"For generations of fans, Keith Jackson was college football," ESPN
quotes Disney CEO Bob Iger as saying. "When you heard his voice, you knew it was a big game." Jackson, who retired from a 54-year broadcasting career in 2006, died Friday night in Los Angeles at the age of 89, his family says. The Georgia-born Jackson was known for his "folksy" turns of phrase, most famously "Whoa, Nellie." But he also lastingly dubbed the Rose Bowl "The Granddaddy of Them All" and would frequently say things like, of a small player, "If he keeps eating his cornbread, he'll be man-sized some day," according to the Los Angeles Times
. Jackson was so beloved ABC wouldn't let him retire in 1998, keeping him on another eight years. "If I've helped people enjoy the telecast, that's fine," Jackson said. "That's my purpose."
Jackson, a former Marine, never lost his passion for college football over the decades. "It's still fun to see new generations enjoy the game," the New York Times quotes him as once saying. "I get there an hour and a half before the game and watch the bands rehearse, the people carry on. You let it seep into you." In addition to college football, Jackson called 10 Olympics and 11 World Series and was the first play-by-play man on Monday Night Football. He also delivered the first live sports broadcast from what was then the Soviet Union. "He never intruded on the game," longtime broadcasting partner Bob Griese says. "It was always about the kids on the field." Jackson agreed, once saying: "This is not my stage. The stage belongs to the athletes and coaches." He is survived by his wife, three children, and three grandchildren.