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'Whoa, Nelly!' Keith Jackson, Voice Of College Football, Dies At 89

Keith Jackson was one of sports' great voices, and one of its most popular play-by-play announcers. He was considered the voice of college football by several generations or watchers.

Jackson died Friday. He was 89.

He began calling college football games for ABC Sports when it acquired the broadcast rights for NCAA football in 1966.

He also worked NFL and NBA games, World Series, Winter and Summer Olympics and auto racing. For the job, he traveled to 31 countries for ABC's Wide World of Sports.

Jackson announced he would retire from college football play-by-play after the 1998 season but ended up continuing with ABC Sports, in 1999. He retired for good in May 2006.

ESPN, which consolidated with ABC sports, announced Jackson's death Friday. The sports network highlighted Jackson's many broadcasting accomplishments:

"Jackson got his start on the radio in 1952, broadcasting Washington State games, but went on to provide the national television soundtrack for the biggest games in the most storied stadiums. His colorful expressions — 'Whoa, Nellie' and 'Big Uglies' among the many — became part of the college football lexicon.

He was credited with nicknaming the Rose Bowl 'The Granddaddy of Them All' and Michigan's stadium 'The Big House.'

Jackson was the first play-by-play voice of Monday Night Football when the program debuted in 1970. He called Bucky Dent's home run against the Red Sox in 1978 as well as Reggie Jackson's three-homer game in the 1977 World Series.

He covered the 1972 Olympics where Mark Spitz won seven gold medals.

In 1999, Jackson was awarded the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame Gold Medal — its highest honor — and named to the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame, the first broadcaster accorded those distinguished honors."

Jackson's death comes three weeks after another sportscasting legend, Dick Enberg, died at age 82.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Doreen McCallister

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