Keith Jackson, the voice of college football for more than a half-century, has died. The ABC Sports broadcasting legend was 89.
Jackson, forever remembered for his signature “Whoa, Nellie” call, died Friday night surrounded by his family, according to NBC Sports’ Todd Harris.
“The voice of college football and so much more has left us,” Harris wrote on Twitter Saturday morning. “Truly one of the greats in the broadcasting industry. I am grateful for my time with a true legend. Thank you for the lessons KJ.”
Jackson spent 56 years broadcasting college football, including 15 Rose Bowls. His final game before he retired was the 2006 thriller between USC and Texas at the famed game in Pasadena. It was Jackson who proclaimed the Rose Bowl “The Grandaddy of Them All.” The stadiums TV and radio booths were renamed “The Keith Jackson Broadcast Center” in 2005.
Los Angeles Times columnist BillPlaschke wrote this about Jackson when he interviewed the legend a decade after he stepped away from the broadcast booth.
To hear him again is to be taken back to your childhood again, sitting in front of the television with a bologna sandwich and a Coke as the Saturday afternoon sun slowly sets on that lawn you just mowed, watching Bo and Woody and Bear come to life through a syrupy ballad that still sounds wonderfully like some kid breaking tackles and sprinting through a weed-choked field in rural nowhere.
Although Jackson will always be linked to his beloved college football, his career at ABC also included being the first “Monday Night Football” play-by-play announcer, a staple on “Wide World of Sports” and Olympic broadcasts. He also called NBA, MLB and college basketball games.
Kirk Herbstreit, the former Ohio State QB and current ESPN college football analyst, called Jackson the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) in a social media post Saturday.
“Just heard the news that everyone’s favorite CFB broadcaster Keith Jackson passed away last night. 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. RIP Keith,” Herbstreit wrote.
Jackson also gave us the term “Big Uglies” for the offensive linemen who toil in the trenches and nicknamed Michigan Stadium “The Big House.”
‘We, too, are saddened to hear of (Jackson’s passing),” the University of Michigan tweeted on its official athletics feed. “One of the greatest to ever do it.”
Jackson, who was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 1999, was also honored by both the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame (1994) and the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame (1995).
A native of Georgia, Jackson served in the Marine Corps before attending Washington State University where the broadcast building was renamed in his honor in 2014.
“Incredibly saddened to hear the loss of a broadcasting legend, the voice of college football across the Country, and WSU Cougar great, Keith Jackson,” his alma mater tweeted. “His impact will live on forever.”
“I want to be remembered as a good ol’ boy who married a gorgeous lady and we had a great life together,” Jackson told Plaschke in 2015.
He will remembered for that and so much more.