Many people have called Keith Jackson the “voice of college football,” however, I think he was much more than that. Jackson was actually THE voice of ABC Sports, where he worked from 1966-2006. He died this past week at the age of 89.
Jackson was born on Oct. 18, 1928, in Roopville, Georgia, near the Alabama state line. He spent four years in the Marine Corps before attending Washington State and graduating with a broadcast journalism degree.
There’s no debate that Jackson’s voice was synonymous with college football on Saturdays. He was the lead play-by-play guy for ABC’s college football games every fall. It was Jackson who coined the term “Granddaddy of them All,” in regard to the Rose Bowl, and he was the first to call Michigan’s stadium “The Big House.” His catch phrases, like “Whoa Nellie!” and “fumbllllle!” are engrained in our memory.
However, Jackson also was a part of so many other broadcasts, working year around for ABC, that hardly a weekend went by without hearing his voice. His broadcast assignments included college basketball, Major League Baseball, NBA basketball, boxing, auto racing, PGA Tour golf, the USFL, and the Olympics.
In baseball, Jackson was on the call of ABC’s coverage of the 1977, 1979 and 1981 World Series, the 1978, 1980, and 1982 All-Star Game, the 1980 National League Championship Series, the 1976, 1978 and 1982 American League Championship Series, and several other playoff games. He also called various Monday Night Baseball and other regular-season games for ABC throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s.
In the early 1960s, Jackson covered American Football League games, then in 1970, he was chosen to be the first play-by-play announcer on Monday Night Football, but was replaced the following year when ABC hired Frank Gifford. Jackson was the lead play-by-play announcer for the United States Football League broadcasts on ABC from 1983 to 1985, and called all three championship games in the league’s short history.
Jackson was involved in ABC’s coverage of the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany, and when an attack by Palestinian terrorists put a stop to the games, he provided news coverage of the siege. In all, Jackson covered a total of 10 Summer and Winter Olympic Games, and was the weekend afternoon host for ABC’s final Olympics broadcast in 1988 in Calgary.
We also heard his voice throughout the year because Jackson was a regular on ABC’s popular Wide World of Sports, covering everything from wrist wrestling to Evel Knievel’s successful jump at Exhibition Stadium, in Toronto, on August 20, 1974. He teamed with Jackie Stewart and Chris Economaki in coverage of auto racing for the Wide World of Sports.
Jackson announced his retirement at the end of the 1998 college football season, but then decided to come back the following fall, with a limited schedule that included mostly games on the west coast, near his California home. One of the last games he announced outside of the west coast schedule, was the 2005 Oklahoma vs. Texas football game. It was the 100th meeting between the two archrivals. He strongly hinted that he was interested in retiring for good after the 2005 season, and ABC tried convincing Jackson to stay, but his decision was firm. He officially announced his retirement on April 27, 2006, noting he didn’t want to die in a stadium parking lot. His last game call was the 2006 Rose Bowl featuring Texas vs. Southern California in the BCS National Championship Game.
Jackson is survived by his wife, Turi Ann Johnsen, and three children, Melanie Ann, Lindsey and Christopher.
HALL OF FAMER NIEKRO TO SPEAK
George Frazier will be the master of ceremonies for the 14th Annual Claremore “Field of Dreams” baseball banquet January 22. The fund-raising banquet will be held at the Claremore Conference Center, beginning with a social hour and silent auction of sports memorabilia at 6:00 p.m., followed by the dinner and program at 7:00 p.m.
Frazier, a former pitcher who spent ten seasons in Major League Baseball, and 20 years as a Major League television broadcaster.
The special guest speaker will be Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro. Best known as a knuckle-ball pitcher, Niekro spent 24 seasons in the majors, and ranks 16th on the all-time wins list.
Other baseball celebrities that are scheduled to attend are 1962 World Series MVP and Chelsea High School graduate, Ralph Terry, former outfielder Steve Bowling, pitcher Steve Crawford, pitcher (son of George Frazier) Parker Frazier, pitcher Joey McLaughlin, infielder Roy Majtyka, catchers Charlie O’Brien, Tom Pagnozzi and Rick Wrona. Pitchers Jackson Todd, Ryan Franklin and Bob Shirley are also set to attend.
The banquet raises money for the baseball programs of Rogers State University, Claremore High School, the high school summer baseball program, and for repairs and improvements to Legendary Legion Field.
Tables of eight are $700, tables of four are $375. For more information or ticket sales contact Paul Pixley at 918-341-4223.