Well, folks, we've lost another one. Lon Simmons, Dick Enberg, and now the great Keith Jackson, who just passed away at age 89. Known as the "Voice of College Football," he also called baseball (Chris Chambliss' epic home run in the 1976 ALCS comes to mind), the Olympics, and of course, the first year of ABC's "Monday Night Football" alongside Howard Cosell and Don Meredith.
Jackson's rich, penetrating baritone was one of the signature sounds of the sporting world. Many of us who've worked in radio and other speaking engagements have secretly, or perhaps not so secretly, sought to emulate the effortless-sounding timbre of that voice, which placed the listener squarely into the middle of the action but comfortably so, as if we and Keith were sitting in rocking chairs in the same living room, he providing the narrative, we the attention. It sounded so natural. Maybe it was.
If you were following our old '66 Le Mans down Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in San Anselmo on New Year's Day some 39 years ago, you might have seen the thing swerve abruptly right, then left. That was the moment Keith Jackson's stentorian voice bellowed "He didn't make it!" as Alabama's defense stopped Penn State on fourth-and-goal in the 1979 Sugar Bowl and snatched the then-mythical national championship away from the Nittany Lions. That's one of a couple of dozen memories, many of them New Year's Day memories, that the name conjures up now.
His last broadcast was the Rose Bowl of 2006, the Texas-USC spectacular capped by Vince Young's touchdown. We saw and heard him briefly when he appeared as a guest in the booth of another fantastic Rose Bowl, just over a year ago, and the thrilling game on the field momentarily gave way to sadness as we realized that great voice and that friendly face were not long for this world.
Keith Jackson wasn't the first to say, "Whoa, Nellie!" but he made the phrase his own, and every time we've appropriated it for our own use, it's his voice we've heard as we proofread the piece. To make a Bay Area connection here, we'll wager that if the late, great Bill King (another loss) were still around, he'd confirm his "Holy Toledo!" was modeled after Keith Jackson's signature. Everybody needs one, don't they?
Far better than meagre words are samples of the legacy Keith Jackson has left us. Here's a few:
Lon Simmons. Dick Enberg. Keith Jackson. Considering Vin Scully and Verne Lundquist also retired this past year, the American airwaves are downright impoverished at the moment.