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Goodnight, Nellie
Keith Jackson
January 11, 1999
Keith Jackson has some strong parting words about college football
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January 11, 1999

Goodnight, Nellie

Keith Jackson has some strong parting words about college football

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I steeled myself to endure my farewells this season. Instead I savored them. It was a little much to hear myself being called the king of college football since I'm someone who, like Paul Bryant, grew up riding in a two-horse wagon. But if I were king, here's what I'd do. � First, I'd take college football back to the days when the colleges, not the NCAA, controlled the game. If we can't trust our colleges and universities, who's left to trust? I don't know that you abolish the NCAA, but asking the NCAA to keep the game clean is an admission that school officials, coaches and athletes can't be honest. But then, maybe people never could be honest. The Bible tells us so, right?

If I were king, the kids who produce all the money would get a stipend. They deserve it. We give them attention that many of them can't handle. We put them on a pedestal, and when they wobble, we take it away. If college athletes had some walking-around money, they'd be more inclined to stay in school. But I'd also make sure the phone rings on both ends—it's not fair for a player to use up a school's time and money for two years and then leave. Make the kid hold up his end of the bargain.

I see the problems in college football. I see the sins. But I see hope too. I see the eyes of 17- and 18-year-olds who want to win, to go somewhere, to make a life. Damn it, society owes them a chance! That's what this country is all about—opportunity. One player makes a play in one game, and that play opens doors for as long as he lives. In my perfect world, every week we'd meet a Walter Mitty like Kevin Prentiss of Mississippi State. He's 5'8", 153. He's a wideout, and Jackie Sherrill says he's the best player he's got. In the SEC championship game on Dec. 5, Tennessee's ahead 10-7 in the fourth quarter and getting ready to punt. My partner, Bob Griese, says, "This is the best chance Mississippi State has to win." Prentiss takes the ball and goes 83 yards down the sideline. Those few seconds for that 153-pound kid will live forever in Mississippi. For one shining moment Mississippi State led Tennessee 14-10 in the fourth quarter. You think the whole state didn't stand up and cheer? If Kevin Prentiss settles down in Mississippi, he'll have a great life.

In and of itself, college football has no redeeming qualities. It's what you're doing when you're 40 that matters. You don't have to be a damn All-America. All you have to do is test yourself and try. The game gives you that chance. If you ever played football, you learned never to give up. Give up, you're dead.

In my perfect world, I'll spend time fishing and playing golf with Turi, my bride of 46 years. We're headed to that world right now.

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