Keith Jackson (born October 18, 1928) is an American former sportscaster, known for his long career with ABC Sports television, his coverage of college football as well as his style of folksy, down-to-earth commentary and deep voice.
Jackson was born and raised on a farm outside Carrollton, Georgia
, near the Georgia-Alabama state line. The only surviving child in a poor family, he grew up listening to sports on the radio. After a stint in the Marines
, he attended Washington State University
under the G.I. Bill
. Jackson began as a police science
major, but he became interested in broadcasting. He graduated in 1954 with a degree in Speech Communications.
Though best known for his college football broadcasts, Jackson announced numerous other sports for ABC throughout his career, including Major League Baseball
, NBA basketball
, auto racing
, and the Olympic Games
. He briefly worked college basketball
with Dick Vitale
. Jackson also served as the pregame/halftime/postgame anchor for ABC's coverage of Super Bowl XXII
Jackson began his career as a broadcaster at Washington State
in 1952, when he called a radio game between Stanford
and Washington State. He then worked for KOMO-TV
and Radio, an ABC
affiliate in Seattle
, from 1954 for the next ten years as co-anchor for their first news team (first co-anchor news team on the West Coast), covering Seafair hydroplane races, minor league Seattle Rainiers baseball games, and University of Washington Huskies
football games. In 1958, Jackson became the first American sports announcer to broadcast an event from the Soviet Union
, a crew
race between the Washington Huskies and a Soviet team. Despite heavy suspicion and numerous hurdles by the Soviet authorities, Jackson and his cohorts were able to cover the race: the first ever American sports victory on Russian soil. He joined ABC Sports in 1962, full time in 1964 as a radio news correspondent and later became sports director of ABC Radio West.
Jackson helped Walter Cronkite cover the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco, California.
In the early 1960s, Jackson covered American Football League
games. In 1970
, he was chosen to be the first play-by-play announcer on Monday Night Football
covering the NFL
, but he remained in that capacity only for the program's first season. Frank Gifford
was ABC's initial target but could not get out of his CBS contract until after the 1970 season. In 1971
, however, Gifford landed the job.
Jackson was also the play-by-play announcer for the United States Football League broadcasts on ABC from 1983 to 1985. He was paired with Lynn Swann. He called all three championship games in the league's short history.
Jackson was involved in the ABC coverage of the 1972 Summer Olympics
and continued to contribute even when an attack by Palestinian terrorists
transformed the coverage from that of a typical sporting event to that of a greater international and historical news event. He covered a total of 10 Summer and Winter Olympic
Wide World of Sports
Jackson was a regular part of ABC's popular Wide World of Sports
), covering both popular sports and obscure events like wrist wrestling. For WWOS
he covered Evel Knievel
's successful jump at Exhibition Stadium
, in Toronto, Canada
, on August 20
; as well as his spectacular May 31
crash while attempting to jump over thirteen double decker Routemaster
buses at London
's Wembley Stadium
, prompting Jackson to exclaim, "Oh my God!". He also handled WWOS
' first coverage of boxer Sugar Ray Leonard
at the North American Continental Boxing Championships on July 26
, who Jackson called a young boxer to watch.
Major League Baseball
, Keith Jackson called (alongside Tim McCarver
) the now famous 16-inning long sixth game of the 1986 National League Championship Series
between the New York Mets
and Houston Astros
Jackson began his ABC career at a time when television play-by-play announcers did not always have regular analysts. He would only once miss working a college season in his over 50 years, starting in 1952. Jackson was joined in the booth by Joe Paterno
for the 1974 Michigan-Ohio State game
, while Woody Hayes
accompanied him for the 1974 Notre Dame-USC game
In his many years covering college football, Jackson has been paired with a wide variety of color commentators, including former Arkansas coach and athletic director Frank Broyles (1978-1986) and pro football legend Bob Griese (1987-1999).
