PASADENA, Calif. — A few hundred family, friends and admirers said goodbye to the voice of college football, sportscaster Keith Jackson, at the Rose Bowl on Sunday.
Jackson provided a unique soundtrack for the sport for over five decades before he retired in 2006. Jackson died in January at the age of 89.
In the venue he stamped “The Granddaddy of Them All,” speakers shared their most memorable stories about their time spent with one of the most well-known voices in sports.
“This was Keith Jackson’s cathedral,” said Tim Brant, who served as the master of ceremonies. Jackson worked 15 Rose Bowls, and lived nearby in Sherman Oaks. “This was his chapel to college football.”
All of the stories had one central theme — the folksy Jackson establishing a kinship with his listeners.
“He connected with you in a way that people have a hard time connecting,” said former Washington State University quarterback Jason Gesser. Jackson graduated WSU in 1954 after serving as a mechanic in the U.S. Marines.
The two-hour memorial included a video montage of Jackson over a professional career spanning five decades, along with celebrities whose lives he touched through the years including Kenny Chesney, Pete Carroll, J.J. Watt, Desmond Howard and Mark Spitz.
Broadcasting heavyweights like Al Michaels, Brent Musburger and Verne Lundquist also chimed in through video.
USC athletic director Lynn Swann said if Jackson was broadcasting one of his games back in college, he felt the need to play well. Swann summed up the likable Jackson in one word: Respect.
“When Keith did a game you respected the job he did,” Swann said. “He was a consummate professional. He had the respect of all of his peers. He had the respect of all the college coaches and everybody he talked to in the games that he covered, and the respect of all of the players.”
Pro Football Hall of Famer Bob Griese said Jackson’s eloquence and succinctness helped capture an audience, whatever the sporting event. Jackson compiled an impressive list of sporting events he covered, including Monday Night Football, the Olympics, college football championships and golf.
“He just said the right thing at the right time,” Griese said.
Jackson’s was a simple approach as an announcer: Amplify, clarify and don’t intrude.
“To me, Keith was our Walter Cronkite of sports broadcasting,” said Ann Meyers Drysdale. “He was trustworthy. He was accurate. He was totally respected, and certainly those of us at home felt like we were watching with him, whatever sports he was doing.”
Of course, Jackson was known for having a unique way of describing the action, from stamping offensive lineman as “Big Uglies” to the often-impersonated, but seldom used by Jackson “Whoa, Nellie” to describe a big play.
“There will never be another Keith,” Dan Fouts said. “Thank God for giving us the privilege and honor to have worked with him, and to have gotten to know him as a special friend.”
Christopher Jackson, the youngest son of Keith Jackson, said his father was the same man at home who viewers got to know on the air.
“He was special because he managed to connect to people through an electronic box,” Christopher Jackson said. “He came across as someone that each one of us would love to have as a dad, grandfather, neighbor or golf partner.
“People loved Keith Jackson for the person he was, not the job he did. … As he would often say, he was just passing through.”