Keith Jackson, the voice of college football for generations of fans, died Friday night. He was 89.
Jackson worked for ABC Sports from 1966-2006 and college football wasn’t his only sport. Jackson covered the Olympics, the NBA, Major League Baseball, auto racing and more. He was also the play-by-play voice for the first season of ABC’s Monday Night Football in 1970.
But he’s most known for being the soundtrack to college football. In the days before cable and monstrous television packages where nearly every top-level college football game is televised, the ABC 3:30 p.m. ET game was appointment viewing for many college football fans as it was traditionally the weekend’s marquee game.
“For generations of fans, Keith Jackson was college football,” Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said in a statement. “When you heard his voice, you knew it was a big game. Keith was a true gentleman and memorable presence. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Turi Ann, and his family.”
A native of Georgia, Jackson’s southern drawl fit perfectly with the sport. And if you’ve heard “whoa nellie” or ever referenced the “big uglies,” you can thank Jackson for the popularization of those phrases. It’s fair to wonder if his relationship with college football is the most synonymous of any announcer and sport in American television history.
“Keith Jackson is a man of great character and a legendary broadcaster,” former ESPN president George Bodenheimer said at the time of Jackson’s retirement (via ESPN). “For decades, his unmistakable style defined college football for millions of fans.”
Jackson’s final game for ABC was a game fitting of his broadcast career. Jackson called the 2006 BCS Championship, featuring Texas and USC. The game famously ended when Texas QB Vince Young sprinted into the end zone on a fourth-down play with 19 seconds left to give the Longhorns the national title.
Jackson initially retired from broadcasting after calling Tennessee’s BCS Championship win over Florida State in January 1999. But Jackson decided he couldn’t stay away from football and kept broadcasting for the next seven years, primarily calling games in the western part of the country.
In 2015, the Rose Bowl’s radio and television facilities were named for Jackson.
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