Keith Jackson: And So It Is Done

“And so it is done.  I say goodbye to all of you.  God bless and good night.”

The 1999 national championship game between Tennessee and Florida State was supposed to be Keith Jackson’s final game.  He had announced his retirement at the outset of the 1998 football season.  Millions of his loyal fans pondered how Saturdays would be the same without the distinctive Georgia accent describing off-tackle breakaways and screen passes.

That one sentence stuck with me on his final signoff:  “And so it is done.”  The final chapter was written in a storybook sportscasting career.  My thoughts were “And So It Is Done” would be a perfect title for a Keith Jackson autobiography.

Little did we know we still had Keith Jackson 1seven more years of “retirement” from Jackson.  After a series of negotiations, he agreed to an easier schedule of Pac-10 games with Dan Fouts that required less of a commute from his Pacific Northwest home.

Keith Jackson was indeed Mr. College Football before columnist Tony Barnhart acquired that title.  Yet, his association with Army-Navy, Alabama-Auburn and Georgia-Clemson left a later generation without an appreciation of the broad expanse of his experience.

The former Marine sergeant covered cliff diving, demolition derbies in Islip, N.Y., auto racing, Olympics, NBA basketball, the World Series, The Superstars and was the original play-by-play commentator of NFL Monday Night Football.  Jackson was in that Mt. Rushmore category of versatility encompassing Lindsey Nelson, Curt Gowdy, Chris Schenkel, and Vin Scully.

I will not recap the same litany you will read in the many tributes and obituaries.  I will share a few personal memories of telecasts and legends attached to Keith Jackson.

Keith jackson 2The assorted recaps of Jackson’s career have inserted the headline “whoa, Nellie” as his trademark line in a football telecast.  That may be the most exaggerated urban legend on his roster.  He did use the phrase in a commercial during the tail end of his career.  However, he once asserted that he never said “whoa, Nellie” while calling a game; the connection came largely from impersonations of Jackson by comedian/sports interviewer Roy Firestone.  Jackson was none too impressed by Firestone’s mimicry.  One of his routines went something like this:  “And it’s another eight-yard gain by Leroy Mullis from WAY-cross, Georgia….he motored around right tackle like a four-wheel drive….whoa, Nellie!”  Jackson may have used the term at some point but I challenge you to filter through the ABC Sports tape library and find an outing where he did.  In the frequent legendary games on ESPN Classic, “whoa, Nellie” is never there.

One of my fondest memories is of something uncharacteristic in Jackson’s impeccable delivery.  He prided himself on strong preparation and an ability to maintain professionalism under any circumstances.  The New Year’s Day 1981 national championship game between Georgia and Notre Dame may have been one exception.  Jackson was setting up the match, indicating that the Bulldogs had never been so far since the days of Charley Trippi.  The producers opted to insert a tape of a short, elderly fellow in a bright red sweater.  Jackson said:  “Here’s just a sample of how the fever had hit Bulldog fans.”  The gentlemen flashed a big grin and yelled:  “HEYYYYYYYY…..HOW ‘BOUT THEM DOGS!!!!  Hum baby, hum baby, hum baby, hum baby, hum baby, hum baby, hum…..”  When the director cut back to the press box, Jackson was in hysterics.  He had three or four keys to the game remaining.  As he attempted to start each one, he could not avoid breaking into more laughter.  I don’t know if Jackson ever met the man but the little fellow went down in history as the only civilian to ever break up Keith Jackson during a broadcast.

In the mid-1990s, I lived in the country where one required a satellite dish to receive acceptable television reception.  I had one of those huge C-band dishes in the days where you could find interesting byplay between sports announcers on the “backhaul” feeds that were not available to over-the-air viewers.  Apparently communications in Jackson’s headphones were faltering.  He was letting the production crew know it.  “All I’m hearing is loud ringing in these things!  It’s so loud, I can’t hear anything you’re saying or anything anybody else is saying.  You better get this thing cleared up or I’m taking these things off and throwing ’em right out the window.”  One assumes the headphone issue was summarily resolved.  I never heard Keith complain about them for the rest of the telecast.

Jackson BroylesThe ABC college football season opener in 1983 was Georgia vs. UCLA in Athens.  For years, Jackson was paired with former Arkansas coach Frank Broyles in the booth.  This was the game in which Rick Neuheisel was in his senior season and started at quarterback for the Bruins.  At least three times during the telecast, Broyles told Jackson how impressed he was with “this Rickheisel.”  Jackson, who enjoyed Broyles, was amused every time.  However, late in the game, with UCLA driving for what would have been a winning touchdown, Neuheisel called a time out deep in Bulldog territory.  Then, before running a play, Neuheisel called another time out.  “He cain’t DO that, Keith!  He cain’t call two time outs in a row!” shouted Broyles.  Jackson said:  “I don’t know if he can or not but if Frank Broyles is that adamant about it, I would suggest he’s about to be penalized.”  UCLA was penalized.  Georgia won.  The Bulldogs eventually backed out of the return game in the Rose Bowl the next year.

