“Oh No, There’s a Man Down”: In Praise of Pat Summerall, Video-Game Announcer

Slate's Culture Blog
April 16 2013 9:25 PM

“Oh No, There’s a Man Down”: In Praise of Pat Summerall, Video-Game Announcer

Pat Summerall and John Madden
Pat Summerall and John Madden in the broadcast booth together before Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002.

Photo by Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect.

For a football fan growing up in the 1980s, there was no more satisfying sound than Pat Summerall’s baritone. Summerall, who died on Tuesday at age 82, played in the NFL as a kicker before launching a second, more enduring career as a broadcaster. In 1981, football’s reliable narrator teamed with John Madden on CBS. From then on, Summerall called the most important games, and he made them sound important. In the age of Joe Montana, Lawrence Taylor, and Mike Ditka’s Bears, Madden played the role of the enthusiast, perpetually overjoyed by the opportunity to telestrate defensive schemes and crushing tackles. Summerall said the few words that needed saying, then stood aside to let the game and his excitable partner speak for themselves.

Madden and Summerall stayed together for two decades, working in tandem on CBS and later Fox. When Madden made the move to video games, his television partner joined him there as well. Year after year, the pixelated play-by-play man and color guy would re-enact their TV roles, with Madden reveling in big hits (“Boom! Where’d that truck come from?”) and Summerall reporting, dryly, “flag on the play.”


Summerall’s gravitas was a much better fit in the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field than in the realm of the Sega Genesis. Back in the not-so-realistic days of 16-bit gaming, Summerall’s stentorian voice wasn’t the most natural fit—Madden was a game after all, where injured players would get run over by an out-of-control ambulance. Summerall couldn’t help but give gamers’ rogue actions a gravity they didn’t deserve. In Madden NFL ’96, the savvy player could intentionally break an opponent’s bones. No matter how often you did it, Summerall would pipe up, saying the same metronomic phrase: “Oh no, there’s a man down.”

In the 1980s, Summerall’s steady voice guided football into modernity. In the 1990s, as the sport migrated to consoles manned by 10-year-olds, his seriousness became a joke—a recurrent punchline for a silly, glitchy video game. Summerall was such a weird fit in the Madden games because, no matter the venue or the era, he always stayed the same. That’s why multiple generations of football fans won’t ever forget him. No matter who’s calling the game, whether it’s on TV or the Xbox, I’ll always hear Pat Summerall’s voice.

Josh Levin is Slate's executive editor.



Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.


Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Damned Spot
Sept. 30 2014 9:00 AM Now Stare. Don’t Stop. The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
Dear Prudence
Sept. 30 2014 6:00 AM Drive-By Bounty Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend demands she flash truckers on the highway.
  Double X
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.