I was a pretty typical kid when it came to figuring out what I wanted to do when I grew up. My preferences changed from week to week, moving from chef to weatherman to whatever it was Robert Redford did in The Horse Whisperer (shut up, I can hear the laughing). I still hadn't really thought of what I wanted to do by the time I was a senior in high school when my parents made a suggestion that changed my life.
See, when I played games like Madden, NCAA Football or MLB2KWhateverYearItIs, I'd frequently mute the television and do the commentary myself. Unbeknownst to me, my family would frequently listen in and knew of my penchant for calling football games. So my senior year, my parents suggested, "Why don't you try to become a sports play-by-play commentator?"
The idea sounded good. Travel around the country, watch a ton of sports and tons of people get to hear my voice? Yeah, sure sounds fun. But I knew the odds weren't exactly in my favor. About a week later, I sat down to the 2006 National Championship. USC v. Texas. The Rose Bowl. It's still the greatest football game I've ever watched. But while many remember this final Texas score for the incredible moment that it was, I remembered it for something entirely different.
"4th and 5....I kinda feel like Joe, I'm too old for this...4th and 5, the national championship on the line right here....he's goin for the cornerrrrrrr, he's got it! Vince Young scores."
It was the last and, to me, the greatest game Keith Jackson would ever call. I'd heard him call games before, listened to the dulcet Georgia tones describe some of the most monumental plays in college football history with the perfect words, at the perfect pace and with the perfect amount of emphasis. He'd called the greatest game my ears had ever heard in his 78th year on this earth.
It was settled that day. I'd try my damnedest to follow in Keith Jackson's footsteps. That all started at Washington State University.
For such a small little land-grant university tucked away amongst the rolling hills of the Palouse, the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication can arguably boast the most prestigious alumni roll in the United States. Edward R. Murrow, who many would consider the father of television and radio journalism. Kathi Goertzen, a woman who touched the lives of so many through her incredible craft but also her very public fight with brain tumors. Keith Jackson, the voice of college football.
Calling someone the voice of an entire subset of a sport is pretty lofty. Baseball has Vin Scully, professional football has Howard Cosell, hockey has guys like Mike Emrick and Bob Miller, basketball has Chick Hearn.
College football is Keith Jackson. Watch this and tell me he isn't:
He's the reason you call the Rose Bowl the "Granddaddy of 'em all". He's why no one calls it Michigan Stadium, it's The Big House. He's why, when my wife gives birth to our first child, I'll scream "WHHOAAAAAAAA NELLIE!" as I run down the hospital hall celebrating (don't tell her yet, I want it to be a surprise).
Over the years, he called thing other than college football. He did commentary for the first sporting event American cameras were allowed to see in the Soviet Union. He was the first announcer on Monday Night Football. He'd call the Olympics and he even did this (still my favorite non-college football related item):
Keith Jackson did an awful lot over a career that spanned more than half a century. But he'll always, and forever, be known for the incredible work he did for college football. Whenever he was lucky enough to call a Washington State game, and luckily ABC never shied away from sending him to Pullman, you could always hear the extra twinge of excitement or agony in his voice.
We've been lucky to call him a Washington State University alum for an awfully long time; a man synonymous with a game we all love so much. This weekend, he gets the recognition he so rightfully deserves, having the Murrow West Building renamed the Jackson Building in his honor. I'm proud to call him one of my broadcasting heroes because, for 60 plus years, he called games the way I wish I could; the way every person with a dream to do what he did wishes they could.
I can dream of a lot of things. I can dream of one day sitting in the booth for the "Granddaddy of 'em all." I can dream of traveling around the country and watching the best college football teams lock horns in epic gridiron battles for the ages. I can dream of spending decades doing something I love.
I can't dream of one thing: holding a candle to Keith Jackson.
Congratulations on this incredible honor, Mr. Jackson.