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

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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.”

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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.

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