Whoa, Nelly! Remembering a voice of college sports

#Middlebury #ASportingView #KeithMaxJackson

For four decades, his was the voice of college sports on ABC. An ethereal, almost otherworldly voice with a booming cadence and folksy charm were the signature style of the Georgia-born Keith Max Jackson.

Though most famous for his college calls, Jackson began in the 1950s on broadcast radio before becoming an ABC mainstay on Wide World of Sports. He lent his talents to Major League Baseball, auto racing, PGA Tour golf, the NBA, Olympic Games and even the USFL championship game broadcasts. Like my ol’ pardner Bill Grigsby, voice of the AFL Chiefs, Jackson got his start on TV broadcasting AFL games before becoming one of the inaugural Monday Night Football play-by-play announcers and then branching out to … well, everything under the sun.

He retired in 2006, and for those millennials who never had the opportunity to hear him, his voice was seemingly everywhere – kind of like Howard Cosell but with considerably more charm. Evel Knievel was jumping over stuff in Canada? Jackson was there. Eric Heiden runs the table at the Olympics? Jackson was in action. Bucky Dent hits a home run in a tiebreaker with Boston? Jackson again. Sugar Ray Leonard as an amateur? It was Jackson who put him on our radar.

He’s the one who called the Rose Bowl the “granddaddy of them all,” a moniker that will stick with the game for all time. Michigan played in the “Big House,” and if anything went well in any game, it would garner a “whooooa Nelly.” In all, he did the play-by-play for an astonishing 16 Sugar Bowls and 15 Rose Bowls. As he would say, “hold the phone!”

After 50-plus years in the booth, it became clear to critics and Jackson himself that he was losing a step. His calls were considered corny or lacking in detail by a new generation, and feeling his age, he retired. (He had tried to retire many times before, but he kept getting lured out of retirement by new TV sports execs … when you have a classic, you don’t want to part with it.)

In general, he is considered the greatest voice college football ever had. Whenever you heard Jackson’s voice – in any sport – you knew it was something of a big deal.

At the end of his career he told reporters that he didn’t want to be on the road any more, and jokingly feared he’d “die in a stadium parking lot.” He refused to write his memoirs, which would have been epic, choosing to tack close to his home in Sherman Oaks, Calif., where he lived out his days on the golf course with his beloved wife, Turi Ann.

His parting words after a Fiesta Bowl broadcast aptly sum up his farewell. “And so it is done. I say goodbye to all of you. God bless and goodnight.”

Goodbye, Keith. You can bet your sweet bippy that as long as there are reruns, you won’t soon be forgotten.

Mark Vasto is a veteran sportswriter who lives in New Jersey.

(c) 2018 King Features Synd. Inc.


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