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Summerall On And Off the Air by Pat Summerall

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Review of Summerall: On And Off the Air

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Summerall : On And Off the Air
by Pat Summerall

Reviewed by Marshall Hughes

"...certainly rewarding to read, with interesting gems found on its pages."

From its slap-in-the-mouth prologue to its uplifting closing chapters, Summerall: On and Off the Air is an intriguing run through the life of Pat Summerall, best known as being a prominent television announcer for the Super Bowl, Masters Golf Tournament and other major American sporting events.

Older readers may also remember him as a two-way NFL player who took part in "The Greatest Game Ever Played," the 1958 NFL championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants.

His story is filled with a full life's worth of bumps and bruises, some certainly of his own doing. Summerall's start in life was rough, being born with his right foot facing backwards. Luckily, his mother, who had divorced Summerall's father before Pat was born, opted to have her baby's leg broken, turned around and reset at birth. His right leg is to this day still shorter than his left leg.

At age three Summerall was given to his aunt, then later passed back to his mother and step-father (who beat him) before ending up with his grandmother. She took him to church every Sunday, but the boy lost interest and starting skipping out as his grandmother grew older and weaker.

Summerall was an all-state high school basketball player and a minor league baseball player before entering the NFL. His college days were spent at Arkansas where he kicked and played tight end and defensive end. The story then speeds through his NFL career, with amusing anecdotes along the way. Many of them involve drinking, something that would come back to haunt Summerall later.

Some anecdotes include stories about Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, Mickey Mantle, John Madden and a number of golfing greats such as Ben Hogan. The book's most hilarious passage is an on-course moment with Miller Barber, Summerall's former college friend from Arkansas.

Summerall seldom mentions his family (wife and three kids) in the book. This seems partly because he was rarely home, usually heading off for his weekend broadcasting assignment on Wednesday and often not getting home until Tuesday. It also seems partly because he doesn't really appear to care about his family, although he never clearly admits it.

It is nearly three-quarters of the way through the book before Summerall acknowledges that his problem drinking has become, well, a problem. There has been plenty of foreshadowing, but it is his trip to the Betty Ford Clinic where his life begins to turn. He only goes as a result of being "caught" in an intervention, the subject of the book's prologue. At the clinic Summerall reads his Bible and starts to take part in the Clinic's devotions. Slowly, he begins to face all that he is and all that he has done, acknowledging his failures.

Some readers may be turned off by the fact that one of his failures is a 17-year affair with Cheri Burns, who becomes his second wife after he and Kathy finally divorce. Summerall and Cheri marry in 1996, and Kathy dies in December, 2005.

The last few chapters talk of his being just hours away from death from liver disease (caused by excessive drinking) on several occasions, and his life-saving liver transplant. Just as his useless first liver was replaced by a healthy liver, Summerall's dependence on alcohol was replaced by his dependence on God. For those who are big enough sports fans to know who Pat Summerall is, this evenly paced book is certainly rewarding to read, with some interesting gems to be found on its pages.

Marshall HughesMarshall Hughes is a former sports writer for the Honolulu Advertiser. For most of the past 22 years he has taught English in Japan. He has taught at the university level in America, Japan and China. Among his hobbies are sports, traveling and photography. He has been to 41 countries and is always hoping to go somewhere new. He is an award-winning photographer in both Japan and America. His bi-lines include The Washington Post, The Pacific Daily News (Guam), The Contra Costa Times and several sports publications.