(Reuters) – Sportscaster Keith Jackson, who brought a folksy, excitable demeanor and down-home exclamations such as “Whoa, Nellie!” to 40 seasons of play-by-play calling as the authoritative voice of college football for ABC Sports, died at age 89, his employer ABC reported on Saturday.
The legendary sportscaster died late on Friday surrounded by family.
“For generations of fans, Keith Jackson was college football,” said Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Co, which owns ABC.
“When you heard his voice, you knew it was a big game. Keith was a true gentleman and a memorable presence. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Turi Ann, and his family,” Iger said.
Jackson’s work for ABC covered a wide range of sports and included 10 Olympics and 11 World Series but college football was his domain. At his peak, he was associated with the sport almost as strongly as any player or coach.
He presided over games with a rumbling baritone, a distinctive speaking rhythm, a trace of a Southern accent and a string of colloquialisms that made a Keith Jackson broadcast sound like no other.
In Jackson-speak, a talented player was a “hoss” and an even more talented player was a “hoss and a half.” Hulking offensive linemen were “the big uglies down in the trenches.”
He would describe an especially rough game as a “slobber knocker” in which the players were “rockin’ and a-sockin’ and a-whackin’ and a-crackin’.” He referred to the prestigious Rose Bowl game as “the granddaddy of them all” and when a player dropped the ball, Jackson would roar, “Fum-buuuul!”
The phrase he was most associated with – and the one used by anyone who ever did a Keith Jackson impersonation – was “Whoa, Nellie!” Jackson said he did not know why the exclamation was so closely tied to him.
“I never did use it that much, just a couple times …,” he said in an interview with the website www.lostlettermen.com. “I don’t know how that…