Sunday, July 22, 2018
Colleges

Keith Jackson, leading college football broadcaster, dies at 89

Keith Jackson, the folksy voice of college football who for decades weaved backwoods wit through Saturday afternoon ABC broadcasts, died Friday night. He was 89.

In a 52-year broadcasting career, Mr. Jackson covered a wide variety of sports for radio and TV, including a rowing competition in the former Soviet Union, but he was best known as ABC’s voice of NCAA football and for his homespun phrases.

To Mr. Jackson, linemen were "the big uglies." Running backs didn’t drop the ball, there was a "fuumm-bull!" Of an undersize player, he might say, "He’s a little-bitty thing, a bantam rooster. But he’s young. If he keeps eatin’ his cornbread, he’ll be man-sized some day."

And, of course, there was "Whoa, Nellie!," his signature phrase. Or was it?

Strangers in restaurants, airports, stadium parking lots and downtown streets would sidle up to Mr. Jackson and bellow, "Whoa, Nellie!" Mr. Jackson, however, always maintained that he might have — might have, mind you — used the phrase a time or two early in his career but that mostly impersonators, primarily Roy Firestone, were responsible for the spread of the phrase.

"This ‘Whoa, Nellie!’ thing is overrated," he said frequently. "There were all kinds of stories going around. People said I had a mule in Georgia named Nellie. Well, we had a mule in Georgia, but her name was Pearl."

ABC wouldn’t let Mr. Jackson retire the first time he tried. He announced before the 1998 season that it would be his last, that, at 70, he was tired of getting on airplanes. But he was back in the booth in the fall of 1999, the network having lured him with a promise of keeping him close to his Los Angeles Oaks home by restricting his assignments to the Pacific time zone. He finally called it a career after describing the Texas win over Southern California in the national championship game at the Rose Bowl after the 2005 season.

"Keith Jackson and college football. You can’t say one without the other," Penn State coach Joe Paterno once said. "You always know it’s a big game when Keith is there.’’

Mr. Jackson was born Oct. 18, 1928, in Carrollton, Ga., about 50 miles west of Atlanta. He practiced broadcasting as a youngster growing up on a farm, recalling someone saying: "The kid’s walking crazy around the cornfield, talking to himself.’’

By the early 1950s. Mr. Jackson had served a four-year overseas stint in the Marine Corps and was attending Washington State University, studying criminology and political science. As Mr. Jackson listened to a student broadcast of a football game, he thought, "I can do better than that."

The professor in charge of the broadcasting program gave him a tape recorder and told to go cover something. He chose a basketball game at Pullman High as his first assignment. "They turned the lights out at halftime," he said. "I didn’t have the foggiest idea what to do, so I just told stories."

Mr. Jackson’s broadcasting philosophy: "Amplify, clarify and punctuate, and let the viewer draw his or her own conclusion."

"If I’ve helped people enjoy the telecast, that’s fine," he said. "That’s my purpose."

Comments
Where do Mullen, Taggart rank among college football’s offensive masterminds?

Where do Mullen, Taggart rank among college football’s offensive masterminds?

With offensive-minded head coaches taking over Florida and Florida State, we wanted to know how the recent offensive successes of Dan Mullen and Willie Taggart rank among their peers.After crunching thousands of numbers, here's our answer: Not as hig...
Published: 07/20/18
ACC recap: Top sound bites from Charlotte

ACC recap: Top sound bites from Charlotte

College football's talking season commenced this week with three Power Five conferences staging their annual media days. We were in Charlotte for the ACC gab-a-rama, where sound bites ranging from the bizarre to the brain-dead were generated.And that...
Published: 07/20/18
Florida State defensive forecast not that simple

Florida State defensive forecast not that simple

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — His debut at the ACC kickoff attracted a wholly unsurprising assortment of topics. New FSU coach Willie Taggart was asked about his culture, his quarterbacks, his catch phrases.He handled each question deftly, hardly devi...
Published: 07/19/18
Willie Taggart: Francois’ offseason problems are ‘behind us’

Willie Taggart: Francois’ offseason problems are ‘behind us’

FSU coach Willie Taggart indicated Thursday the tumultuous offseason of QB Deondre Francois won't factor in to his quest for the starting job when preseason camp commences next month."He's handled his consequences behind that, and he's moved on," Tag...
Published: 07/19/18
SEC media days: Why I’m picking Alabama and Georgia to meet again

SEC media days: Why I’m picking Alabama and Georgia to meet again

ATLANTA — Continuing my annual tradition of idiocy, here are my predicted SEC football standings for the fall. I'll revisit them after the season, so I can laugh at myself before anyone else can laugh at me.SEC West1.   ...
Published: 07/19/18
SEC media days: No answers on Alabama quarterback battle

SEC media days: No answers on Alabama quarterback battle

ATLANTA — Alabama coach Nick Saban had little to say Wednesday about the biggest topic of the offseason.Who will be the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback: Tua Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts?"I think the number one thing that you will want to ...
Published: 07/18/18
Dan Mullen’s old team will be better than his new one. That’s a good thing

Dan Mullen’s old team will be better than his new one. That’s a good thing

ATLANTA — The difference between where the Gators are and where they could be showed up in back-to-back days behind a podium at the College Football Hall of Fame.On Tuesday, first-year Florida coach Dan Mullen said the program he inherited...
Published: 07/18/18
SEC media days: Mississippi State not looking ahead to Dan Mullen’s return

SEC media days: Mississippi State not looking ahead to Dan Mullen’s return

ATLANTA — If the Dan Mullen's return to Starkville on Sept. 29 is going to be one of the biggest games in Mississippi history, his former Mississippi State players aren't ready to talk about it."We know it's a big-time SEC game," safety Ma...
Published: 07/18/18
ACC chief doesn’t like ‘optics’ of widespread college sports gambling

ACC chief doesn’t like ‘optics’ of widespread college sports gambling

A few highlights from ACC commissioner John Swofford's nearly hour-long opening address at this morning's ACC Kickoff in Charlotte.•  Swofford noted the ACC Network — in partnership with ESPN — remains set to launch i...
Published: 07/18/18
Bill Hancock talks College Football Playoff expansion (not happening) and UCF

Bill Hancock talks College Football Playoff expansion (not happening) and UCF

ATLANTA — College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock answered the question before it could even be asked."There is no talk about expansion among the university presidents and the conference commissioners who sit on our b...
Published: 07/18/18