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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!”