We can close the books on another exciting Masters Golf Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Patrick Reed won it with the low score of 15 under par. Rickie Fowler came in second at 14 under par and Jordan Spieth, who missed tying the record low score for a round by one, came in third at 13 under.
The Club and the Master’s are high-class operations, and there have been strong ties over the years with Arkansas business and academic operations. Legendary football coach, Frank Broyles and the late Jack and Witt Stephens, founders of the Stephens Inc. investment banking firm along with Alltel’s Joe Ford have had leadership roles at Augusta.
There was also the late Pat Summerall who played for the Arkansas Razorback football team under Broyles and later with the New York Giants, mainly as a kicker.
When his playing days were over, Summerall joined CBS Television in New York City and also worked for Fox and ESPN where he became a broadcaster of games and other athletic events. He also developed a fondness for alcohol that almost killed him.
Interestingly enough, Summerall’s epiphany, that moment of truth when he knew that he was in serious trouble with alcohol, came while he was broadcasting the 1992 annual Masters Golf Tournament at Augusta for CBS.
The Masters was something he had done—and done impeccably—for twenty-four years beginning in 1968. But this year was different.
In a radio interview in 2009 with Dennis Rainey, president of Family Life in Little Rock, Summerall described his confrontation with the truth about his alcoholism.
“I was staying in Augusta in a strange house.” Summerall recalls, “I had a few drinks before I went to bed, and I got sick. I got up at three in the morning, and I went into the bathroom and threw up, and I looked at—this is kind of gross— but I looked at what had come out of me, and I didn’t realize what it was. It was part of my stomach, and it was blood. And I thought, “What the heck? What’s wrong with me?”
Then Summerall looked in the mirror above the basin, and what he saw was “my pale and haggard face, my bloodshot eyes, and all the protruding veins on my face and nose.”
He pulled himself together and was able to finish his coverage of the tournament, won by Fred Couples, two strokes ahead of Raymond Floyd, but the end of his drinking career was at hand.
Later that year, an intervention conceived and led by his longtime friend, NFL colleague, and fellow broadcaster, the late Tom Brookshier, put him in the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California, for treatment.
Intrigued by what I had heard on the radio and what I had read in his book, Summerall: On and off the Air, I flew to Dallas on a fall day and drove out to his home on South White Chapel in the fashionable Southlake section of Dallas to talk to him about his story in person. (Editor’s note: My visit was several years before his death at 82 in April 2013).
From the gate in the towering stone fence bearing the inscription, “Amazing Grace,” I could see a winding drive leading, it seemed, to infinity. Pat’s wife, Cherie, welcomed me on the intercom, the gates swung open, and I drove in. When I pulled up, Pat was standing on the steps of a mansion in a blue shirt and slacks with a black lab, named Gracie (short for “Amazing Grace”) at his side.
After a warm welcome, he led me inside—walking a little gingerly, the aftereffects of hip and knee surgery—and we settled into a couple of easy chairs. Gracie joined us on the couch.
I suggested that Pat tell me what his alcohol-addicted life had been like, what had happened to stir him to seek help, and what his life is like now. And that’s what he did.
Summerall stayed at Betty Ford for thirty-three days—five more than the usual twenty-eight, he says, because it took him five days to get over his resentment against Brookshier and his intervention. He had also been somewhat unsettled at first by the assignment of a roommate whose nickname was “Psycho.” But with the help of a Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and a Bible on his bedside table, he settled i
Ultimately, Summerall was very grateful for Brookshier’s intervention. He talked to his friend on the phone several times a week before Brookshier’s death in 2010. Since the day he left Betty Ford, Summerall had not had another drink, and he had found a deep faith in God.
So what was it that first launched him down the path of addiction and his close brush with death?
Summerall grew up in Lake City, Florida. His parents were divorced before he was born, and he was reared mainly by his grandmother, Augusta Georgia Summerall. She loved him and was good to him, and he loved her in return.As a youngster, Summerall had a crippled leg, and, to her everlasting credit, Augusta saw to it that he had it operated on successfully.
In time, he became a gifted athlete in high school, college, and in the ranks of the pros, mostly as a kicker.
THE NEW YORK GIANT
Summerall’s older fans will remember that day in 1958 when he was the kicker for the New York Giants in the NFL championship game against the Baltimore Colts. Highlight
reels are still shown in grainy black and white, and it is still considered by many to be the greatest game ever played.
On that day, the Colts, led by Johnny Unitas, prevailed by a score of 23 to 17 in overtime. Try as they might, Giant fans still cannot stop Colt’s fullback Alan “The Horse” Ameche from crossing the goal line and ending the game.
