Broad­caster Jack­son dies at 89

He was known for his ‘Whoa, Nelly!’ catch­phrase and smooth voice.

The Citizens' Voice - - Sports - BY JAY REEVES

Keith Jack­son laid down the sound­track to Satur­day for a gen­er­a­tion of col­lege foot­ball fans with phrases such as his sig­na­ture “Whoa, Nelly!” From the World Se­ries to the Olympics, NFL to NBA, he did it all over five decades as a sports­caster, but most ap­pro­pri­ately his fi­nal as­sign­ment be­fore re­tir­ing 12 years ago was one of the great­est col­lege foot­ball games ever.

Jack­son died Fri­day. He was 89.

A state­ment by ESPN, which con­sol­i­dated with ABC Sports, Jack­son’s long­time em­ployer, an­nounced his death Satur­day. No cause was given. He was a long­time res­i­dent of Sher­man Oaks, Cal­i­for­nia, and died near his home there.

A na­tive of west Ge­or­gia, his smooth bari­tone voice and use of phrases like “big uglies” for line­men gave his game calls a fa­mil­iar feel.

“He was one of our gi­ants,” long­time broad­caster Brent Mus­burger told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “He could do any­thing and loved do­ing it.”

Jack­son might be best known for his “Whoa, Nelly!” ex­cla­ma­tion, but he didn’t overuse it. Bor­rowed from his great-grand­fa­ther, a farmer, the phrase also part of a com­mer­cial Jack­son did for Miller Lite in the mid-’90s. But it was no catch­phrase.

“He never made any­thing up,” Mus­burger said. “That’s how Keith talked.”

In a Fox Sports in­ter­view in 2013, Jack­son said his folksy lan­guage stemmed from his ru­ral up­bring­ing and he be­came com­fort­able with the us­age through the years.

“I would go around and pluck things off the bush and see if I could find a dif­fer­ent way to say some things. And the older I got the more will­ing I was to go back into the South­ern ver­nac­u­lar be­cause some of it’s funny,” Jack­son said.

ESPN “Col­lege GameDay” host Rece Davis, who grew up in Alabama, said lis­ten­ing to Jack­son as­sured him that it was OK for a na­tional broad­caster to sound South­ern.

“Some peo­ple be­come the voice of the sport through their ex­per­tise, which Keith cer­tainly had. But it’s al­most as if the good Lord cre­ated that voice, which sounds like what red clay ought to sound like if it could talk, to be the per­fect voice for col­lege foot­ball,” Davis told the AP.

Jack­son is a mem­ber of the Sports Broad­cast­ing Hall of Fame, and called more Rose Bowl games, 15, than any other an­nouncer.

“When you heard his voice, you knew it was a big game,” said Bob Iger, chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive of The Walt Dis­ney Co., which owns ESPN.

Jack­son’s death comes just three weeks af­ter that of another sportscast­ing ti­tan — Dick En­berg, known for his own ex­cited calls of “Oh, my!” dur­ing a 60-year ca­reer.

Kirk Herb­streit was among the col­lege foot­ball broad­cast­ers pay­ing trib­ute to Jack­son on so­cial me­dia.

“Can close my eyes and think of so many of his spe­cial calls. Thank you Keith for all the mem­o­ries and the grace in which you pro­vided them,” Herb­streit posted on Twit­ter.

Af­ter serv­ing four years in the Ma­rine Corps, Jack­son broad­cast his first col­lege foot­ball game in 1952 as an un­der­grad­u­ate at Wash­ing­ton State. He worked in ra­dio and tele­vi­sion be­fore join­ing ABC Sports in 1966.

Jack­son first an­nounced his re­tire­ment in 1998 but re­turned to work. He re­tired for good af­ter the 2006 Rose Bowl, when he called Texas’ up­set of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia for the BCS cham­pi­onship on Vince Young’s last­minute touch­down scram­ble.

“Fourth-and-5. The na­tional cham­pi­onship on the line right here,” Jack­son said right be­fore Young took the snap on that mem­o­rable play. “He’s go­ing for the cor­nerrrr. He’s got it! Vince. Young. Scores.”

The Rose Bowl sta­dium’s ra­dio and TV booths were re­named in his honor two years ago. He is in the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame for his con­tri­bu­tions to the New Year’s Day game, which is he cred­ited with nick­nam­ing “The Grand­daddy of Them All.”


Sports broad­caster Keith Jack­son died Fri­day.

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