Amid these tumultuous times of playoff debates, player suspensions and coaching debacles, the search for the soul of college football brings you to a pristine home on a quiet street in Sherman Oaks.
“Wellll-come,” says the stately man in the golf shirt and khakis as he opens a front door into what suddenly feels like New Year’s Day at the Rose Bowl or a Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Sitting on the foyer is a vase filled with, yes, roses. Resonating through the air are the lyrical Southern tones that provided the original soundtrack for America’s letter-sweater passion.
Whoa, Nellie, Keith Jackson lives here.
Keith Jackson is 87, and hasn’t announced a game in nearly 10 years, yet, indeed, he still sounds like exactly college football.
To hear him again is to be taken back to your childhood again, sitting in front of the television with a bologna sandwich and a Coke as the Saturday afternoon sun slowly sets on that lawn you just mowed, watching Bo and Woody and Bear come to life through a syrupy ballad that still sounds wonderfully like some kid breaking tackles and sprinting through a weed-choked field in rural nowhere.
It is a voice still so memorable, people still call his home and hang up just to hear his greeting.
“If you’re calling the Jacksons, you have succeeded,” the voice says. “Help yourself.”
It is a voice so familiar, it has been recognized everywhere from Moscow, Idaho, to Moscow, Russia, where American tourists once chased him down because he sounded like home.
“Sometimes when we went out, he would wear a ballcap and tuck it low over his eyes,” Turi Ann says. “But eventually he would open his mouth, and everyone would know who it was.”
It’s a voice that his three children remember from country-style bedtime stories about an invented character named Sam the Bear, a voice whose impact they never fully realized until high school friends would surround them with it.
This accounts for his daughter Melanie being serenaded with, “Whoa, Mellie.”
“His voice is almost like singing,” Melanie says.
It is voice that will be finally honored formally at the Rose Bowl next month when the stadium’s radio and TV booths will be renamed “The Keith Jackson Broadcast Center.”
Although Jackson announced seemingly every great college football moment during 56 years of broadcasting the sport, the Pasadena folks consider him their own. He has broadcast more Rose Bowls than anyone, 15, including his final telecast on the memorable 2006 clash between USC and Texas.
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