Keith Jackson, who was warmly thought of as the voice of college football by multiple generations, died late Friday night, his family said. He was 89.
Keith Jackson was the sound of college football, yes he did so much more in sports commentating, but that legendary voice defined the sport and nested its full bore excitement in the vernacular he crafted himself and a timbre that was only his.
Jackson, who retired in 2006, spent some 50 years calling the action in a folksy, down-to-earth manner that made him one of the most popular play-by-play personalities of all time.
Jackson got his start on the radio in 1952, broadcasting Washington State games, but went on to provide the national television soundtrack for the biggest games in the most storied stadiums. His colorful expressions — “Whoa, Nellie” and “Big Uglies” among the many — became part of the college football lexicon.
He was credited with nicknaming the Rose Bowl “The Granddaddy of Them All” and Michigan’s stadium “The Big House.”
In 1999, Jackson was awarded the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame Gold Medal — its highest honor — and named to the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame, the first broadcaster accorded those distinguished honors.
Jackson began calling college football games for ABC Sports when it acquired the broadcast rights for NCAA football in 1966. He also worked NFL and NBA games, 11 World Series and LCS, 10 Winter and Summer Olympics, and auto racing. In addition, he traveled to 31 countries for “Wide World of Sports.”
Among his broadcasting accomplishments, Jackson was the first play-by-play voice of Monday Night Football when the program debuted in 1970. He called Bucky Dent’s home run against the Red Sox in 1978 as well as Reggie Jackson’s three-homer game in the 1977 World Series.
His Olympics highlights include Mark Spitz’s record seven gold medals in the 1972 Games and speedskater Eric Heiden’s five golds in 1980.
Jackson announced he would retire from college football play-by-play after the 1998 season but ended up continuing with ABC Sports. He walked away for good in May 2006, telling The New York Times he was finished “forever.”
“I am saddened to hear the news of Keith Jackson’s death,” USC athletic director Lynn Swann, another broadcast partner of Jackson, said in a statement Saturday. “Keith covered games I played in and we worked together at ABC Sports for decades. Every step of the way, he shared his knowledge and his friendship.
“Not just the voice, but the spirit of college football. My heart and prayers go out to his wife and children on this day and I thank them for allowing so many of us to have shared in Keith’s life.”
Mr. Jackson is survived by his wife, Turi Ann; his children Melanie Ann, Lindsey and Christopher, and three grandchildren.