Only TV sports historians and devotees remember that first season of NFL Monday Night Football when Jackson was the first play-by-play commentator for an innovative experiment.  ABC was given 13 weeks of prime time pro football for the bargain price of $9.3 million.  That figure is correct.  CBS had failed twice with Monday night games, including once with the Green Bay Packers and another with the Dallas Cowboys.

ABC Sports President Roone Arledge’s plan to give nighttime football an opportunity for success was to turn it into sports entertainment.  Jackson, whose biggest fame was from calling USAC races with Chris Economacki, was given a huge career boost in the role as play-by-play commentator.  The pairing of retired Dallas Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith and outspoken Howard Cosell was considered the counterpoint to sell the package as something different from the Xs-and-Os tradition of Sunday afternoon.

Keith Jackson 3I was a senior in high school when Monday Night Football began in 1970.  Bedtime prevented me from seeing the finish of most of the games except on the eve of one teacher in-service day.  While many viewers were either entertained or agitated at the jousting between Meredith and Cosell, the latter of whom actually had been a commentator in the 1950s when ABC had a package of Saturday night NFL games, one line stayed with me well after the season.  After every extra point kick, before pitching to a commercial break, Jackson would say:  “NFL Monnnnnn-day Night Football…..a great way to spend an autumn evening.”  The next year, when I commuted home to do public address announcing at my alma mater’s games, I admittedly stole the line.  After every Bulldog extra point, I said, “Waycross High Friiiiiiii-day Night Football…..a great way to spend a summer/autumn evening.”  The home fans were amused.  The visitors usually were not.

If you rent or buy the made-for-cable movie Monday Night Mayhem, you will see a reasonably accurate account of those early years of Monday Night Football.  Jackson was on the package for only one season, though he was given a parachute with NBA basketball (bumping pioneer sportscaster Chris Schenkel, whom Jackson later replaced as the lead voice on college football).  He found out he was being replaced by Frank Gifford on the prime time NFL games by reading about it in the trade papers.  He made call after call to Arledge, who was notorious for not returning phone calls to his staff.  Arledge never answered.  In a dramatic scene in the film, Jackson enters Arledge’s office with that jut-jaw Marine personality at its firmness.  He asked why Arledge wasn’t man enough to tell him to his face about losing Monday Night Football.  Arledge said:  “I was going to, Keith, but I never heard from you.”  Jackson proceeded to pull out logs detailing every call he made to Arledge’s office after learning of the news.  Arledge had no answer.

Despite the Monday night snafu—-and one would never agree that Gifford was ever a better announcer than Jackson—-the NFL’s loss was college football’s gift.  He made our Saturday afternoons appointment television with him for more than three decades.

Keith Jackson 4When he finally did make that final call, it was one for the ages.  Vince Young dramatically drove Texas down the field for a final touchdown with only seconds left in a spine-tingling Rose Bowl to beat Southern Cal.  Jackson, in the same mode as the great Ray Scott on NFL games for many years, backed away from the mike and let the pictures tell the story.  He was a master at it.  When he finally returned to speak, he told everything with a simple sentence:  “It’s been a game of drama, of emotions, and great plays—-and the Longhorns are gonna win it.”

ABC had a strong stable of announcers but when Keith Jackson was in Athens, in Tuscaloosa, in Jacksonville, in Pasadena, or Ann Arbor, the games seemed larger than life.  They usually were.  As a commentator and one who could paint a brilliant word picture, Keith Jackson was larger than life.

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It’s Time for Me to Go Away: Farewell to TV Basketball after 25 Years

February 25, 2017

On-air retirement announcement of Steve Beverly as TV voice of the Union University Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs after 25 years at the mike:

Years ago….a broadcaster whom I greatly respected…..Gordon Solie…..began his commentaries with the phrase, “And now….a personal word….if you will.”

So to you…..my friends at home…..this is a personal word to close out this telecast.

Ending a season is never easy because seniors graduate and we won’t see them again on this floor. Seniors also graduate from our broadcast team that brings you these games.

We’re losing our senior producer and director Thomas Gray to graduation at the end of this semester. We will indeed miss Thomas and his leadership. I’m also grateful to our entire crew whose names you see at the end of each Bulldog telecast because they are the ones who make the engine run for Union basketball on TV.

happy-trioNo matter how difficult it is to say goodbye to a season…..it’s far more difficult to say goodbye to a career.

Today brings down the curtain on 25 years of these regular visits with you as I’ve attempted to tell the stories of the Union Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs and their many adventures on this basketball court that now bears the name of The Legend himself David Blackstock.

When I started, I still had a fairly thick…if declining head of hair…..and I was a young fellow of 38. I’ve somehow endured through five American presidents and three Union presidents.

I remember the morning Coach Blackstock called me at my home and asked in that distinctive accent of his, “Can you call our basketball game tonight on TV?”