For many years, he was assigned by ABC to the primary national game of the week. His quirky expressions such as "Whoa, Nellie!", "Fum-BLE!" and "Hold the phonnnnne!" (following a penalty flag) are often the subject of comedic imitation. Though he greatly popularized it, Jackson notes that he learned the term "Whoa, Nellie" from earlier television announcer Dick Lane. He has often referred to offensive and defensive line players as the Big Uglies. Jackson is also credited with coining the nickname for Michigan Stadium, The Big House. In the season before his first retirement, during what was thought to be his final game at The Big House, the Michigan Marching Band's halftime show concluded by spelling out "Thanks Keith" across the field, the 111,019 fans turned toward the press box, stood up and cheered for the commentator, and as a part of the halftime event former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler presented Jackson with a jersey with "The Big House" across the front and a Michigan football helmet.
In the 1990s, Jackson recorded videos for the centennial of the Alabama Crimson Tide. In 2006, Jackson introduce the Nebraska Cornhuskers' "Tunnel Walk" video on the stadium "HuskerVision" screens. This video played before every home game at Memorial Stadium in the 2006 season. The intro was also used for one home game in 2007, against Texas A&M.
Jackson's connections to the University of Nebraska remain strong. It was Jackson himself that the university contacted when designing its new pressbox facility--Jackson's recommendation was that it needed a separate restroom inside the broadcast booth, as few if any broadcast booths had any suitable restroom facilities. When Jackson did the Nebraska/California game the following season (the debut of the Cornhuskers' new pressbox), he found a restroom in the booth with the following sign-"The Keith Jackson Memorial Bippy"; the sign was a joke from Jackson's longtime friend, Nebraska sports information director Don Bryant. The name stuck and a permanent plaque was put up next to the restroom door that reads "The Keith Jackson Toilet Facility - Dedicated Sept 11, 1999".
Jackson would call the 1972 USC Trojans the greatest team he ever saw. Jackson, who was in his first year in ABC football broadcasting narrating the taped highlights of the 1967 USC vs. UCLA football game, declared it many years later to be the greatest game he has ever seen.
Jackson's career was not free of incidents. During the 1978 Gator Bowl, Jackson missed Ohio State Head Coach Woody Hayes' infamous punch of Clemson defensive lineman Charlie Bauman and was unable to get a replay, leading to accusations that he was protecting the coach who was fired for the incident.
Jackson announced his first retirement from college football at the end of the 1998
season and his intention to live full time at his home in California. Choosing the 1999 National Championship at the Fiesta Bowl
and Florida State
as his last broadcast, he concluded the program by stating "Tennessee 23, Florida State 16. And so it is done. I say goodbye to all of you. God bless and good night."
He rescinded this decision the following fall and began to do a more limited schedule of games, teamed with Tim Brant and later Dan Fouts, almost exclusively sticking to venues on the West Coast, closer to his home in British Columbia. One of the notable exceptions was the 2003 Michigan-Ohio State game, the 100th meeting between the two archrivals. He strongly hinted that he was interested in retiring for good after the 2005 season, telling The New York Times, that he was feeling his age after 53 seasons. ABC tried to lure Jackson to stay, but he made up his mind. Jackson decided to retire for good on April 27, 2006, at age 77, noting he didn't want to die in a stadium parking lot. His last game call was the 2006 Rose Bowl featuring Texas vs. USC.
Awards and honors
In 1999, the National Football Foundation
awarded Jackson the Gold Medal Award, its highest honor. The same year he was inducted into the Rose Bowl
Hall of Fame for his many years of contribution to "The Granddaddy of Them All". The Edward R. Murrow School of Communication at Washington State University awarded their alumnus with the Murrow Award for top leaders in the communication industry in 1999; Jackson was a charter member of the WSU Foundation, founded in 1979, provided scholarship money to the Murrow School and chaired the fund-raising drive for the school's alumni center. On April 24
, he was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association
Hall of Fame, having won its National Sportscaster of the Year five successive times. The American Football Coaches Association
awarded him its Amos Alonzo Stagg Award
in 1993 as an individual "whose services have been outstanding in the advancement of the best interests of football. He was the first sports announcer to receiver the Stagg award.
Longtime Penn State Head Coach Joe Paterno said of Jackson: "I don't think you could say that there is any one person who is not a coach, athletic director or administrator who has done more for college football than Keith Jackson". Michigan Head Coach Lloyd Carr described Jackson as "a symbol of all the good things in college football".
