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Friday, April 28, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


Steve Kelley

His voice is now ghost of Saturdays past

Seattle Times staff columnist

That voice, low and rumbling like the first shake of a giant earthquake, told us this game was worth watching. This game was valuable enough to spend a large chunk of our Saturday afternoon on. This game was going to be entertaining even if the score turned lopsided.

His was a throwback voice, deep and operatic. A voice that was to college football what Edward R. Murrow's was to war. It was the voice of ultimate authority in his profession.

That voice warmed a living room on a cold autumn afternoon. His was the sound of autumn, as much a part of the season as the crackle from the first bite of an apple, or the gold-tinged foliage, or the carved pumpkins on the front stoop.

Keith Jackson never was shrill. He didn't yell at every third-down conversion. He didn't make an 8-yard gain sound like the play of the century. When Jackson raised his voice, you knew the play was important.

He was the period, not the exclamation point, at the end of every play. He was the voice who introduced us to almost every Heisman Trophy winner and Kodak All-American the past 40 years.

On Thursday, Jackson, 77, who went to Washington State and worked at KOMO-TV, announced that he had broadcast his last event, saying he didn't want to die in a stadium parking lot.

He tried to retire in 1998, making that season feel like a farewell tour. But ABC persuaded him to return, offering him a schedule that kept him close to his Sherman Oaks, Calif., home.

We got seven more years than we deserved. But sports fans are as gluttonous as Henry VIII and most of us wish Jackson could last forever, that the voice, as smooth as Kentucky bourbon through the last play of last January's Rose Bowl, would never die.

Jackson called the game like he was telling a story, tossing in personal anecdotes from every coach from Oklahoma's Bud Wilkinson to USC's Pete Carroll. Listening to him, you felt like you knew him. Felt like he was talking to you.

Jackson always had perfect pitch. He wasn't pedantic or melodramatic, like so many voices today. He wasn't full of hyperbole. He didn't anoint players before their time. He was measured in his praise, in a way most of his successors aren't.

He was objective. When a mistake was made, he told us. When he didn't agree with a call — by a coach, or an official — he said so. But at the same time, he had a great respect for the players and coaches he covered. And he never tried to upstage their game.

Through 40 years, I don't think Jackson ever lost a step. His call of the last Rose Bowl was impeccable. He was on his game as much as Texas quarterback Vince Young. Even at 77, he was the right voice at the right time.

During the University of Washington's heyday, he was the Huskies' national chronicler. Seeing him leaning into the camera with the cantilevered stadium in the background was like an announcement that the next 3 hours were going to stay with you for years to come.

Jackson was folksy and homespun, calling linemen, for instance, "big old hosses." But that folksiness played just as well in New York as it did in Tuscaloosa.

His was the voice of authority. As strong and steady as a Sousa march. Jackson always knew what he was talking about. He knew the teams he was covering. And he knew the game.

Of course, he was an entertainer. When he bellowed "fum-buuul," when the football spurted loose on the ground, your heart would jump into your throat. When he hollered "Whoa, Nellie," which he didn't do nearly as much as the people who imitated him did, you knew something game-changing was happening.

When he started, some 40 years ago, television was much different. There was no "Game Day" crew hyping the game. There was no instant replay. No sideline reporters. Very few crutches.

The call of the game belonged to Jackson, and like Jim Plunkett in the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl, Jackson knew what to do.

He did other sports. Did them all well. He was the first play-by-play man on Monday Night Football. He called the Olympics. He worked, albeit briefly, with Dick Vitale on college basketball And he called the World Series.

But most of all Jackson was college football, as much as Bear Bryant and Joe Paterno.

And when another season kicks off in four months, there will a hole in the game as wide as the one those big old hosses from Texas opened for Vince Young on the final night of Keith Jackson's unparalleled career.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company



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