The wit and wisdom of Keith Jackson

WHEN A PROJECT, unrelated in any way with Washington State, unexpectedly puts a lifelong Coug on the phone with Keith Jackson is there any doubt the conversation eventually will turn to college football and Ol' Wazzu?

Of course not.

So it was a few weeks ago when the business portion of our conversation was concluded, the legendary "Voice of College Football" was willing to share a few thoughts on a variety of mostly crimson-hued topics.

A health scare not too far back nearly had the referee giving him the 10-count, but today, at age 85, Jackson is standing tall. He remains as articulate and colorful as we've always known him to be.

He and his wife Turi Ann, in their 62nd year of marriage, live in the same house in Sherman Oaks they bought in the late 1960s. They raised three kids there -- two USC grads and one Stanford alum.

When one of your biggest complaints is a helicopter flying too low over the back deck that overlooks the San Gabriels, you know you've come a long way from the days of getting out of bed at midnight to help a cow deliver a calf, Jackson says of these golden years.

The best way to capture what's on the mind of Keith Jackson, though, isn't to paraphrase what he says. A brilliant word smith is best served up in his own voice.

Here he is:

On how a Georgia farm boy and newly minted ex-Marine wound up going to school at Washington State:

"WSC was the only university in the country that offered both political science and police science and let you do both of them at the same time . . . Initially I was thinking I'd study those, get my degree and go back and become a career Marine."

On why he didn't pursue that plan:

"Those were confusing and difficult times around the world, but I understood just enough to think the United States had no business going down to the Korean Peninsula, or later to Vietnam. I also met the love of my life in Pullman, Washington, working there at the golf course . . . I took a speech class and suddenly found myself surrounded by the myth, truth and image of Edward R. Murrow. All that pointed me in a new direction."

On making his debut as a college football announcer:

"At 5,000-watt KWSC Radio, my first broadcast of a college football game was in 1952. Stanford came to Pullman. The Cougars should have won but the quarterback fumbled the snap on a PAT and lost 14-13."

On his time in Pullman:
"I loved the place. Loved the place . . . I was the freshman class president – probably because I was the oldest – and if I got hungry I could go by the president's house and the lady in the kitchen would give me something to eat. That's Pullman."

On WSU's football coaches over the years:

"I thought Mike Price was the best coach, outside of Forest Evashevski. I watched Mike and was fond of Mike. I wished I'd have had half an hour with him before he left for Alabama. My attitude on it is very simple: He could have won 8, 9, 10 games every year there and still not have been considered one of ‘em. That's where I'm from (the deep south), I know how it works. Mike wasn't one of them."

On Mike Leach at WSU:

"I think they're really going to the same place Mike Leach has always gone – you don't have a barn full of big uglies to knock heads so you find ways to do things differently. When you throw the ball as much as he does you don't beat up your troops like you do when you're running three out of four downs . . . There aren't that many great left tackles in this world, there just aren't, so you have to make do in different ways and Mike does . . . Every good coach is a good teacher, and those who win consistently are also good salesmen. Mike Leach can do that. I think they're going the right way with him."

On recruiting at WSU:

"The population in the Palouse is small, and even when you spread out to Yakima and Wenatchee and elsewhere there's not a lot. You have to go where the population is. I think Pullman would be the ideal place for a beleaguered set of parents in a crowded urban area looking for a safe, supportive place to go to school."

On whether he misses the broadcast booth:

"I spent 54 years in broadcasting and four years and 18 days in the Marines. I just want to sit on the porch with my wife."

On the last broadcast of his career, Jan.4, 2006, Texas vs. USC for the national title:

"There's a difference between a great game and an exciting game. That was an exciting game . . . The first fumble, the replay official didn't have the picture of it -- they weren't plugged into the right place. We had it on our cameras – why not just open the door and ask to see it? The replay booth was really the first fumble of that game. That left you with a bad taste in your mouth about the game . . . The greatest game I ever saw was USC and UCLA, 1967. Gary Beban and O.J. Simpson. Every prize available in college football was on the line for the taking – rivalry bragging rights, conference title, Rose Bowl berth, national title (it was voted on before the bowl games in those days), Heisman Trophy. It was 21-20 (USC winning)."

On growing up in rural Georgia:

"I rode a gray horse to school -- a school that didn't have electricity until the Tennessee Valley Authority came along late in my high school years. I studied vicariously with a lamp . . . I lived with grandma because my mom was an RN and it was 18-20 miles to the hospital . . . my dad, I didn't know him growing up, broken family . . . She (grandma) had a chicken house – that was her source of income: hens that laid eggs. Those were the Depression years, and a chicken house in that era was a tempting thing. She had this 12-gauge shotgun and packed it with rock salt -- anyone touching that chicken house was going to leave with a sore backside."

On growing up in a segregated society:

"As kids, we just walked around it. We played with each other (black and white) out on the (basketball) courts but were not (allowed to) in games . . . Young people of that time did not have the impact when they raised their voices like they do today. Adults ran the world. Kids didn't have authority or the numbers they have today. The road wasn't open to us to make change. It could get pretty nasty if you got involved in it -- kids were not invited to speak out. And most of us were just trying to pass algebra . . . I made a comment one time in a speech -- I don't remember where or when it was -- that was picked up (by media). I said the color of a person's skin doesn't tell you a damn thing about their character, nor their potential. It was just a statement and part of the way I lived. Some people (back home) didn't care for that."

On the most memorable words uttered to him by a coach:

From legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg after watching Keith Lincoln and the Washington State Cougars defeat Stagg's old team, the Pacific Tigers and their 5-foot-9 star running back, Dick Bass, 36-0, on a chilly night in Stockton in 1958: "He walked by, wrapped in a blanket, and pulled my balloon headsets off and whispered in my ear: ‘You see, it's still true: Big, fast people beat little, fast people.' "

On the most memorable advice he received from a family member:

"My great granddaddy said if you can't eat it, drink it, cash it or sleep with it, don't worry about it." (Editor's note: great granddaddy also is the father of a line you may have heard before: "Whoa Nellie!")

On advice for communications majors and professionals:

"The best piece of advice I ever heard was from one of the great sports announcers, Ted Husing, who was a wonderful word mechanic. I was doing a hydroplane race one time and he laid this one on me: ‘Never be afraid to turn a phrase if it's interesting enough they'll look it up.'"

NOTABLE: Keith and Turi Ann are among the most generous donors to WSU athletics in school history. Last year alone they were "Platinum Associates" to the Cougar Athletics Fund ($50,000+). and over their lifetimes they are "Benefactors" to Cougar athletics, meaning they've donated up to $1 million to the department.


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