January 17, 2018
Keith Jackson, R.I.P.
Besides, this isn't about them. It's about Keith Jackson, who died last Friday after 89 (hopefully) good years, many of them spent creating memories for the millions of people who listened to him on baseball games, football games, basketball games, auto racing, golf, even boxing matches. It seemed as if he worked with everyone during his time on television; he called the first season of Monday Night Football and if anyone could have controlled Dandy Don and Cosell, it would have been him. ABC didn't want that, though - they were looking for a show. He also worked with Cosell on Monday Night Baseball, and though I really liked him on that, there's no doubt his home was with college football.
It was college football in which his greatness was made manifest. He sounded as if he was made for college football, with that down-home delivery and enthusiasm that nonetheless never went over the top. It's also true, though, that college football sounds as if were made for him; fumble, touchdown, Rodney Allison of Texas Tech - for other announcers those might simply have been functional words, but for Keith Jackson they became the paint and the brushes that artists use to craft their work on the electronic canvas.
For all of the palpable excitement in Jackson's voice, the love of the game, the Whoa Nellies and Fum-BLEs and Hold the Phonnnnnes for which he became so famous, he always remembered the golden rule of the golden age of sportscasters - you are never bigger than the event you cover. That shone most clearly in his decision to retire in 2006, despite ABC wanting him to continue, because he was disturbed over the increasing number of mistakes he was making during broadcasts. It's easy to see why he'd do that, even though Jackson at 85% was probably better than most other announcers at 110%.
He wasn't out to score points with a crack at the expense of someone down there on the field, just as he wasn't acting as if he were trying to win an audition during open mic night at the Improv. He called a game for the benefit of the viewers, and it was to them that he spoke, enveloping them all in his color and humor. He was authoritative and insightful, with a grace and elegance that merged smoothly with his passion to produce a perfect background to the unforgettable events he covered.
Yep, there weren't many like Keith Jackson, but then that's how it is with all the greats. He was a one-of-a-kind, and we were the beneficiaries.