Keith Jackson, homespun voice of college football, dies at 89

Keith Jackson, the folksy voice of college football who for decades weaved backwoods wit through Saturday afternoon broadcasts on ABC, died Jan. 12. He was 89.

ESPN first announced his death. Other details were not immediately available.

In a 52-year broadcasting career, Mr. Jackson covered a wide variety of sports for radio and television, but he was best known as ABC’s voice of NCAA football — and for the homespun phrases he used in reporting it.

To Mr. Jackson, linemen were not guards and tackles, they were “the big uglies.” Running backs didn’t drop the ball, there was a “fuumm-bull!” Of an undersize player, he might say, “He’s a little-bitty thing, a bantam rooster. But he’s young. If he keeps eatin’ his cornbread, he’ll be man-sized some day.”

And, of course, there was “Whoa, Nellie!,” his signature phrase.

Keith Jackson in 2014. (Dean Hare/AP)

Or was it?

Strangers in restaurants, airports, stadium parking lots and downtown streets would sidle up to Mr. Jackson and bellow, “Whoa, Nellie!” He, however, always maintained that he might have used the phrase a time or two early in his career but that mostly it was the work of impersonators, primarily Roy Firestone, who were responsible for the spread of the phrase.

“This ‘Whoa, Nellie!’ thing is overrated,” he said

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