Pat Summerall is arguably the greatest sportscaster who ever sat behind a microphone. Not so much for his gift of gab, which is all too common on television. Pat became a sports fan favorite because he knew when not to talk. His effortless, understated style in the broadcast booth reflected the kind of man he was at home and among friends. He spoke only when something needed to be said, and he didn’t like talking about himself unless it promised to help others.
Pat made it easy to forget that God used his voice to speak to millions in his four-decade, hall of fame career. The public knew him as the voice of the NFL; Laura and I found him to be a genuine man of faith whose life exemplified God’s amazing grace. He did nothing to hide his former sins or the radical change God made in every area of his life. That’s probably why he was such a great influence at H.I.S. BridgeBuilders. His testimony mirrored those of our dear brothers and sisters served by our ministry. While he stood on the velvet landscape of Augusta after drinking all night, some of our men stood on the street corner in the ’hood after dealing drugs all night. Both tried to fill their emptiness with what Solomon called “vanity of vanities” (Ecc. 1:2). The people of Bonton connected with Pat because they saw in him a kindred spirit, a man saved by grace, living by faith, and letting the light of Christ shine through his deeds.
When Pat and Cheri approached us about serving H.I.S. BridgeBuilders, I was stunned. I couldn’t imagine what could have led this amazing, larger than life couple to join our call to restore urban communities globally. The only possible answer: the Lord! Pat and Cheri understood that we all stand equally desperate before the cross of Christ, and made it their mission to share this message with anyone and everyone who would listen!
When I first announced to the South Dallas community of Bonton that Pat Summerall had come to share his testimony, people in the audience looked at me like I was joking. “Sure, Pastor Mike, Pat Summerall is in the hood!” You should have seen their faces when Pat stood behind the podium and the tears streaming down their faces when he encouraged them to surrender their lives to Jesus.
Soon afterward, Pat and Cheri joined our board of directors and became kindred spirits to Laura and me. Pat’s liver failure and transplant game him a unique ability to identify with me during my struggle against cancer. I often say it is like a fraternity of suffering, a brotherhood that understands the gift of life through Gods grace. During that difficult time, God united us in this fellowship of suffering, giving us a shared gift that allowed us to identify with a suffering world in desperate need of Jesus.
Pat’s last public appearance was at the Omni Dallas Hotel on March 19th, where more than seven hundred people gathered to honor two Christian champions: the late Dr. E.K. Bailey and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow. Each received an award we named, The Pat Summerall “Heart of a Champion” Award. This event showcased the lives of people in our ministry who were once addicted and hopeless, but by God’s grace and the heroic faith of people like Pat Summerall, now becoming champions for the Lord Jesus Christ. I had the honor of sitting beside Pat during this wonderful evening and witnessed his genuine amazement that people would give him a standing ovation.
God willing, this annual event will continue to honor faithful men and women who use their abilities and influence to help those who are hopeless and need the love of Christ. What a tremendous gift that Pat’s last public appearance was to help the least and the lost! We pray as a ministry that we will be good stewards of what this champion of the faith entrusted to us as his last declaration of God’s grace.
In the meantime, we grieve the loss of this great friend, and we stand beside our dear sister, Cheri. While Pat serves and worships Christ face-to-face, she continues to work alongside us at H.I.S. BridgeBuilders. Pat is gone, but she is not alone. As her family in the ’hood would say, “We got her back.”