The first time I heard Keith Jackson's voice in a college football game was on September 27, 1997. That afternoon, he and Bob Griese called Notre Dame at Michigan in Ann Arbor, which turned out to be a thrilling 21-14 comeback win for Michigan that kept the Wolverines perfect early in the season right before Big Ten play began the next week.
I had only been a football fan for about a year even though I was a fan of the University of Michigan itself since I was four years old. The way this game was called on this day set the tone for my expectations on how college football games should be called for the rest of eternity. It was classic, it was memorable and it was professional. No silly jokes, no egregious mistakes and no inflammatory commentary. That was the day that I learned for myself that Keith Jackson was THE best play-by play commentator in the business and he would be unmatched by anyone else in the country at that position.
I enjoyed so many of his calls over the next few years before his retirement from the broadcast booth and he always seemed to call the big Michigan games in the short time that I was able to hear him. Some big wins over Penn State in 1997 and 1998 and the classic 1997 Ohio State game are some that come to mind personally. Since his retirement and thanks to YouTube, I've gone back to watch and hear a lot of his great calls over the years that I never got to experience live. To say that Jackson really was the last "classic" college football play-by-play commentator would be an understatement. The world of play-by-play changed so much after his retirement and it's not the same as it was when he was in the booth. That's not just because he left, but also because of how the world of college football and how we consume it changed with new technologies and advancements in social media and the Internet itself. In many ways, Jackson's retirement at the time was perfect because he never got wrapped in what play-by-play has become today and that's a GOOD thing for those of us who are great fans of him.
As I reflect on the recent passing of Keith Jackson at 89 years of age, I'm left with a bittersweet realization that there will never be another "Keith Jackson" when it comes to calling college football games, which speaks to how unique and irreplaceable he is, but also to how we will never have someone of his level in the broadcast booth ever again. That's not a shot at those who call games now, it's just remarking on how fantastic Jackson was at his craft. I am thankful for the short time that I was able to enjoy his calls of Michigan games before his retirement and it is no understatement to say that he will be sorely missed by all of us who loved his great calls over an incredible career.
RIP Keith Jackson. You've got "daylight and green grass in front of you" now, buddy.