Whoa, Nellie! Keith Jackson dies at 89


He was the first voice of Monday Night Football, an excellent baseball play-by-play man, but Keith Jackson will forever be remembered as the voice of Autumn Saturday afternoons and ABC College Football. He has died aged 89.

He was a Georgian by birth. There is something about the great sports voices of the 20th Century and the American South – Mississippi’s Red Barber and Alabama’s Mel Allen led the way – but it was in the midwest that Jackson made his mark. The greatest games in the Big Ten were carried along by his voice especially the rivalry of the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Wolverines of Michigan.

He is credited with coining the phrase “The Big House” for Michigan Stadium and calling the Rose Bowl “the Granddaddy of them all.” After his retirement the folks in Pasadena renamed the main broadcast booth in his honor. It is the place where he called his final game, the 2006 BCS National Championship Game between USC and Texas.

His career spanned the entirety of the development of television, from the grainy days of black and white pictures with no graphics and no replays to high definition super slo-mo and ever-present scoreboards and constant tickers at the bottom of the screen.

Every college football announcer that I have ever worked with, some on-air, some in pregame rehearsals would lapse into their best Jackson imitation. They did it because they admired and respected him deeply. More often than not he was one of the reasons they were drawn to the game and to the profession of broadcasting. For myself, his remains the one voice I can not pass by. If flipping the dials takes me to ESPN Classic or The Big Ten Network and they are showing a Keith Jackson game I need to stop and listen, if just for five minutes, to “hold the phone” and watch the “Big Uglies” on the offensive line help push that Heisman running back down the field, to strike a pose and yell, “Whoaaaaaa, Nellie! Touchdown!”

There are 8 comments.

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  1. Brian Watt Member
    Brian Watt

    Yep, he was the best. How many Saturdays did his voice reverberate off the paneled walls in our home or when we watched the Olympics?

    • #1
  2. Rodin Member

    It is strange to lose another voice that (for us seniors) was part of the soundtrack of our lives. But 89 is a long life and no doubt life was no longer as pleasurable.  Speaking of soundtracks.


    • #2
  3. Wolverine Inactive

    The authentic voice of college football. Will miss him

    • #3
  4. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter

    EJHill: If flipping the dials takes me to ESPN Classic or The Big Ten Network and they are showing a Keith Jackson game I need to stop and listen, if just for five minutes,

    Boy, You ain’t kidding, EJ. That’s exactly what I do. Even if I’m at someone else’s house and someone is flipping channels and I hear His voice My head turns around perks up like a prairie dog’s.

    “Ooo. Turn it back.”

    “But it’s from…”

    “I don’t care. Turn it back… just for a minute.”


    • #4
  5. Concretevol Thatcher

    Sad day, he was a great announcer and character in college football during what I consider it’s glory years.¬† TN fans weren’t always happy with his love affair with the Big 10 and the Rose Bowl but he did announce one of the best wins of all time for the Vols.

    Can’t forget he also broadcast TN’s National Championship in 1998!



    • #5
  6. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.

    All the best sports announcers narrate the games like they are fans. There’s a certain wonder in their voices, a hint of, “I can’t believe they are paying me to do this!”

    RIP Keith.

    • #6
  7. Fresch Fisch Member
    Fresch Fisch

    I can only say the word “fumble” in my Keith Jackson voice.

    • #7
  8. Chris O. Coolidge
    Chris O.

    Keith effortlessly evoked the romance of any sport, really, but without doubt college football. He made it seem so easy. There will never be another.

    • #8

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