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For Jackson, famous last words scarce


Final call: Keith Jackson, shown with Fiesta Bowl partner Bob Griese, put down the mike for good last night after 34 years with ABC.

For the longest time during last night's Fiesta Bowl, it seemed as though Keith Jackson just didn't want to play along.

In the final telecast of a career that's spanned more than 40 years, Jackson was determined not to give the audience what it wanted, namely some of those folksy witticisms that have punctuated his work for the 34 years that he has worked the college football booth for ABC.

No "big uglies," no "fummmmmbllle," and certainly no "Whoa, Nellie" -- three of his trademark phrases -- passed through Jackson's lips and analyst Bob Griese, sensing the passage of history, fairly pleaded for Jackson to yield to the moment.

On a first-quarter punt, Griese said to his partner: "It's a tail-dragger, hoss. Come on, I want to hear these things," with a more fervent plea coming early in the third quarter, off a fan's "Whoa, Nellie" banner.

But Jackson, who, along with NBC's Dick Enberg, is among the last of a vanishing breed of sportscaster, namely, the kind that recognizes that the play on the field is the thing, not the voice that calls it.

Here's hoping that whoever takes over next fall, -- probably either (yuck) Brad Nessler or (even bigger yuck) Brent Musburger, but more hopefully ESPN's Ron Franklin -- remembers Jackson's example.

No, Jackson was on point, staying professional throughout the telecast, only occasionally letting a couple of down-homeisms drop in, like when he said that facing the respective defenses was "like running through the briar patch backwards."

It was, after all, the self-proclaimed national-championship game, and it needed no more to sell itself.

Most of the game was ugly, with sloppy offense and penalties to boot and Jackson, to his lasting credit, said so.

And, truth be told, Jackson's last telecast was not exactly his best. He was extremely late on a couple of fumbles and was a little slow identifying players.

Of course, ABC didn't help Jackson much, delivering a telecast in which the cameramen more than once were faked out by play action, where computer menus showed up on screen and where replays were slow to materialize.

But, as the tasteful and generous career halftime highlight reel demonstrated, Jackson has played the game at Heisman level for a long time, and they may have to retire the trophy now that he's gone to sit on the porch for a spell.

(Oh, and to whomever at Channel 2 decided it was appropriate to remind us to let our faucets drip so the pipes won't freeze: Enough already!)

Battle is joined

The good news for tomorrow night is that Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann will be doing sports highlights at 11 p.m. again.

The bad news is that they'll be opposite each other, as Olbermann's new venture on Fox Sports Net's "Fox Sports News" (seen locally on Home Team Sports) begins this evening, while Patrick remains on ESPN's "SportsCenter."

In the short term, Olbermann, who reportedly signed a deal with Fox worth $1 million a year, will play David to ESPN's Goliath, what with the latter's huge advantage in name recognition and availability in homes.

But Fox obviously sees this as a protracted battle to raise the visibility of its cable brand, and Olbermann seems to be the kind of talent who can help them make the stakes a little more even.

Stay tuned.

Catching up

A few notes from a cold, winter's nap, er, vacation:

Let's see if we have this straight: For the first time in the history of this nation, an elected president is impeached by the House of Representatives, and CBS decides that it will occasionally cut into the Jets-Buffalo regular-season game or go to split screens? Network founder William Paley must have been spinning in his grave.

Perhaps we shouldn't expect more from a network that syndicates "The Howard Stern Show," where the private parts of women are shaved on camera, but someone at CBS management should have had the good sense to know that the possible removal of a president deserves the nation's full and undivided attention.

Here's hoping CBS' NFL pre-game rumor man, Michael Lombardi, is right and Matt Millen heads to the Detroit Lions' front office and out of the booth. At least listeners wouldn't have to hear Millen's obtrusive chatter over the calls of play-by-play announcers anymore.

If you listened to CBS Radio's broadcast of Sunday's Packers-49ers game, you heard Millen bellowing over Joel Meyers' attempt to call the game-winning touchdown grab. It's not the first time it's happened; hopefully it will be the last.

And speaking of sociopaths, by now we've all sadly gotten used to Indiana men's basketball coach Bob Knight's bully-boy routine.

But to sully the reputations of referees, as he did during a five-part ESPN interview Christmas week by suggesting that officials with gambling interests were affecting game outcomes, and not offering a shred of proof, is unforgivable.

Even more egregious was ESPN's decision to have the unctuous Digger Phelps do the interview. Increasingly, the "world-wide leader" has allowed former jocks and coaches to play journalist/interviewer, and this time it bit them you-know-where. Phelps, a long-time Knight apologist, was ill-equipped to follow-up the ridiculous assertion from the coach by asking where he was getting his information.

Pub Date: 1/05/99

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