Past or present, ABC's Jackson is bowl of joy


After being around college football as a broadcaster for four decades, Keith Jackson prides himself in being an old-fashioned kind of guy. This is not to say the man is out-of-date or antiquated in any way, shape or form, however.

On the contrary. Besides being as current as CNN, Jackson maintains a perspective on the ever-changing face of intercollegiate athletics that probably puts its current administrators to rout.

It's when he waxes poetic on the past that he effectively transports you as listener back to those good old days. To be sure, the play-by-play man and his ABC commentating partner Bob Griese can hardly wait for Friday night's Sugar Bowl showdown between Miami and Alabama for the national championship. At the same time, though, he maintains an

admirable enthusiasm for those grand times and games of yesteryear.

"What made the bowl games so great a generation ago is they were festivals," he started. "I can remember when ol' Bobby Dodd would have six railroad cars loaded up with friends, family, relatives and girlfriends of the players and folks at the school for the train ride over [from Atlanta] to New Orleans.

"But then so much money has been added to the picture and, together with the opinion levied on games by press and broadcast, stress entered the picture. Stress on coaches, stress on players, stress on local organizers who worry about selling out for fear of their future being in doubt."

This being the first year the bowl coalition was in effect, Jackson concedes that the alliance of bowls, conferences and Notre Dame "did what it was supposed to, pit the two best teams against each other on New Year's Day. But Alabama and Miami probably would have got together anyway, and the coalition broke down swiftly with the Cotton Bowl situation [third-rated Florida State in the Orange Bowl instead of being invited to meet No. 4 Texas A&M; in the Cotton Bowl].

"So while it seems the job did get done, what seems to be happening now is there can only be one Big Game, and all the other games suffer. This is exactly what the coaches have been saying all along, there's only going to be one winner . . . and just others."

From a personal standpoint, Jackson is joyous things have worked out the way they have since he'll be on hand for either his sixth or seventh battle of No. 1 and No. 2 rated teams, and that the Sugar Bowl, "one of the four originals," is playing host.

As for the Crimson Tide-Hurricanes pairing, Jackson says it figures as a "terrific game, not necessarily because of anybody's win streak or the national title being at stake, but because the teams match up so well. Neither has what you'd call a world-beating offense, but both have defenses that are probably among the best ever.

"What all this dictates is that field position and the kicking game, the same old stuff, will be the determining factors. I think both defenses will put their teams on the front porch a few times and, sooner or later, someone will fall in the front door."

As far as individuals go, the announcer sees quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta as the player who figures to have the biggest impact on the game and that, of course, is in Miami's favor. "All he does is get up, wipe the blood off and beat you. He's 26-1 calling the shots and that's good enough for me," says Jackson.

Griese, the Hall of Fame quarterback who is pushed to provide mostly analysis since Jackson is so effective at both play-by-play and color, sees Miami picking up where Florida left off in the SEC title game, which saw 'Bama prevail with an interception in its end zone at the end: "Florida spread 'em out and threw quickly, which is the way Miami attacks."

One of the other No. 1 and 2 matchups in a bowl Jackson covered also occurred in New Orleans, Keith calling Alabama's upset of top-ranked Penn State (14-7) in 1979 "one of my two or three greatest games ever."

He then proceeded to tick off the last half-dozen plays of the game wherein 'Bama staged a furious goal-line stand, capped by future Baltimore Colt Barry Krauss knocking himself cold while stopping a fierce lunge for the end zone by Penn State's Mike Guman: "On the play before, there's was ol' Marty Lyons sitting there at tackle position on defense telling Penn State that it was going to have to pass because sure as hell they weren't going to be able to run the ball over."

Jackson was under full steam now, talking about gut-check time other big games and how easy it was to get excited heading into big games in the postseason. "There's so much," he said, "it's just too bad the games overlap each other so badly.

"That's our problem in television [eight, count 'em, eight games being crammed into 13 hours Friday]. We're on a pell-mell course to somewhere, probably a playoff system, and what a fiscal problem that's going to be since the Big Ten and Pac-10 and TV have that Rose Bowl contract until the year 2000."

Jackson then allowed himself the unthinkable and said, "You know, if I wasn't working I might go play golf." After a short pause, he added, "Of course, I might get the ol' tape machines working to pick up four or five of the games."

Of course.

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