Film and television appearances
Jackson has had a minor career as an actor
, often either playing himself (as on an episode of Coach
) or a sportscaster like himself, as in The Fortune Cookie
). He has also appeared in and narrated several sports documentaries
. His play-by-play of the 1977 World Series
is used in the background of the Spike Lee film
, Summer of Sam
). In 2007, he appeared in clips and voice on the ESPN
original series, The Bronx Is Burning
, featuring clips from ABC's Monday Night Baseball
, and ABC Sports' coverage of the 1977 World Series
Jackson has appeared in numerous commercials, especially in the latter stages of his career. He once parodied his broadcast persona for a Bud Light beer commercial, in which he played the officiating minister at a wedding, finishing with his famous line, "Whoa, Nellie!" He also appeared in commercials for Shoney's, a chain of family-style restaurants well-known in the Southeast, especially in his native Georgia. Most recently, Jackson has appeared in "The Legend of Gatorade" ads, which he humorously alluded to during his live coverage of the 2006 Rose Bowl. In 2006, he also was shown in a commercial for Ice Breakers' Ice Cubes with Hilary Duff, Haylie Duff, and Joey Lawrence, again contributing his famous "Whoa, Nellie!"
Jackson was portrayed by actor Shuler Hensley in the 2002 made-for-cable film Monday Night Mayhem, which aired on TNT. This film told the story of the initial seasons of Monday Night Football.
Jackson is a long-time resident of California
. He and his wife Turi Ann, have three grown children and homes in the Los Angeles, California
area and Pender Harbour, British Columbia
- 1980 Winter Olympics - U.S. speed skater Eric Heiden wins five gold medals
- January 1, 1983: Sugar Bowl - #1 Georgia vs. #2 Penn State
- 1984 Summer Olympics - The USA basketball team, led by Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing, wins gold
- October 27, 1984: West Virginia 17-No. 19 Penn State 14
- 1986 National League Championship Series - New York Mets vs. Houston Astros (Inc. 16 inn. Game 6)
- May 1987: NASCAR The Winston all-star race won by Dale Earnhardt
- December 5, 1987: NCAA Basketball, Indiana Hoosiers vs. Kentucky Wildcats, Bank One/Big Four Classic (with Dick Vitale).
- November 26, 1988: #1 Notre Dame vs. #2 USC
- February 19, 1989: NCAA Basketball, Indiana Hoosiers vs. Michigan Wolverines. Jay Edwards' last second shot to beat Michigan (with Dick Vitale.)
- September 16, 1989: #1 Notre Dame vs. #2 Michigan.
- November 16, 1991: #2 University of Miami vs. #1 Florida State University (a.k.a. "Wide Right I").
- January 1, 1992: #2 University of Washington vs. #3 University of Michigan (UW Huskies won national championship).
- January 1, 1993: Sugar Bowl - #2 University of Alabama vs. #1 University of Miami
- September 24, 1994: Colorado at Michigan, the Westbrook Hail Mary game
- November 30, 1996: #1 Florida vs. #2 Florida State University
- January 2, 1997 Sugar Bowl for the National Championship: #1 Florida State, #3 Florida
- January 1, 1998 Rose Bowl Michigan 21, Washington State 16
- January 4, 1999: Fiesta Bowl - Tennessee, Florida State (The first year of the Bowl Championship Series)
- January 4, 2002: Rose Bowl - Miami (FL) vs. Nebraska
- September 2, 2002: Auburn at USC
- November 30, 2002: Notre Dame at USC
- January 3, 2003: Fiesta Bowl - Miami (FL) vs. Ohio State
- November 22, 2003: Ohio State at Michigan
- November 28, 2003: Nebraska at Colorado
- September 11, 2004: Colorado State at USC
- October 30, 2004: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State
- October 8, 2005: Oklahoma vs. Texas
- November 19, 2005: "The Big Game" (Stanford vs. California)
- December 29, 2005: Holiday Bowl - Oklahoma vs. Oregon
- January 4, 2006: Rose Bowl - Texas vs. USC