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Keith Jackson, Legendary College Football Sportscaster, Dies at 89

Keith Jackson, a longtime voice of college football for ABC, died Friday night, according to numerous media reports. He was 89.

Jackson’s sportscasting career began in Washington in the early ’50s, and covered a variety of sports events, including minor league baseball and hydroplane races. His coverage of NCAA games, however, gained him the most notoriety, particularly for the colloquial phrases he employed, such as referring to linemen as “big uglies.”

He was well-known for his supposedly signature phrase, “Whoa, Nellie!” although Jackson repeatedly denied over the years that the phrase was a catchphrase of his and stated he had learned it from earlier television announcer Dick Lane.

“This ‘Whoa, Nellie!’ thing is overrated,” he said. “There were all kinds of stories going around. People said I had a mule in Georgia named Nellie. Well, we had a mule in Georgia, but her name was Pearl.”

Jackson was also known for epithets like “Hold the phone!” when a penalty was called, or “fum-BLE” if a player dropped the ball.

He attempted to retire at the end of the 1998 season, citing his nearing 70th birthday. He called the first BCS National Championship Game between Tennessee and Florida State as his apparent last game.

The retirement was not to last, however, and Jackson returned to ABC the following season, though with a much more limited range, keeping mostly to the West Coast, near his home in California. He finally retired for good in 2006, calling the 2006 Rose Bowl game with Texas facing Southern California in the BCS National Championship Game.

Jackson received numerous honors throughout his career, including a Gold Medal Award in 1999 from the National Football Foundation, and a 1994 induction into the ASA Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the NSSA Hall of Fame in 1995, winning its National Sportscaster of the Year award five times in a row.

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