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ISSUE 119 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/12/2006

Inside the Lines: 'Whoa nellie' no more

By Matt Tiano
Sports Editor

Friday, May 12, 2006

Springtime brings a number of noteworthy events to the sports world:– the NBA playoffs, the NFL draft, the opening of baseball season and the Kentucky Derby, to name a few. For that reason, college football often understandably goes by the wayside. Last week, the college game lost to retirement not only a true ambassador, but a man integral to the identity of the sport.

While you may not immediately recognize the name Keith Jackson, you surely have had a special relationship with him if you follow college football even on an irregular basis. His soft-yet-powerful voice has eminated from your television for the past 40 years.

Jackson’s impact will be noticed when there is an absence in the broadcast booth this fall, when there will be a different voice calling the most storied rivalries to the Bowl Championship Series, where he has been the leading voice on ABC'’s national championship coverage in recent years.

It is interesting to think how and why Jackson has embedded himself as college football'’s leading personality and icon. While there are certainly other play-by-play men who have similar (if not better) credentials, there is not one individual so intertwined with the identity of a single sport as Jackson is.

Some may put Jim Nantz of CBS in this same prestigious company, but he is still young to be put in the same legendary category as Dick Enberg or Jack Buck. Although I would argue differently, Vince Scully, respected as the greatest play-by-play man of all time, will carry a legacy as the Dodgers’ broadcaster rather than that of baseball in general.

Although his age restricted him from traveling in excess through the latter part of his career, Jackson was back each and every Saturday, expressing his love for the game that inspires rah-rah raucousness in fans.

Jackson will forever be remembered for his exclamation after a sensational or surprising play with “"Whoa Nellie!”" A trick play was no ordinary trick play, and a dazzling tackle was always brought to life with Jackson at the helm.

When describing former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel'’s efficiency in the pocket six years ago, Jackson proclaimed, “"Oh, you can’t do that! You give that young man that much time, and he'’ll send you home without your favorite hat."”

Or, when describing a tremendous hit: “"My name is Tommy Williams, I am a sophomore from Montgomery, Alabama, and I have just autographed your soul!” It doesn'’t get much more poetic than that."

During the 2006 National Championship game between USC and Texas, Jackson captured the emotion and heart-pounding action on the gridiron saying, "“There is a real battle going on down there with that blood and bumpin'’ and rumblin’' and tumblin'’ and bumlin' ...… battle in the trenches."”

Jackson specialized in prolonging the most typical of words to engage and enthrall his listeners. I remember during that same game his call of the final play, in which Texas quarterback Vince Young headed to the corner of the end zone to cinch the win. "“He’'s going for the coooooorrrrrrnnnnneeeeerrrrr, he’s got it! Vince Young scores!"”

“Corner” must have endured for at least seven seconds.

On Saturday mornings this fall, there will be a conspicuous absence of gusto in living rooms across America.

A “"fummmmmbbbbbbllllllleeeee"” will be a mere “fumble.” A brilliant play will not be marked by “"Whoa Nellie,"” but by a more typical and altogether less satisfactory description that an up-and-coming broadcaster would like to paint in the hearts of college football fans.

That, however, will be nothing short of impossible.

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