A Failing Voice

Whoa, Nellie, do I miss Keith Jackson.

The real Keith Jackson. The boom and the FUMMMM-BLE! and the crescendo of sincere, corn-bread emotion. The rolling thunder. The audio conduit to the power and the glory of college football for decades.

That sputtering, distant guy who called the Florida State-Florida game last Saturday? The mumbles? The play-by-play that meandered into something approaching free verse and only vaguely matched the pictures being televised?

That guy might as well have been--gulp!--Brent Musburger, whose maudlin delivery approximates the heart and soul of college football about as legitimately as Jerry Reinsdorf approximates having a heart and soul.

But Jackson has been hinting about retirement, and judging by the confused call of Saturday's game on ABC--and listening to him decline, week by week through the season--maybe he's thinking about retirement a lot.

Let's face it: When Keith Jackson sounds bad, college football sounds bad; when he can't summon the will to ride the emotions of a big game, well, why should anybody else?

Sorrowfully, there is no replacement in sight. Hackneyed ESPN studio analyst Lee Corso? More and more like a horrid Catskills comic every week, and he makes about as much sense. CBS' cool Jim Nantz? Too slick, too much Augusta National. CBS' Pat O'Brien? He isn't a phony, he just plays one on TV.

"There's an old homily," Jackson said during the 200-minute marathon, and what follows gives the benefit of the doubt to sounds that only marginally were actual words:

"You can't throw the ball flat back. If back on quarterback. The quarterback's flat on his back."

What happens when the voice of a sport falls on his back and can't get up?

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