Keith Jackson, the down-home voice of college football during more than five decades as a broadcaster, has died aged 89.
He died Friday and no cause was given in a statement Saturday by ESPN. Jackson’s longtime employer for 40 years was ABC Sports.
Jackson covered many sports, but he was best known for college football. His folksy language and signature phrases like ‘Whoa, Nelly!’ gave his game calls a familiar feel.
He was credited with nicknaming the Rose Bowl ‘The Granddaddy of Them All’ and Michigan ‘s stadium ‘The Big House.’
Keith Jackson spent more than 50 years from 1952 giving his unique commentary to the play-by-play work until his retirement in 2006. He was with ABC for 40 of those years. He is pictured left in 2014 and, right, during a broadcast in 1999
Jackson and camera crew cover the action-packed weekend of drag racing at the Pomona Fairgrounds for ABC Television’s Wide World of Sports in 1968
Houston Texans’ JJ Watt tweeted: ‘THE voice of college football and one of the most iconic voices of all time, RIP Keith Jackson. Thank you for all of the incredible Saturday’s’
Tributes poured in for the sportscaster from viewers and players. Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger says Jackson ‘was college football’ for generations of fans.
‘When you heard his voice, you knew it was a big game. Keith was a true gentleman and a memorable presence. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Turi Ann, and his family.’
Houston Texans’ JJ Watt tweeted: ‘THE voice of college football and one of the most iconic voices of all time, RIP Keith Jackson. Thank you for all of the incredible Saturday’s.’
Jackson poses with a trophy awarded to ABC Television in 1962 for its first ever coverage of a NASCAR Cup race, the Southern 500 at Darlington (SC) Raceway
Throwback: 1970 NY Jets vs. Cleveland Browns game. Howard Cosell, Keith Jackson and Don Meredith (l-r) called the game action
Jackson finally retired after the 2006 Rose Bowl and is a member of the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
He had first announced his retirement in 1998 but returned to work. He had broadcast 15 Rose Bowls.
Before he retired Jackson told the New York Times ‘I’m 77 and I feel it’. He said that on-air mistakes had started to creep up on him so it was time to stop.
He also broadcast MLB and NBA games along with the Olympics, gaining him entrance into the American Sportscasters Association and the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Halls of Fame.
Among his Olympic credits were Mark Spitz’s record seven gold medals in the 1972 Games and speedskater Eric Heiden’s five golds in 1980.
Bob Griese, his longtime broadcast partner whom he started working with in 1985, paid tribute to him saying: ‘He did it for a long, long time. … He never intruded on the game. It was always about the kids on the field. Never, never shining the light on himself. And that was one of the things that I most admired about him.’
When asked what he’d remember about Jackson he told SportsCenter: ‘That big smiling face, and just the thrill and the love he had for doing college football.’
Now and then: Jackson speaks, left, onstage at the 66th Annual Directors Guild Of America Awards held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on January 25, 2014 in Century City, California. He is pictured right during a 1970 broadcast
ABC sportscasters Howard Cosell, Don Drysdale and Keith Jackson at a Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Philadelphia Phillies game in 1978
Indiana Basketball Coach Bobby Knight speaks with Jackson during the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Indiana Hoosiers at the Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1998
USC athletic director Lynn Swann, another broadcast partner of Jackson, said in a statement Saturday: ‘I am saddened to hear the news of Keith Jackson’s death.
‘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.’
In a Fox Sports interview in 2013, Jackson said his folksy language stemmed from his rural upbringing and he became comfortable with the usage through the years.
‘I would go around and pluck things off the bush and see if I could find a different way to say some things. And the older I got the more willing I was to go back into the Southern vernacular because some of it’s funny,’ Jackson said.
His ‘Whoa, Nelly!’ exclamation was orrowed from his great-grandfather, a farmer, the phrase was also part of a commercial Jackson did for Miller Lite in the mid-’90s.
Jackson was dubbed a legend in tributes which flooded in on Twitter, seen above
Today’s college football broadcasters paid tribute to Jackson on social media.
Kirk Herbstreit said in a tweet that Jackson was ‘everyone’s favorite CFB broadcaster.’
‘Can close my eyes and think of so many of his special calls. Thank you Keith for all the memories and the grace in which you provided them,’ Herbstreit wrote.
Desmond Howard, who returned a punt for a touchdown at Michigan in one of Jackson’s best-known calls, tweeted that he had a hard time expressing how much Jackson meant to him, his alma mater and college football.
‘May his family find some comfort in knowing how much joy he brought us for so many years and that his legacy endures,’ Howard said.
Tributes for the much-loved broadcaster were shared on Twitter, seen above
After serving four years in the Marine Corps, Jackson broadcast his first college football game in 1952 as an undergraduate at Washington State. He worked in radio and television before joining ABC Sports in 1966.
Jackson was a longtime resident of Sherman Oaks, California, and Pender Harbor, British Columbia. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Turi Ann.
Funeral arrangements were not announced.