Keith Jackson, who was widely regarded as the voice of college football by several generations, died late Friday night, his family said. He was 89.
Jackson spent some 50 years calling the action in a folksy, down-to-earth manner that made him one of the most popular play-by-play personalities in the business.
“Keith Jackson is a man of great character and a legendary broadcaster,” George Bodenheimer, then the president of ESPN and ABC Sports, said when Jackson retired in 2006. “For decades, his unmistakable style defined college football for millions of fans.”
Jackson got his start on the radio in 1952, broadcasting Washington State games, but went on to provide the national television soundtrack for the biggest games in the most storied stadiums. His colorful expressions — “Whoa, Nellie,” and “Big Uglies,” among the many — became part of the college football lexicon.
He was credited with nicknaming the Rose Bowl “The Granddaddy of Them All” and Michigan‘s stadium “The Big House.”
Jackson began calling college football games for ABC Sports when it acquired the broadcast rights for NCAA football in 1966. He also worked NFL and NBA games, numerous World Series, 10 Olympics and auto racing. In addition, he traveled to 31 countries for “Wide World of Sports.”
Keith Jackson was the voice of college football. Rest In Peace my friend 🙏🏼 pic.twitter.com/2YcAaRKoan
— Marcus Allen (@MarcusAllenHOF) January 13, 2018
Jackson announced he would retire from college football play-by-play after the 1998 season but ended up continuing with ABC Sports. He walked away for good in May 2006, telling The New York Times he was finished “forever.”
His final game ended up being the 2006 Rose Bowl, the thrilling national-title showdown between USC and Texas that saw Vince Young and the Longhorns prevail over the Trojans and their two Heisman Trophy winners, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, with 19 seconds remaining.
Jackson was born on Oct. 18, 1928, in Georgia near the Alabama state line. He spent four years in the Marine Corps before attending Washington State and graduating with a broadcast journalism degree. He worked at the ABC affiliate in Seattle, KOMO, for 10 years, including conducting the first live sports broadcast from the Soviet Union to the United States in 1958.
He became sports director of ABC Radio West in 1964 and was a freelancer for ABC Sports until becoming part of its college football announcing crew.
The National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association named him the National Sportscaster of the Year five times, among other honors.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.