It may come as a
surprise to viewers of ABC's college football telecasts that Keith Jackson of
Carrollton, Ga. and Washington State U. now resides, not in Norman, Okla. or
Ann Arbor, Mich., but in the Greater Los Angeles area. ("I live here,"
Jackson says, "because I need access to a major airport.") It just
seems that Jackson must live in some big, old frat house, so firmly established
is he as the voice of college football. Dave Cawood, the NCAA's director of
public relations, says, "We think he's so identified with college football
that even when people see him working on another event, they associate him with
college football is a reflection of Middle America," says Jackson, who long
ago dropped his Southern accent for intonations that might best be described as
Middle American. "That's the kind of stock I'm from and that's where I
think the strength of the country is. You go into a college football town, and
you will find three generations of a family sitting together. It's a rallying
point for the university, the community and the families."
In the midst of
his sixth season telecasting college football, Jackson, 50, is regarded as an
outstanding play-by-play announcer. He knows the rules, calls a game that
satisfies even those purists who chart the flow of the action and transmits
enthusiasm for the sport, though he may not be quite as steeped in gridiron
lore as Lindsey Nelson. He has credibility with the viewer, is relatively free
of clich�s and treats each game as something less than the Armageddon Bowl. His
critics acknowledge that Jackson attends to the basics, that he sets the scene
well and evokes a sense of the drama that puts viewers right in the stadium,
but fault him for a disinclination to discuss the negative—"I don't believe
a 20-year-old kid should be criticized for making a mistake," he says—or
No wonder that
until last year Jackson was rarely the target of zingers by TV critics. But
then came the infamous 1978 Gator Bowl, and the punch by overwrought Ohio State
Coach Woody Hayes seen 'round the world—seemingly by everybody but Jackson in
the ABC booth.
that the crowd of players, coaches and hangers-on cluttering the Ohio State
sideline obscured his view of Hayes' poke at Clemson Middle Guard Charlie
Bauman. Jackson didn't see it when it happened, and he couldn't check his
monitor for a replay of the blow. Producer Bob Goodrich, working on a short
budget, had chosen not to have a special replay machine at the Gator Bowl, so
ABC couldn't reshow the picture of the punch that went over the air live and
was taped in studios all over the country and repeatedly replayed on news
The only replay
available to Jackson was the end zone replay that showed Hayes coming down the
sideline readying a swing. Because Jackson says he never saw Hayes hit Bauman,
he was unable to talk about it on the air, despite frantic pleas by Goodrich in
the truck and ABC bigwigs who called in from afar urging him to do so.
"I never saw
Hayes hit him until the next day," Jackson says. "Nobody actually told
me Hayes hit him. I heard somebody say, 'He hit him.' I said, 'Who?' and then
we were live. I still feel I can't report what I don't see."
There were heated
meetings about the incident at ABC, and critics outside the network charged
that Jackson had become so much a spokesman for college football that he shied
away from mentioning such an unsavory occurrence; that he didn't see it because
he didn't want to see it; that a reporter frequently has to re-create what he
doesn't see. Jackson says he had no reason to protect Hayes because he never
particularly admired Woody, but he is resigned that the incident won't go away.
"You live with it, that's all," he says. "I'm the visible one, so I
guess I have to take the heat."
usually avoided such situations because he is so well prepared. He arrives at
the site of the week's game a couple of days ahead of time and makes it a point
to sit down with assistant coaches.
"There are two
guys I like to talk to: the offensive line coach or coordinator and the
defensive secondary or linebacker coach," he says. "If they don't know
what's going to happen, it isn't going to happen. And it's easier and more
informative to get two hours with assistants, because the head coach has to be
a politician and he's up to his eyeballs in people."