JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Jacksonville native Pat Summerall was honored at a Legends for Charity Luncheon on the grounds of the Super Bowl XXIX stadium, but after the two-hour tribute Feb. 4, Summerall used his response to talk about the true legendary figure in his life.
“I was just sitting here thinking during this about relationships and how important relationships are. Without relationships you would be alone,” he said to the crowd of 800. “And I feel better about my relationship with God and more confident about it than I ever have.”
The longtime voice of the NFL, starting with CBS and continuing with Fox for nearly 50 years, has witnessed many memorable on-field events. But not as well known is the transformation in Summerall’s own life over the last decade.
He has overcome both alcoholism and a liver transplant in 2004.
Now living outside of Dallas in Southlake, he has spoken at some Texas Baptist churches about spiritual transformation, but this was his first national stage to talk about his spiritual rebirth.
Now 73, he was baptized at age 69 by Claude Thomas, then-senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Euless –- a moment Summerall said revolutionized his life.
“I went down in the water and when I came up it was like 40-pound weights had been lifted from me,” he said in a pre-banquet interview with Baptist Press.
One of the many presenters at Friday’s banquet, Augusta National Golf Club vice chairman Joe Ford, took note of Summerall’s new life in Christ.
“You may know Pat for his voice on NFL telecasts or his role as playing in the NFL, but I know of Pat’s strong Christian faith and how he gives his testimony in several Christian churches,” Ford said. “I know him in many different ways.”
Dallas Cowboys team chaplain John Weber was one of the several people unable to be at the Summerall tribute in person, but he called in his best wishes to his friend and Christian brother.
“Pat is one of my favorite people in the whole world,” Weber said. “What God has done in transforming his life has just been remarkable.”
Summerall was born in 1932 in Lake City. Fla., just outside of Jacksonville. He became a star athlete first in Florida high schools, then at the University of Arkansas and in the NFL.
But the years of first playing in the NFL and then broadcasting its games for nearly four decades took a hard toll on Summerall. In his previous church testimonies, Summerall candidly admitted the toll drinking had taken. He spent time in a rehab center and took his last drink more than a decade ago.
His liver failed last year in part because of his past lifestyle and he was rushed to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville in critical condition for a transplant.
“Not long ago, I didn’t think I be here to see all their tributes,” Summerall said. “I once heard the statement that a man by himself is in bad company and I thank you all for this.”
After spending 33 days in the Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs, Calif., in the mid-1990s, one of the first people Summerall told about his new life change was former Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry. He also met Weber and started attending Thomas’ church, which was not far from his home.
He wife and family encouraged his relationship with Jesus Christ, so much so that Summerall named his dog Amazing Grace and calls his house by the same name.
“I was talking to my daughter recently and told her I feel better about my relationship with God than I have in a long, long time, and when you can make your relationship with God like that, it is a very happy day,” he said.