Jack­son, voice of col­lege foot­ball, dies at 89

Ca­reer at ABC spanned over five decades

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS - By Richard Gold­stein

Keith Jack­son, ABC’s sig­na­ture voice of col­lege foot­ball, re­mem­bered for his love of the game’s pageantry and his Georgia-rooted, coun­try boy flour­ishes on au­tumn Satur­days through five decades, died Fri­day. He was 89.

In a state­ment on Twit­ter on Satur­day, Robert A. Iger, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Walt Dis­ney Co., which owns ABC, con­firmed Jack­son’s death.

“For gen­er­a­tions of fans, Keith was col­lege foot­ball,” Iger said.

Jack­son worked at 10 Sum­mer and Win­ter Olympics and on “ABC’s Wide World of Sports.” He was the play-by­play man for the inau­gu­ral sea­son of NFL “Mon­day Night Foot­ball” and was at the mi­cro­phone for baseball, pro and col­lege bas­ket­ball, and auto rac­ing.

But he was best known for rang­ing the col­le­giate foot­ball map, from Ann Ar­bor to Tuscaloosa, from Colum­bus to Happy Val­ley, the home of Penn State.

As for­mer quar­ter­back Bob Griese, Jack­son’s color com­men­ta­tor for many years, re­called: “At our first game, he said to me, ‘All right, what do you want to do?’ I said: ‘You’re the guy who’s been here. You’re Mr. Col­lege Foot­ball.’”

Even af­ter decades in the job, Jack­son re­tained an old-fash­ioned, wideeyed love for the col­lege game.

“The NCAA can make any­body cyn­i­cal,” Jack­son once told Sports Il­lus­trated. “But I’m not. It’s still fun to see new gen­er­a­tions en­joy the game peace­ably.”

The Na­tional Sportscast­ers and Sportswrit­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, now known as the Na­tional Sports Me­dia As­so­ci­a­tion, named Jack­son sports­caster of the year five con­sec­u­tive times, from 1972-1976.

Jack­son once told The New York Times how broad­caster Ted Hus­ing in­spired his breezy style, ad­vis­ing him: “Never be afraid to turn a phrase. If you can say some­thing in such a way that’s ex­plana­tory, has fla­vor and peo­ple can un­der­stand it, try it. If it means quot­ing Shake­speare or Goethe, do it.”

He was more par­tial to the lingo of his na­tive ru­ral South.

Jack­son’s “Whoa, Nel­lie!” punc­tu­at­ing an ex­cit­ing play was his best-re­mem­bered good ol’ boy touch, though he main­tained that he didn’t use it all that of­ten.

Jack­son in­for­mally chris­tened the Univer­sity of Michi­gan’s cav­ernous sta­dium at Ann Ar­bor “the Big House”; he rel­ished broad­cast­ing the Rose Bowl game, “the grand­daddy of ‘em all”; and he ad­mired the enor­mous line­men, who were “the Big Uglies in the trenches.”

Af­ter a stint at the ABC sta­tion in Seat­tle, he be­gan broad­cast­ing col­lege foot­ball for ABC Sports in 1966.

When ABC’s “Mon­day Night Foot­ball” was in­tro­duced by Roone Arledge in 1970, Jack­son was named the playby-play broad­caster to work along­side Howard Cosell and Don Mered­ith, but a year later Arledge re­placed him with a glam­orous name, for­mer New York Gi­ants star Frank Gif­ford.

Jack­son re­turned to broad­cast­ing col­lege foot­ball and teamed with Bill Rus­sell on NBA games.

Jack­son, who lived in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, had planned to re­tire af­ter the 1998 sea­son, but changed his mind when ABC sug­gested that he con­cen­trate on Pa­cific 10 games so he could re­main close to home.

He con­tin­ued with a largely re­gional sched­ule, then re­tired af­ter broad­cast­ing the 2006 Rose Bowl game.

Getty Images

In ad­di­tion to col­lege foot­ball, Keith Jack­son also was be­hind the mic for baseball, the NFL and the Olympics at ABC.

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