Keith Jackson
Born (1928-10-18) October 18, 1928 (age 91)
Roopville, Georgia, U.S.A.
OccupationRadio personality
Sports commentator
Television personality
Years active1952–2006, 2010–present
Spouse(s)Turi Ann Jackson
Children3 adult children
3 grandchildren

Keith Jackson (born October 18, 1928) is an American former sportscaster, known for his long career with ABC Sports (1966–2006), his coverage of college football (1952–2006), his style of folksy, down-to-earth commentary, and his distinctive voice, with its deep cadence, and operatic tone considered "like Edward R. Murrow reporting on World War II, the voice of ultimate authority in college football."[1]


Early lifeEdit

Keith Jackson was born on October 18, 1928 and grew up on a farm outside Carrollton, Georgia, near the Georgia-Alabama state line.[2] The only surviving child in a poor family, he grew up listening to sports on the radio.[2] After enlisting and serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, he attended Washington State University under the G.I. Bill.[3] Jackson began as a political science major, but he became interested in broadcasting.[4] He graduated in 1954 with a degree in speech communications.[5]

Broadcast careerEdit

Though best known for his college football broadcasts, Jackson announced numerous other sports for ABC throughout his career, including Major League Baseball, NBA basketball, boxing, auto racing, PGA Tour golf, the USFL, and the Olympic Games. He briefly worked college basketball with Dick Vitale.[6] Jackson also served as the pregame/halftime/postgame anchor for ABC's coverage of Super Bowl XXII in 1988. During his onair tenure he is credited with nicknaming the Rose Bowl as "The Grandaddy of them All" and Michigan Stadium as "The Big House".[7]

Early assignmentsEdit

Jackson began his career as a broadcaster at Washington State in 1952, when he called a radio game between Stanford and Washington State. He then worked for KOMO radio in Seattle, and later for KOMO-TV from 1954 to 1964 as co-anchor for their first news team (first co-anchor news team on the West Coast), covering Seafair hydroplane races, minor league Seattle Rainiers baseball games, and University of Washington football games. In 1958, Jackson became the first American sports announcer to broadcast an event from the Soviet Union, a crew race between the Washington Huskies and a Soviet team.[8] Despite heavy suspicion and numerous hurdles by the Soviet authorities, Jackson and his cohorts were able to cover the race: the first ever American sports victory on Russian soil.[9] He became a radio news correspondent for ABC News Radio and sports director of ABC Radio West in 1964 before joining ABC Sports in 1966.[2]

Jackson helped Walter Cronkite cover the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco.[8]

Professional footballEdit

In the early 1960s, Jackson covered American Football League games.[2] In 1970, he was chosen to be the first play-by-play announcer on Monday Night Football covering the NFL, but he remained in that capacity only for the program's first season.[2] Frank Gifford was ABC's initial target but could not get out of his CBS contract until after the 1970 season. In 1971, however, Gifford landed the job. Jackson found out that he had been taken off the Monday Night package from 38 messages, not from Roone Arledge himself. This led to some contention between him and the brass at ABC.[10]

Jackson was the lead play-by-play announcer for the United States Football League broadcasts on ABC from 1983 to 1985. He was paired with Lynn Swann and Tim Brant. He called all three championship games in the league's short history.

Olympic GamesEdit

Jackson was involved in the ABC coverage of the 1972 Summer Olympics and continued to contribute even when an attack by Palestinian terrorists transformed the coverage from that of a typical sporting event to a greater international and historical news event.[11] In all, he covered a total of 10 Summer and Winter Olympic Games.[8] He covered speed-skating during the 1980 Winter Olympics featuring Eric Heiden. Interestingly enough, he was offered the position of play-by-play for hockey, but turned it down (the position ultimately went to Al Michaels). He covered basketball in 1984.[10]


He was ABC's lead basketball play-by-play announcer with legendary NBA player Bill Russell for four years.[10]

Wide World of SportsEdit

Jackson was a regular part of ABC's popular Wide World of Sports (WWOS), covering both popular sports and obscure events like wrist wrestling.[4] For WWOS he covered Evel Knievel's successful jump at Exhibition Stadium, in Toronto, Canada, on August 20, 1974;[12] He also handled WWOS' first coverage of boxer Sugar Ray Leonard at the North American Continental Boxing Championships on July 26, 1975, who Jackson called a young boxer to watch.[13] He teamed with Jackie Stewart and Chris Economaki in (WWOS) coverage of auto racing; among the notable events covered by Jackson was the 1974 Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Major League BaseballEdit

