SUMMERALL PICKED RIGHT TIME TO LEAVE

PETE DOUGHERTY
Section: SPORTS,  Page: D4

Date: Monday, February 4, 2002

Parting is such sweet sorrow, especially to a voice that has become as warm and familiar as that of a distant uncle, but the timing is right. Pat Summerall has been ushered out of the broadcast booth he shared with John Madden for 21 years, and the reason became painfully apparent Sunday night during Super Bowl XXXVI. At 71, Summerall has become too cliche, too slow to identify players.


You would be hard-pressed to find someone who dislikes Summerall, but many understand now why Fox held the door open for his exit. While Madden, 65, still has some tread on his tires, Summerall no longer has the tools to be a network's No. 1 announcer.


At the end of the game, arguably the most exciting in Super Bowl history, Summerall sounded as if he was at a presidential inauguration. His understated tone was a trademark, but sometimes an announcer needs to show some emotion.


``And it's right down the pipe,'' Summerall said almost somberly as New England's Adam Vinatieri kicked a 48-yard game-ending field goal. ``Adam Vinatieri. ... No time on the clock, and the Patriots have won Super Bowl XXXVI. Unbelievable.''


The Patriots and Rams certainly gave Summerall a game for the ages for his finale. Unfortunately, he came across like an announcer who has aged.


Summerall's biggest downfall, one that didn't exist 10 years ago, is a failure to identify players immediately. It is the main job of a television play-by-play man.


On the game's first touchdown, Summerall paused three seconds before telling viewers the New England Patriot who intercepted Kurt Warner's pass. By that time, Ty Law had run from the 47-yard line to the 19.


On the St. Louis Rams' next turnover, the delay was four seconds. By that time, Terrell Buckley had run backward seven yards and forward another 10 before Summerall caught the player's identity.


That turnover, which came with 1:20 remaining in the first half, put the Patriots into the hurry-up mode. New England ran two plays and was lining up for a third before Summerall offered, ``The Patriots in the two-minute drill now, no huddle.'' Was that the first time he noticed?


Overall, Fox did a solid job. One of the few annoyances came late in the first half, when Madden said, ``They'd better take a timeout,'' referring to the Patriots. Before we could see if New England heeded the advice, the producers went to replay, leaving us to guess whether the clock was still running.


Graphics were used with discretion -- except for those annoying foxsports.com panels -- and Madden was on top of the game, as usual.


He just needs a better partner. Even his byplay with Summerall has become old.


Have you ever heard the two disagree? That's fine for marriages, but you don't need a ``me, too'' person in the booth.


All Summerall seemed to do was agree with or reiterate what Madden said.


In the first acknowledgment of this being their last game together, Madden said to Summerall, ``As we start our fourth quarter, Pat, it's our last fourth quarter together, and I just want to say thanks for memories of a lot of great quarters.''


Summerall: ``They have really been ... been terrific.''


Madden: ``Twenty-one years, and then you multiply all those years by all those games, and multiply that by all those quarters, and it's been very, very special, and you've made it very special.''


Summerall: ``So have you. And I appreciate it.''


We appreciated Summerall. It's just time to move on.


Pete Dougherty's TV/Radio column usually is published Sundays. He can be reached by calling 454-5416 or by e-mail at pdougherty@timesunion.com.