Keith Jackson, one of the most distinctive voices in college football for half a century, died Friday night. He was 89.
ESPN, the sister Disney company to ABC where Jackson spent much of his career, said the family had confirmed Jackson’s death.
Jackson called the biggest events in college football for 40 years at ABC Sports. His last broadcast was the 2006 Rose Bowl, a bowl he coined “the granddaddy of them all.” Vince Young scrambled into the end zone in the closing seconds of the game as Texas defeated USC to claim the BCS championship in what some call the best college football game ever.
“Can close my eyes and think of so many of his special calls,” ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who was part of the studio cast that final game, wrote on Twitter. “Thank you Keith for all the memories and the grace in which you provided them. RIP Keith”
Jackson stepped down in the offseason after that 2006 Rose Bowl, ending a career that began calling Washington State football games in 1952.
“This is the perfect time,” Jackson told The New York Times in May 2006. “I don’t want to get back into the pressure cooker of play-by-play and worry about travel. I don’t want to die in a stadium parking lot.”
Jackson, known for emoting the occasional “Whoa, Nellie” for a big play, also created other terms that will persevere, including “The Big House” for Michigan’s stadium.
“That big smiling face, and just the thrill and the love he had for doing college football,” Bob Griese told SportsCenter when asked what he’d remember about Jackson, his long-time broadcast partner with whom he started working in 1985.
“He did it for a long, long time. … He never intruded on the game. It was always about the kids on the field. Never, never shining the light on himself. And that was one of the things that I most admired about him.”