I told him: “David, I suppose I could….but I haven’t called a game in 17 years.”

He said without a beat: “Then you’re well qualified.”

Occasionally…..I’ll go back and watch the VHS tape of that game I did with former coach Brice Bishop. It was Union vs. Lambuth. I have no earthly idea why they had me back to do a second game.

Somehow….they were patient and for some reason known perhaps only to our Lord, I’m still here.

img_7035-editedIn these 25 years, I have had the great joy to work with some wonderful people…..outstanding coaches in Mark Campbell….Dave Niven….the unpredictable Ralph Turner…..our beloved Lisa Hutchens—who left us much too early—and The Legend himself. I’m especially pleased that despite his recent health issues….
Coach Blackstock has been less than 10 feet away from me at a number of games this season.

His successor as athletic director Tommy Sadler has been enormously supportive of all of our efforts to bring television coverage to you at home…..and you who watch online.

Doing Union Basketball on TV would not be the same without the familiar faces of my good friends Don Richard….Carlo Spencer…..and Josh Simmons at the other end of this same table.

You can go across America and not find a finer sports information director than Steven Aldridge….who could be an S-I-D at any Division 1 program in America but Steven has chosen to make his home here and I’m glad he has.

I’ve also had the rare privilege of having a colleague who has become a great friend in the Hall of Fame radio voice of the Bulldogs Gerry Neese….one of the finest men I know anywhere.

In these 25 years….I’ve had the joy of mentoring more than 120 different student commentators who have joined me at the mike. Some of them….including Jonathan Huskey, Philip Tang, Steven Williams and Adam Wells have gone on to excellent sports broadcasting careers of their own. My first woman analyst….former Union All-American Lee Nunamaker Pipkin….is a talented coach in her own right and has a state championship trophy at Chester County.

I’ve had so many personal thrills and memories that I can’t begin to list them all. However….the 1997 TranSouth conference championship game on this floor when Michelle Street scored a Union record 45 points in a double overtime win over Freed Hardeman is still my favorite thriller.

Right up there were the nights when David Blackstock in 1998 and Mark Campbell in 2005 won their first N-A-I-A national championships at Oman Arena. I had 13 wonderful years as the TV voice of that great women’s tournament. Five of those years….I called Union taking home the banner as national champion. Many broadcasters go through an entire lifetime without a chance to call a title game of any kind. For that, I have been especially proud and humbled.

img_7033One of America’s finest broadcasters is Tim Brando. I’m proud that he has become a friend and mentor to me in recent years. Tim has reminded me several times never to minimize the importance of the role of a broadcaster at the N-A-I-A or N-C-Double-A Division 2 level. “Somebody has to do those games,” he told me. He also said, “Always remember that when you call a game, it means as much to those kids as it does to any kid at the Division 1 level.” That’s why I’ve always tried to give my best at this microphone. It’s these young people who matter most.

A difficult challenge for any sports broadcaster is to know when it’s time. In recent months….we’ve seen the legendary Verne Lundquist and Brent Musberger put a final bow on their storied careers.

The tough part is how to avoid hanging on too long. No broadcaster should hold onto a seat just for the sake of longevity…..but it’s a struggle to know when to say when.

A few weeks ago after our TV doubleheader on January 12th, for a variety of reasons, I knew it was time.

Ultimately, after a lot of discussion and prayer…..I made the decision to retire as the television voice of the Union Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs effective with the end of this broadcast.

It’s not necessarily the time I want to hang it up. I feel healthy enough and I could probably go on another couple of years.

But several circumstances have led me to the conclusion that I can no longer deliver in this role at a standard that I feel is my professional best. A number of reasons have led me to that evaluation…..some of which will remain personal.

To continue in a fashion where I cannot do my best would be unfair to the athletes whose exploits I have described for a quarter of a century……to Union University……or to you, the viewers.

20160311_113813I will miss the visits that we have had together these 25 years…..but the increasing pressures and responsibilities required to prepare these broadcasts and some related circumstances have compromised my ability to perform at a level that I feel is acceptable.

I will continue to see you as a commentator on Jackson 24-7……and on our weekly Saturday and Sunday night excursions into the world of TV Classics on TV6.

But this evening….I reflect the words of a man I esteem as one who should be on the Mount Rushmore of basketball broadcasters. The great Dick Enberg said on his final night on CBS: “As a sports commentator, it’s time for me to go away.” Likewise, it is time for me to go away.

I’m extraordinarily grateful that you at home who have watched us regularly over these years have accepted me for as long as you have…..and been kind enough to forgive my many mistakes and my rather unorthodox humor.

It’s a relationship I value and will always treasure as a golden memory.

I’ve truly enjoyed our visits in your home and I sincerely hope all of you will continue your support of the Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs—-on television and in person.

I hate long goodbyes—-so I will close this one out by simply saying…..for the 610th and last time at this microphone—–this is Steve Beverly saying, “God bless you….and so long…..from the great Hub City of West Tennessee!”