and '90s knew Summerall's smooth baritone and Madden's gravelly exclamations as the soundtrack of the biggest game of the week, no matter which week it was.
Summerall also broadcast golf and tennis and college football along the way, because he had a voice that worked for anything and a brilliantly subtle touch for narrating the action without making himself a part of it. He was the kind of guy who could say more than almost anyone in his profession while saying as few words as possible. If you were a fan of the NFC East (or of any team in the NFL, really) during the 1980s and '90s, his was the play-by-play voice you thought of when you remembered watching the great moments of the great games in your living room on Sunday afternoons.
The Dallas Morning News reported Tuesday that Summerall has died at the age of 82. He had the kind of career those of us who cover sports dream of having -- omnipresent at the biggest moments and asked to deliver them to the masses as best he could. He always managed to do it as coolly and naturally as possible. Today his voice is gone, but not forgotten. For countless sports fans who recall it along with some of the great games and plays they've ever seen, that voice is not forgettable.