In baseball, Keith Jackson called (alongside Tim McCarver) the famous 16-inning sixth game of the 1986 National League Championship Series between the New York Mets and Houston Astros. That turned out to be the final Major League Baseball game that Jackson broadcast. Jackson had previously broadcast ABC's coverage of the 1977, 1979 and 1981 World Series (Jackson split play-by-play duties with Al Michaels for the latter two with Jackson calling the games at the American League site), the 1978, 1980 and 1982 All-Star Game (again, sharing play-by-play duties with Al Michaels for the latter two), the 1980 National League Championship Series, the 1976, 1978 and 1982 American League Championship Series, the 1981 American League Division Series between the New York Yankees and Milwaukee Brewers, and the 1978 American League East tie-breaker game between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox alongside Don Drysdale. He also called various Monday Night Baseball and other regular-season games for ABC throughout the late 1970s and early '80s.

Jackson's role on ABC's college football coverage occasionally interfered with his postseason baseball commitments.[14] For instance, he was unavailable to call Game 1 of the 1976 ALCS because he had just finished calling an Oklahoma-Texas college football game for ABC. Thus, Bob Uecker filled-in for Jackson for Game 1. In 1978, Jackson called another Oklahoma-Texas football game for ABC on the afternoon October 7, then flew to New York, arriving just in time to call Game 4 of the ALCS that same night. On October 11, 1980, Jackson called once again called an Oklahoma-Texas football game for ABC in the afternoon, then flew to Houston to call Game 4 of the NLCS. In the meantime, Don Drysdale filled-in for Jackson on play-by-play for the early innings.

College basketballEdit

Starting in 1987, he was the ABC's lead play-by-play announcer for college basketball, teaming with analyst Dick Vitale. This partnership lasted until 1992.[10]

College footballEdit

For all his success, he received the most acclaim for his coverage of college football. He genuinely enjoyed the sport and the purity of it.[10] Jackson began his ABC career at a time when television play-by-play announcers did not always have regular analysts. He would only once miss working a college season in his over 50 years (when he served as play-by-play announcer during the inaugural season of Monday Night Football), beginning in 1952.[2] Jackson was joined in the booth by Joe Paterno for the 1974 Michigan-Ohio State game in Columbus, while Woody Hayes accompanied him for the 1974 Notre Dame-USC game.[15] In his many years covering college football, Jackson was paired with a wide variety of color commentators, including Jackie Jensen (1966–1967), Lee Grosscup (1972), Bud Wilkinson (1969–1975), Ara Parseghian (1975–1979), Frank Broyles (1978–1985), Lynn Swann (1984–1985), Tim Brant (1986, 2001–2002), Bob Griese (1987–1999), and Dan Fouts (2002–2005). Jackson called 16 Sugar Bowls and 15 Rose Bowls during his time at ABC.

For many years, he was assigned by ABC to the primary national game of the week. His quirky expressions such as "Whoa, Nellie!", "Fum-BLE!" and "Hold the phonnnnne!" (following a penalty flag) are often the subject of comedic imitation. Though he greatly popularized it, Jackson notes that he learned the term "Whoa, Nellie" from earlier television announcer Dick Lane.[8] He has often referred to offensive and defensive line players as the Big Uglies, or to an individual by saying "That a hus" (horse). Jackson is also credited with coining the nickname for Michigan Stadium, The Big House.[16] In the season before his first retirement, during what was thought to be his final game at The Big House, the Michigan Marching Band's halftime show concluded by spelling out "Thanks Keith" across the field. The 111,019 fans turned toward the press box, stood up and cheered for the commentator. As a part of the halftime event former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler presented Jackson with a jersey with "The Big House" across the front and a Michigan football helmet.[16]

During the mid-'80s, he began falling out of favor with ABC executives due to the rise of stars such as Al Michaels and Jim Lampley. Jackson's contract expired after the 1986 Sugar Bowl. He had a 3 month "retirement" until new ABC Sports President Dennis Swanson personally offered him a 3 year contract, which he accepted.[10]

In the 1990s, Jackson recorded videos for the centennial of the Alabama Crimson Tide. In 2006, Jackson introduced the Nebraska Cornhuskers' "Tunnel Walk" video on the stadium "HuskerVision" screens. This video played before every home game at Memorial Stadium in the 2006 season. It was also used for one home game in 2007, against Texas A&M. On September 26, 2009, for the 300th consecutive sellout of Memorial Stadium, Jackson again provided a video tribute to the fans of Nebraska.

