NCAA Football Broadcasts Won’t Be the Same Without Keith Jackson

Saturdays in the fall just won’t be the same anymore. The voice of college football has decided to hang up his microphone again and this time it’s for good.

Legendary broadcaster Keith Jackson, who captivated audiences for 40 years with his folksy, down-home style, retired for the second time in April and his voice will be missed when the season begins in a few weeks. Jackson’s final broadcast was last season’s classic national championship game between Texas and Southern California. It’s fitting that he went out with a bang.

Jackson originally retired following the 1998 season, but was coaxed back to work by ABC and primarily worked Pac-10 contests on the iWest Coast to cut down on his travel. When he made the announcement in April, he insisted the retirement was permanent. ” I don’t want to die in a stadium parking lot,” he said.

You don’t ever fire a Keith Jackson; you let him go out on his terms. If he wanted to come back, he would have come back. ABC, in fact, tried to talk him out of retirement. But it was time. He is 77, after all.

It’s not easy criticizing a legend, but the quality of his broadcasting had slipped a notch or two. He had a tough time doing the Texas-USC game, missing calls and mixing up players’ names. It was a hard listen at times. Jackson likely saw the handwriting on the wall. He knew it was time to walk away.

But even if he might have lost a few miles on his fast ball, you’d take Keith Jackson over just about anybody. He was synomous with the sport. If there was a big game, you knew Jackson would be on hand to call it, whether it was the Rose Bowl or anywhere in between. His voice and easy manner on the air seemed so right for Saturday afternoons in the fall.

Jackson spiced his play-by-play with color expressions. After an exciting play, he’d exclaim, “Whoa, Nellie!” That expression became his trademark phrase. The 300-pound linemen in the trenches were known as “big uglies” and when a bruising fullback broke of a long run, he’d be “rumblin’, bumblin, stumblin'” toward the end zone.

Jackson never allowed himself to fall prey to the hype and endless shilling that seemed to take over college sports when it became big business in the 1980s and 1990s. For Jackson, it was just about the game. He was gloriously succint. He told the story, then let the pictures tell the rest.

Jackson started with ABC in 1966, when it obtained the broadcasting rights for college football. His work wasn’t exclusively limited to college football as he was a fixture on ABC’s Wide World of Sports and covered 10 Olympics. He also did NBA basketball and major league baseball in the 1960s and 1970s, covering 11 World Series and league championship series. What some people may not remember is that Jackson was the play-by-play man during the first season of Monday Night Football in 1970 before Frank Gifford took the reigns.

But Jackson almost seemed out of place doing those sports. He was meant to do college football. He understood the game’s rhythms, its passions and traditions.

During the 1980s, Jackson and former Arkansas coach Frank Broyles formed one of the best broadcasting tandems in the history of sports television.

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