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Original Issue

Comeback at 70

A year ago at this time, play-by-play man Pat Summerall seemed to
have the NFL future of a quarterback who'd just suffered his
umpteenth concussion. Pro football's senior broadcaster, long
renowned for his economy of words, was beginning to stumble,
misidentifying players and downs and uttering the occasional
malapropism. Never mind that 11 months later, America would elect
a president with similar rhetorical traits; Summerall, the
whispers went, should retire.

Meanwhile Summerall, who since 1981 has been paired with analyst
John Madden (first with CBS and since '94 with Fox), was
preoccupied with whether he should retire his right knee, which
had undergone 11 operations since he'd first injured it as an
end with the Chicago Cardinals in '55. "It got to where I
couldn't sleep," says Summerall of the pain, "and the medication
I was taking was no longer working."

The ever-present agony affected his work. When Summerall and
Madden cover a game, they prefer to stand throughout. "I didn't
think that the pain was a distraction," says Summerall, "but as I
go back and evaluate the way I did things, even how gingerly I
had to climb into bed at night, maybe it was."

Last February he decided to have the knee replaced. Fortunately,
the operation was a success. As Summerall, 70, prepares to call
this Sunday's NFC Championship Game, it's worth noting that he's
a living NFL museum. As the Giants' placekicker he scored five
points in the epic 1958 NFL Championship Game against the Colts.
He broadcast perhaps the two most famous championship games: the
'67 Cowboys-Packers Ice Bowl and the '82 Cowboys-49ers game
featuring The (Joe Montana to Dwight Clark) Catch. He has
telecast 15 Super Bowls, including the '82 Bengals-49ers game,
which remains the highest-rated (49.1 Nielsen) sports program of
all time.

This year viewers have heard a 1982-vintage Summerall. The crisp
cadence has returned, and mistakes have been few. "I can't tell
you how much better I feel," Summerall says. "Not only the knee,
but also in my mind. I have so much more enthusiasm than I did at
this time last year." Though his contract expires after the 2002
season, Summerall has no plans to retire.

That's just fine with us.


COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS "I have so much more enthusiasm than I did last year," says Summerall (above, right, with Madden).