Jackson's connections to the University of Nebraska remain strong. It was Jackson himself that the university contacted when designing its new pressbox facility—Jackson's advice included a recommendation that it include a separate restroom inside the broadcast booth, as few if any broadcast booths had any suitable restroom facilities. When Jackson broadcast the Nebraska/California game the following season (the debut of the Cornhuskers' new pressbox), he found a restroom in the booth with a sign reading "The Keith Jackson Memorial Bippy." The sign was a joke from Jackson's longtime friend, Nebraska sports information director Don Bryant. The name stuck, and a permanent plaque was put up next to the restroom door that reads "The Keith Jackson Toilet Facility - Dedicated Sept 11, 1999".

On November 3, 2007 during the half time of the Arkansas vs South Carolina game, Jackson was present in the press box at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium as the Master of Ceremonies for the retirement of and field dedication to longtime ABC color commentator and partner Frank Broyles.

Jackson would call the 1972 USC Trojans the greatest team he ever saw.[17] Jackson, who was in his first year in ABC football broadcasting narrating the taped highlights of the 1967 USC vs. UCLA football game, declared it many years later to be the greatest game he has ever seen.[18]

Jackson's career was not free of incidents. During the 1978 Gator Bowl, Jackson missed Ohio State Head Coach Woody Hayes' infamous punch of Clemson defensive lineman Charlie Bauman. Bauman had intercepted a pass and was pushed out of bounds on the Ohio State sidelines, and a frustrated Hayes threw a forearm at Bauman's throat. Jackson (and color commentator Ara Parseghian) failed to see or comment on Hayes' actions, which had been captured from a different vantage point on camera. No replay of the actual incident was available in the booth during the telecast, as the television crew was working with limited replay capability.[19] In addition to this, no sideline reporter was available to provide information on the cause of the unsportsmanlike penalties that occurred as a result.[20] This led to accusations that Jackson was protecting Hayes, who was later fired for the incident.[2]


Jackson announced his first retirement from college football at the end of the 1998 season and his intention to live full time at his home in California. Choosing the 1999 National Championship at the Fiesta Bowl between Tennessee and Florida State as his last broadcast, he concluded the program by stating "Tennessee 23, Florida State 16. And so it is done. I say goodbye to all of you. God bless and good night."[4] During the game, Jackson also verbally recognized that John Ward, Tennessee's long-time radio sportscaster, was also broadcasting his last football game for the Vols.

Jackson rescinded his decision the following fall and began to do a more limited schedule of games, teamed with Tim Brant and later Dan Fouts, almost exclusively sticking to venues on the West Coast, closer to his home in British Columbia. Two notable exceptions were the 2003 Michigan–Ohio State game and the 2005 Oklahoma vs. Texas football game. Both were the 100th meeting between two archrivals. He strongly hinted that he was interested in retiring for good after the 2005 season, telling The New York Times that he was feeling his age after 53 seasons.[21] ABC tried to lure Jackson to stay, but he made up his mind.[1] Jackson decided to retire for good on April 27, 2006, at age 77, noting he didn't want to die in a stadium parking lot.[6] His last game call was the 2006 Rose Bowl featuring Texas vs. Southern Cal. Ironically, the game was the last for ABC Sports, as it was integrated with ESPN the following summer and is now known as ESPN on ABC.

Big 10 IconsEdit

In March, 2010, the Big Ten Conference announced that Jackson would host a 20-episode series called Big 10 Icons which will highlight what the Big 10 Conference considers the league's top 50 student-athletes. The series will be presented countdown style, and the top Big Ten student athlete will be revealed during a program to be broadcast during the 2011 Big Ten Basketball Tournament.[22]

Awards and honorsEdit

In 1999, the National Football Foundation awarded Jackson the Gold Medal Award, its highest honor.[23] The same year he was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame for his many years of contribution to "The Granddaddy of Them All".[24] The Edward R. Murrow School of Communication at Washington State University awarded their alumnus with the Murrow Award for top leaders in the communication industry in 1999;[25] Jackson was a charter member of the WSU Foundation, founded in 1979, provided scholarship money to the Murrow School and chaired the fund-raising drive for the school's alumni center.[4] In 1994, Jackson was inducted into the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame.[26] On April 24, 1995, he was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame, having won its National Sportscaster of the Year five successive times.[11] The American Football Coaches Association awarded him its Amos Alonzo Stagg Award in 1993 as an individual "whose services have been outstanding in the advancement of the best interests of football."[27] He was the first sports announcer to receive the Stagg award.[8]

Longtime Penn State Head Coach Joe Paterno said of Jackson: "I don't think you could say that there is any one person who is not a coach, athletic director or administrator who has done more for college football than Keith Jackson".[8] Michigan Head Coach Lloyd Carr described Jackson as "a symbol of all the good things in college football".[8]

Film and television appearancesEdit

Jackson has had a minor career as an actor, often either playing himself, as on an episode of Coach; or a sportscaster like himself, as in The Fortune Cookie (1966), appearing in the first speaking role of the film "Football Announcer" as a CBS play-by-play man, a network for whom he never worked. He has also appeared in and narrated several sports documentaries. His play-by-play of the 1977 World Series is used in the background of the Spike Lee film, Summer of Sam (1999). In 2007, he appeared in clips and voice on the ESPN original series, The Bronx Is Burning, featuring clips from ABC's Monday Night Baseball, and ABC Sports' coverage of the 1977 World Series.

