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Jackson Wants Focus on Bowl, Not His Future

When a visitor arrived at the two-story hillside home in Sherman Oaks, Keith Jackson had already opened a bottle of his best Sonoma Valley merlot and set out two wine glasses. On the coffee table in the living room was a plate of wife Turi Ann Jackson’s homemade cookies.

Jackson, besides being a legendary broadcaster commonly referred to as “Mr. College Football,” is also a pretty darn good host.

Over the next two hours, Jackson talked about a variety of topics, including college football and broadcasting.

The only thing he didn’t want to talk about was his future.

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He and partner Dan Fouts, who announced Thursday night’s Holiday Bowl in San Diego on ESPN, next Wednesday will work what truly is the “granddaddy of the them all” -- the Rose Bowl game between No. 1 USC and No. 2 Texas on ABC.

It might be Jackson’s last game. Then again, it might not.

“My contract is up in May,” Jackson said, “and I have an obligation to play that out. My mind is pretty much made up, but I’m not going to say anything at this time, and do you know why?

“I’ll be totally blunt with you. l don’t want to say anything about anything that will detract from this football game.

“This is a great college football game, and whatever I intend to do -- and it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to quit; that will be determined in March or April -- this game should not have any detractions.”

On a later conference call with reporters from around the nation, Jackson said even less about any possible retirement.

Jackson retired once before, amid much ballyhoo, after the 1999 Fiesta Bowl, which was the BCS national championship game that year.

Then six months later he decided to come back, after then-new ABC Sports president Howard Katz cut his travel schedule. He would work West Coast games.

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Jackson was 70 then. He is now 77, has had both knees replaced and last year had surgery to repair an Achilles tendon he ruptured when he fell in the kitchen at his second home -- in Canada, near Garden Bay, British Columbia.

“I’ve been playing ‘old men fall down,’ ” he quipped. “I fell here in my backyard while picking oranges two years ago and almost killed myself.”

Jackson still plays golf, but not as much as he used to. Asked about his game, he smiled and said, “I’m getting shorter and shorter off the tee.”

But he added that last April he won his age group, 75 and up, in a tournament on the south course at the L.A. Country Club. He shot a 74 that day.

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If Jackson does retire this spring, he will have ended his long career on a high note. He calls the upcoming Rose Bowl game as big as any he has worked.

“How do you get any bigger?” he said. “The answer is, you don’t. This is as high as you can go in college football. And it’s in the Rose Bowl, which has a great deal to do with it. The venue is very important.”

And if favored USC wins, Jackson says he would have to rate this team among the three best ever.

“I always thought that the 1972 USC team was the best I’d ever seen,” he said. “I believe something like 16 guys from that team ended up playing on Sundays.

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“Then along came the 1995 Nebraska team that went undefeated, beat everyone by an average of just under 39 points and annihilated Florida [62-24] in the Fiesta Bowl.”

The victory over Florida gave the Cornhuskers their second consecutive national championship -- and it would have been three in a row had it not been for an 18-16 Orange Bowl loss to Florida State following the 1993 season.

“If this USC team beats Texas,” Jackson said, “it will be right there with the other two.”


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