The Giants’ game against the Cleveland Browns a week earlier to win the division championship, some would say, was even better. The Giants held Jim Brown, among the greatest running backs of all time, in check, and Summerall, after missing a thirty-yard field goal, kicked a fifty yarder in a snowstorm. The Giants won.
Summerall had entered the pro ranks with Detroit and later joined the Chicago Cardinals before signing on with the Giants. Before joining the pro teams, he played both defensive and offensive end for the Razorbacks. He also excelled at baseball, basketball, tennis, and golf.
In 1961, at the age of thirty-one, Summerall hung up his cleats and accepted a job with CBS in New York City. Over the next thirty years, paired with the likes of Brookshire, John Madden, Chris Schenkle, and Jack Buck, he prospered. And he drank. Prodigiously. It was vodka in the summer and bourbon in the winter.
And he had lots of company, including Howard Cosell, a broadcaster in his own right who, in Summerall’s company one night, drank more than fourteen martinis with barely visible effect.
On another occasion the two found themselves stranded in the Bronx late one night. They finally found a cab, which they agreed to share with another passenger, a Madison Avenue ad man. Several major advertising agencies, including Young and Rubicam, where I once worked, had their offices or branches on Madison Avenue.
“The ad man who was in the backseat with Howard,” Summerall reports, “made it clear that he was not a fan. He’d listened to Howard’s broadcast of the fight that night, [heavyweight Ernie Terrell had won], and he made some negative comments about it. The next thing I knew, they were swinging away, knocking the crap out of each other.”
Summerall stopped the cab and separated the men, putting the ad man in the backseat and Cosell in the front.
COSELL LOSES TOUPEE
“Howard got in without protest,” Summerall reported, “then slumped over in his seat. His toupee fell off, and I could see a gash in his head.”
The ad man took another shot at Cosell when he got out at his home, and when Summerall delivered Cosell to his house, Cosell’s wife asked what had happened. Summerall replied, “Oh nothing, just the usual trip home.”
Summerall loved his work as a broadcaster. In his radio interview with Rainey, he said, “I think the happiest times, were certainly with Madden and Brookshire. Tom and I, both being ex players, became very close friends— like brothers almost. I never had a brother. But he and I became very close. He was the best man at my wedding.”
Pat and Mickey Mantle, both athletes of significant achievement, were also pals and drinking buddies. It went back to when they had adjoining lockers in Yankee stadium in the 1950’s.
After Summerall got out of Betty Ford, where he had spent 35 days, Mantle asked his old friend about the religious part of the experience.
“I ain’t never been to church,” Mantel explained.
“Being from Oklahoma,” Summerall ventured, “you’re probably a Baptist,” to which Mantle replied, “That’ll be fine. I’ll take that.”
In December 1993, Mantle checked in to Betty Ford and in early 1995, Summerall said, “Mickey was diagnosed with liver cancer. He was admitted to Baylor University Medical Center in late May of that year and then approved to get on a transplant list.
Unfortunately, the transplant did not restore Mickey’s health,” Pat said, and on August 13, 1995, “my dear friend died at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.”
Summerall mourned the loss, but he says, “I was glad for one thing that happened to Mickey after he became sober. Despite his lack of experience with organized religion, Mickey found faith. The things he heard at the Betty Ford Center and from visits from his old Yankee teammate Bobby Richardson led him to God.
“He was baptized and seemed to gain fresh wisdom as well as peace,” Summerall says. “In his last press conference, which he gave at Baylor, Mickey said he was no hero. ‘God gave me everything, and I blew it. For the kids out there, don’t be like me!’”
As for Summerall’s experience, after more than ten years of sobriety, the physical damage he had done to himself mainly with his abuse of alcohol began to surface. Like Mantle, his liver, too, began to fail and brought him literally to within days, perhaps hours, of dying.
But Summerall got the liver he needed in 2004 when a young man, thirteen-year-old Adron Shelby, son of Melva and Garland Shelby of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, died. Summerall described the experience in his book:
“Adron was just a student in junior high school when he collapsed while giving a speech in history class. He died three days later of a brain aneurysm. A few days after I received their precious gift, and the Shelbys buried their son.
“I talked to Melva from my heart, and thanked her and her family. I expressed condolences for the loss of her son, and I told her what a difference their organ-donation decision had made not only keeping me alive but making me a better person.
“She hugged me again and said, ‘It’s almost like I’m hugging a part of my child.’”
Summerall struggled for some time with the idea that someone— Adron—had to die for him to live. Why did this have to be? The answer, which came from his local pastor, was “because God’s not through with you yet.”