Jackson has appeared in numerous commercials, especially in the latter stages of his career. He once parodied his broadcast persona for a Bud Light beer commercial, in which he played the officiating minister at a wedding, finishing with his famous line, "Whoa, Nellie!" He also appeared in commercials for Shoney's, a chain of family-style restaurants well known in the Southeast, especially in his native Georgia. Most recently, Jackson has appeared in "The Legend of Gatorade" ads, which he humorously alluded to during his live coverage of the 2006 Rose Bowl. In 2006, he also was shown in a commercial for Ice Breakers' Ice Cubes with Hilary Duff, Haylie Duff and Joey Lawrence, again contributing his famous "Whoa, Nellie!"

Jackson was portrayed by actor Shuler Hensley in the 2002 made-for-cable film Monday Night Mayhem, which aired on TNT. This film told the story of the initial seasons of Monday Night Football.


Jackson is a long-time resident of California. He and his wife, Turi Ann, have three grown children, Melanie, Lindsey & Christopher, and three grandchildren, Ian, Holly & Spencer. He currently resides in the Los Angeles area.

On the subject of writing a book, Jackson has admitted that he's considered it, but joked that he would only sit down and work on one if he were to ever lose his golf swing.[28]

Notable broadcastsEdit






  1. 1.0 1.1 Broadcaster Keith Jackson set to retire, The Sporting News, April 27, 2006.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Crowe, Jerry (August 21, 1995). "Big man on campus - sportscaster Keith Jackson". The Sporting News.
  3. "1994 Hall of Fame Inductee: Keith Jackson". American Sportscasters Association. Retrieved August 20, 2007.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 "'God bless and good night'". CNN. January 5, 1999. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
  5. Murphy, Craig (May 2004). "Antique Dealer Can't Ignore a Bargain". Washington State Magazine.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Steve Kelley, His voice is now ghost of Saturdays past, The Seattle Times, April 28, 2006.
  7. "'Big Ten Icons' to Count Down Conference's All-Time Top 50 Student-Athletes: Iconic broadcaster Keith Jackson to host the series launching this fall". CBS Interactive. 2010-03-04. Retrieved 2010-03-27.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 Andrew Krebs, Wide world of Jackson, The Daily Collegian, November 8, 1997.
  9. Howard Ramaley, 1922-2006, KOMO-TV, October 31, 2007.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 "Video". CNN. February 9, 1987. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
  11. 11.0 11.1 NSSA Hall Of Fame: 1986-1995 Inductees, National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, Accessed August 20, 2007.
  12. Classic Wide World of Sports Episode 25,, Accessed August 20, 2007.
  13. Wide World of Sports Highlights -- 1970s, ABC Sports Online, Accessed August 20, 2007.
  14. "Keith Jackson and ABC conflicts with college FB and MLB playoffs (1976-1986)". Classic Sports TV & Media. 10 October 2012. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  15. Broadcast clip,
  16. 16.0 16.1 Sharat Raju, One year later, Taylor still contributing to Wolverines, The Michigan Daily, November 9, 1998.
  17. Beano Cook, All-time top 25: '47 Irish were greatest,, August 1, 2007.
  18. Coach of the Year (2007) - hosted by Keith Jackson "Keith Jackson has been broadcasting college football since 1952 and has reported games like the “Game of the Century” between UCLA and Southern Cal in 1967."
  19. No Armageddon Bowls For Him, Sports Illustrated, 1979
  20. Simple Fist of Fate, LA Times, 2003
  21. Keith Jackson Mulls Retirement From ABC Sports, The New York Times, March 21, 2006.
  23. Past Gold Medal Winners, National Football Foundation, Accessed August 20, 2007.
  24. Rose Bowl Hall of Fame, Tournament of Roses, Accessed August 20, 2007.
  25. Murrow Symposium, Washington State University, Accessed August 20, 2007.
  26. American Sportscasters Association
  27. Amos Alonzo Stagg Award - Past Winners, American Football Coaches Association, Accessed August 20, 2007.
  28. USA Weekend: November 23, 2008

External linksEdit

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.