Remembering Keith Jackson: A Visit to Michigan With the Broadcaster

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This article was originally published in November 1998. Keith Jackson, who ended up retiring in 2006, died on Friday at 89.

Look around the Big House in the early morn, Keith Jackson said. Feel its emptiness. Then hunker down a while, watch the crowd fill Michigan Stadium, a sea of maize and blue washing over 92 rows of backless benches. Watch the players burst ebulliently from the tunnel. Watch the Michigan Marching Band warm up. They’ve got mommas and daddies as proud as if they were Big Uglies opening holes for scatbacks. Listen to them belt out “Hail! to the conq’ring heroes!” and get chills like those that made Jackson shiver 40 years ago on his first trip here as the University of Washington’s football announcer, a half-dozen years before he went big-time at ABC Sports.

“This is no doubt my favorite place, to see four generations rise up and appreciate it, for the pageantry, the ambience,” said Jackson, standing inside the stadium’s broadcast booth before last Saturday’s game against Penn State. “Michigan has such grandiosity. It has all those all-Americans. You can’t go anywhere without finding a Michigan graduate.”

With retirement from ABC looming after the season, this was the 70-year-old Jackson’s last sojourn to Ann Arbor to call a Michigan game. Nearly three decades since redefining the sound of televised college football with an evocative idiom and a storyteller’s brio, he insists that it is time to see whether the young bucks in his shadow are as talented as they think. “You want to go when it’s time,” he said. “You’re better off if you go a little early.”

Impending retirement has not altered his routine: He studied tape and game notes at home in Sherman Oaks, Calif., wrote in pencil the teaser for the game’s opening sequence, arrived here late Thursday and met the coaches Friday. At one point during Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr’s low-key meeting with Jackson, his booth mate Bob Griese and the sideline reporter Lynn Swann, Carr said, “I don’t see any merit in losing.”

Source: The New York Times