There aren’t many broadcasters in the world that compare to him. A few months ago Keith Jackson finally stepped away from the broadcasting spotlight at ABC Sports. In a rare interview, he reflects back on many things over his career in a memorable conversation including not liking the BCS, Howard Cosell, and so many more enjoyable topics.
Listen to the Keith Jackson CYInterview:
(Backup Player: Including IE)
Chris Yandek: First off how are you?
Keith Jackson: “I am doing fine. Thank Chris.”
CY: Did you know right after the 2006 Rose Bowl game between USC and Texas that this is the way to go out after decades of sports broadcasting service?
KJ: “As fast as I could. Which amounted to a rather deliberate walk at my age, but nonetheless it was effective. I escaped over the hill before the buffy.”
CY: After the 1998 season you said you were going to retire and leave it all and ended up going on a retirement your. Why did you stay almost a decade more in the booth calling games?
KJ: “They reduced the schedule to the West coast primarily and that reduced the amount of traveling obviously. I think it was the traveling as much as anything. 53 years is a long time to do anything. I had just about worn it out. I think the lightest moment that occurred might have been in a Denver airport one day when a fellow was rubbing my feet with his wand. I said to him, ‘If you rub my feet one more time I am gonna kiss you.’ He went through the back door on the run. That was the only laugh I had through the business fighting my way through airports.”
CY: What will a Saturday in the fall be like for you now and will you miss it?
KJ: “Quiet and peaceful. I will probably stay home. The last baseball game I believe I have been to was the 1986 New York Mets vs. Houston Astros playoff game down in the dome. That 16 inning marathon. Tim McCarver and I did it. I don’t think I have been to a major league baseball game since. So I can walk away and be satisfied with it.”
CY: Do you remember the first game you ever called?
KJ: “College football. It would have been 1952, Washington State and Stanford. I was still in school at Washington State. Bob Mathis was in the backfield for the Stanford Indians in those days. The cougar quarterback fumbled the snap for the extra point. Otherwise it would have been a tie. Stanford won the game 14-13. I broadcast the game on the campus radio station, which was then KWSC. That’s the little radio station that gave us the likes of Edward R. Murrow in times past.”
CY: Was there one venue where you felt at home when you were broadcasting?
KJ: “Always felt at home. I enjoyed it. I was talking to people. The only time I ever felt like I was a public address announcer if you will or an announcer per say was that Monday Night Football gig in 1970. It made me the highest paid public address announcer sitting between Howard and Don. It was fun because it was obvious that this was something special. This was something that would last for a time because the appetite for it was so high. The idea was good and it worked as you well know.”
CY: What was your favorite rivalry game to call over the years?
KJ: “I like Michigan vs. Ohio State. I like USC vs. UCLA. For a great long time being a southern guy, I felt Alabama vs. Tennessee might have the epitome of a college football game. Then at the same time you’d go over to Legion Field for years and do an Auburn vs. Alabama game. Hard to overlook that, and on it goes. It depends on your provincial interests. College athletics and in particular I think college football is the one sport where provincialism is not only essential, but it is the backbone of the existence of the sport.”
CY: How did Whoa Nelly come to be? Is Nelly a person?
KJ: “No. I never really used that. It hung on me by some people around the country. I guess I said it, but I never used it as a signature. I had a mule named Pearl. I never even knew anybody named Nelly until I was grown and gone to the Marine Corps. Maybe Don Nelson was the first Nelly I ever knew. I don’t know for sure. It just got stuck on me. It’s been there all along. Once in a while Bob Griese use to get me a lot to do a Whoa Nelly. Give them a Whoa Nelly. The last time I did that was with Reggie Bush on a particularly spectacular play. I did it one time for running back Chris Perry of Michigan. He had a huge game against the Ohio State Buckeyes. It became kind of a fun thing. Desmond Howard had that long run down the sideline and made the pose in the endzone. I made that comment hello Heisman. That was not rehearsed. It was just simply an outburst from me having seen one more spectacular player of his time create a great play. It was Desmond Howard who told me once that returning a punt or kick is like running through a thunderstorm. I thought that was the most apt description one could come up with. I have always appreciated it.”
CY: Was there ever one player or a few that you just loved calling over your career?
KJ: “No. Because it’s my assumption when they’re on the field that they are all doing the best they can. That’s part of the magic of sport. On a given day or evening in any sport there can be one individual that can have that one moment that will last a lifetime. You often times will accord them with gratuitous comments and overlook the fact as I want to call him the big ugly over there that’s been grinding over there for 58 minutes, has busted his butt, and hardly ever gets mentioned. The technology of TV has evolved to the point where the offensive lineman are finally getting some credit and emerging from that pit of amenity.”
CY: Do you miss the pre BCS format of college football?
KJ: “Yes I do. I have talked. My tongue came loose on it. I don’t say much about it anymore because it’s none of my business and it’s not gonna change anything. I always felt they could have kept the bowl situation as they had and retained the four major bowl arrangements. After all those bowl games had been played, then pick the top four teams. I don’t care how you do it or by whom, but pick the top four teams after the bowl games. Then play a semi final and final.”
CY: What are your memories of Howard Cosell?
KJ: “I worked with Howard for 22 years. We did baseball together and a lot of things together. Boxing and things like that. We always had a good time together. We became friends and I never had trouble with him of any kind. We were often times involved in practical jokes and things like that. I think it was the 1979 World Series between Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and we came into the booth and I think Schaffer was the mayor at the time and we would go into the booth for the first broadcast, and Howard from the outset started complaining about crab cakes, ‘You think the mayor could deliver a few crab cakes for us.’ He went on and on about it. We got back to the hotel in Towson and I had a corner room with a pretty good size sitting area. I went back to my room and I could smell it going down the hall. It was full of crab cakes. The next day we go to the ballpark, and when Howard showed up at the ballpark the next day the booth was full of crab cakes. We finally tooted them off to the hotel and gave them away as best we could. They must have sent 200 crab cakes. We had a lot of fun. We really did.”
CY: As someone who covered it, what do you remember about the 1972 Munich Olympics?
KJ: “Well, I covered everything that splashed. I did all the swimming, diving, and water polo. Of course the Mark Spitz story was the big story. My work was fundamentally done before all the hell breaking loose. I really was two days from leaving to do the opening game of the college football season. I flew from Munich to Atlanta and did the Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee football game. I was there when it happened. In fact several of us left the broadcast building at about the same time those guys were going over the fence. There was a levy, a berm if you will that separated our building from that entry point. If anybody had walked up the steps and had a look at the little village you could see. I got a call from Los Angeles believe it or not. I wasn’t really involved in that so much. I did Spitz story there and in 1985 did Eric Heiden’s story at Lake Placid. I have covered the two most prolific gold medal winning people in the history of the Olympic games.”
CY: Finally, what do you plan to do in retirement life?
KJ: “As little as possible. I aspire to be the shop steward of the international porch sitters union.”