RIP Keith Jackson, whose contribution to broadcasting was simple in its elegance

And so we've lost another voice from our childhoods, this time a man who punctuated autumn Saturday afternoons with an inimitable folksiness that endure to this day.

The voice of college football, the great Keith Jackson, died at 89.

Hard to know where to begin. Maybe here though: If imitation is the highest form of flattery, Jackson lived a life to be envied. Because there's no sports fan alive that didn't do some Keith Jackson.

The unofficial list:

Whoa, Nellie. The Big Uglies (offensive linemen). The Big House (what he called Michigan Stadium). The granddaddy of them all (what we called the Rose Bowl). Fum-bullllllllllll ... they got it! (the greatest fumble call ever). On the banks of the Olentangy (how he'd welcome viewers to a game at Ohio State, whose stadium sits near the Olentangy River). Well look-eeeee here (what he'd say when he saw an upset brewing).

Jacksonisms were the first way I actually got my son to laugh as an infant. I'd be changing his diaper and start with the word "Tallahassee." Jackson used to say it with that endearing drawl. It came out as "Tal-la-HASSS-eh." Then came "Nebrassssssska," where he'd accentuate the "s." And finally, "Al-la-BAMMMMMA."

The little fella had no idea what I was saying or why, but he always thought it was funny. To this day, even though he's seven now, he'll give a grudging grin if we're driving and I blurt out Tal-la-HASSSS-eh for no apparent reason.

I used to love it when the other Keith Jackson, the former tight end for the Packers, would make a big play in a game. Later on the Sunday night highlights, Chris Berman would break into Keith Jackson narrating Keith Jackson. Berman's "Whoa, Nellie" got funnier every time.

Kind of sad that kids today don't really have those voices to imitate. We had Vin Scully on baseball, Pat Summerall on football, Dick Enberg on everything. We still have Marv Albert, happily. But most of the icons have left us.

Who's left, really? The most versatile and best in this business today is Sean McDonough, who was never better than on Big Monday with Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery. They could educate, inform and make you giggle all in the same sentence. McDonough has a classic voice crack in big moments. He's also not afraid to zing an official or an umpire.

But the Keith Jacksons are disappearing. Announcers today think it's about shtick. It's not. There was no shtick to Keith Jackson. He let his down home charm speak for itself. Same with Summerall who was gloriously understated. Enberg could let "Oh my!" be worth a thousand other words.

Where has it gone?

There's not a football game that goes by, whether I'm in a press box, high school sideline or home on the couch that I'm not channeling Keith Jackson. Kids look at me like, "who is this strange man yelling?" I always tell them to fire up You Tube and listen to Keith Jackson. Whether with Frank Broyles or Bob Griese, you knew it was the big game when they were there.

In those days, I'm not sure what was better: Flutie running all over the place, or Keith Jackson calling it.

All of us, anyone who has ever appreciated college football, owe its forever voice a moment of reflection. Keith Jackson's contribution was simple in its elegance. Probably a good way to go through life: Don't try too hard. Just be yourself. And let nature do the rest.

RIP to a great one. There's never a fumble that goes by where there's not a Keith Jackson echo somewhere.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments