Camp Randall 100: Keith Jackson

The Camp Randall 100 honors a prestigious group of 100 people who shaped the first century of Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin Athletics will reveal a new honoree every day from May 24 until the Badgers’ 2017 opening game on Sept. 1 against Utah State.

Keith Jackson
Keith Jackson

It’s hard to imagine a college football Saturday with just a handful of games on television but that was the landscape in 1974 as nearly 80 percent of the country was treated to the Sept. 21 matchup between Wisconsin and fourth-ranked Nebraska. ABC’s top broadcast team of Keith Jackson, former Michigan State head coach Duffy Daugherty and 24-year old sideline reporter Jim Lampley was at Camp Randall Stadium for the special 12:50 p.m. CT kickoff.

Late in the fourth quarter, a UW goal-line stand forced Nebraska to kick a short field goal and take a 20-14 lead. Then, with less than four minutes remaining, Badgers quarterback Gregg Bohlig hit Jeff Mack for a 77-yard touchdown pass that would go down as one of the most famous plays in Wisconsin football history. Vince Lamia kicked the go-ahead extra point and Steve Wagner ended Nebraska’s last hope with an interception.

“You’re watching one of the great games in a great Wisconsin football history,” Jackson said as time was running out.

In the coming years, Jackson would become THE voice of college football, heading ABC’s coverage of the marquee game of the week. In those years, his trips to Madison were infrequent, but his presence marked each game as meaningful.

Jackson’s penchant for the English language was also on display during his visits to Camp Randall Stadium. “If you are a Badgers partisan you must be hoping that the slingshot has been loaded with the most accurate of stones” was how he opened the broadcast of UW’s 1989 season-opener against No. 3 Miami. Alas there was no amount of slingshots that would have helped the home cause that day as the Hurricanes rolled, 51-3, in head coach Dennis Erickson’s first game after taking over for Jimmie Johnson.

In 1993, Jackson returned to Camp Randall to find a much different Badgers squad. One week after UW defeated Michigan, ABC was on hand as Wisconsin hosted Ohio State on a typical November day in the upper Midwest. “Life is seldom tolerable in the ninth week of the Big Ten season,” Jackson quipped at the start of the game as the temperature struggled to get to 30 degrees. The ensuing 14-14 tie was instrumental in the Badgers earning their first Rose Bowl trip since 1962.

Speaking of The Granddaddy of Them All, Jackson called all three of Wisconsin’s Rose Bowl wins under Barry Alvarez. That familiarity was on display as he opened the 1997 UW-Michigan game by saying, “Physical has been Wisconsin’s way since Barry Alvarez came over here eight seasons ago. When you come into Camp Randall Stadium to play a game, you better double-clutch your chin strap because you’re gonna be in a smash-mouth game.

Jackson will go down as one of the legendary play-by-play men in all of sports, and college football is where he made his mark. He was the lead voice of ABC’s coverage from 1966 to 2006, calling 16 Sugar Bowls and 15 Rose Bowls during that time. In 1999, he was elected to the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.

In addition to college football, Jackson was also the first play-by-play announcer on Monday Night Football, covered 10 Olympic Games, was ABC’s lead announcer on the NBA for four seasons, called three World Series and was paired with Dick Vitale on college basketball from 1987-92.