Last night, the Rose Bowl may have marked the last broadcast of college football legend Keith Jackson. Keith is 77 now, and he's been around forever, though some might reasonably argue that he's slipping a bit these days. I'm a big fan, partially because of his folksy demeanor - it's kind of like if you had a sleep-deprived Dan Rather narrating football action, complete with references to animals and family farms. For example, Jackson has said that, while he may not retire right away, by 2011 he "will have become the shop steward for the International Porch Setters Union." He also once said, "That's meaner than a Georgia Bulldog looking at a yard full of kitties."
It's a poetic way of speaking that I'd call antiquated, only I don't think anyone spoke like this in the past, either. Just Keith Jackson. Keith avoids possessives - he doesn't say "USC Trojans", he says, "the Trojans of Southern California". He is definitely the only sports announcer who opts for "times out" as the plural form of "timeout".
The thing I like best about Keith is his total disregard for all of the other stuff that isn't describing the game. The trend in sports broadcasting, particularly on the rapidly ESPNizing ABC Sports telecasts, is all about entertainment and synergy. Everybody is on message, enthusiastically hyping the network's other shows during their own broadcast. Keith Jackson just doesn't give a damn, and he's too popular for there to be any consequences for this.
Last night, he had to read a promo for the new, horribly-titled show, "Emily's Reasons Why Not". Keith got about halfway through the scripted pitch, seemed to get thrown by the weird title, and just sort of trailed off and said, "Yeah, I don't know." Producers were throwing down their headsets in disgust, and Keith just shrugged. He's not watching that show.
My favorite example of this came maybe fifteen years ago, during some nondescript Pac-10 telecast. Keith's partner, Bob Griese, was reading a promo for a TV movie called "Dillinger", airing that evening on ABC. ABC had been running ads for the movie during just about every commercial break. Griese went through the whole pitch: the exciting story of legendary gangster John Dillinger, starring Mark Harmon and Sherilyn Fenn, TV movie event of the fall, don't miss it, tonight, very exciting, only on ABC, check it out. After Griese finished, there was a short lull, and Keith said, "Mark Harmon? As John Dillinger? I don't know if I buy that...", thus undercutting the entire promotion.
I bet those ABC executives were madder than a Michigan wolverine tangled up with a porcupine. And Keith didn't even notice, and went right on calling the game.