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Keith Jackson: 1928-2018

January 13th, 2018 · No Comments · College football

Keith Jackson, too?

We are losing the great sports broadcasters from the 20th century and I don’t like it.

Yes, for my own selfish reasons. I know the legends are retired but I can be comforted by the idea that they could, in theory, come back for One More Game. One more chance to hear a great voice providing the lyrics to a great sports experience. Unless, of course, they have gone to their great reward.

Keith Jackson, another enormous figure in sports television, died today in Los Angeles at the age of 89, and there went another man who made sports — and college football, in particular — seem even more dramatic than we knew.

A month ago, we lost Dick Enberg, one of the most versatile and informed of broadcasters, at age 82. A few years before, as my former colleague Chuck Culpepper pointed out, it was Pat Summerall, 82, who departed, and the laconic Summerall did as much as any man in “speaking” the NFL into its position as the nation’s No. 1 sport.

Keith Jackson was the folksy uncle from Down South to a nation’s sports fans. He seemed to know every coach in America and the name of every college football player in America. And he somehow seemed to be rooting for both sides to win.

To get an idea (or a reminder) of his broadcast style, follow this link to video of several of his best-known calls.

Including, with fair warning for USC football fans still wincing over “Texas 41, USC 38”, a memorable call of Vince Young’s scramble for the winning touchdown in the final seconds of a game pitting the nation’s top-ranked teams.

“Fourth-and-5, the national championship on the line right here.

“He’s going for the cornerrrrr …

“He’s got it!”

Pause, as crowd roars.

“Vince … Young … scores!”

To tell the truth, I didn’t hear those words come out of Keith Jackson’s mouth. I was in the Rose Bowl press box that night, and we had the broadcast on TVs in the press box, but generally the sound was turned down.

I always assumed, though, that Keith Jackson would take care of business.

He came from Georgia, and sometimes it seemed obvious, such as when he would cry, “Whoa, Nellie!” in disbelief at some event on the field.

But he had gone to school at Washington State, after serving in the Marines, and Pullman is where he began his career.

Like Enberg, like Summerall, like Vin Scully (who is still with us) … Jackson did much more in broadcasting than the sport with which he is usually identified — college football.

He did the play-by-play for the first (NFL) Monday Night Football game. He covered Olympic Games, baseball, golf, the NBA (including the NBA Finals of 1972, won by the Lakers) and other stuff I probably no longer recall.

At any given time, from about 1965 to 1995, fans could tune in to a big event, and there would be Keith Jackson — unless Enberg or Summerall or (the even older) Chris Schenklel (born: 1923) would be setting the scene.

My recollection of Jackson was that he was highly skilled in hiding his rooting preferences in any game. He seemed to sympathize with participants on both sides, and he would have kindly, down-home remarks that were endearing — and made the broadcast seem like an intimate thing between Keith Jackson, me, and several million other people.

He will be missed.





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