Singing my part — and playing it, too

One of my absolutely favorite things to do in the world is sing. It’s a pretty specific kind of singing though. It’s singing with the worship team or choir at church.

Treble clef with stick figureIt is an awesome feeling, and in a world that uses the word “awesome” way too much, I literally mean awesome, and in a world that uses the word “literally” way too much, I literally mean literally, too.

I’m not typically a very emotional person. I don’t laugh much even though I think many things are funny, I don’t cry much even though I think many things are sad. And even though I’m often joyful, particularly about the things Jesus Christ has done for me in my life, I don’t show that a whole lot either.

Fortunately, singing helps me find a way to express that. It gives me an outlet for that emotion. This doesn’t mean I’m very good at raising my hands in the air and I couldn’t dance if my life depended on it, but I’m better at it when I’m singing, either in the congregation or on the stage.

It also doesn’t mean I’m very good at singing. Maybe I’m good, but not very good. And this is the problem I have inside my head.

I wish I were better.

The idea of a choir is for its members to blend. In an ideal world, you would hear only one voice — or maybe four: soprano, alto, tenor and bass. No one would stand out.

It’s not just a choral thing (although that is the No. 1 guiding principle in choral singing), it’s also a Christian thing. The whole idea of leading worship in church is to enhance worship, to help the worshippers draw closer to God. In a perfect world, the people in the congregation wouldn’t even know the leaders were there; it would just be them and God.

In theory, leading worship should perhaps be like umpiring a baseball game: Everyone agrees an umpire is at his best when no one who played the game or watched the game remembers he was there. He didn’t stick out.

Of course, it’s not a complete analogy. There are soloists in church. They are the ones whose voices are good enough; you want them to stick out. I wish my voice was good enough to be one of those persons.

But it’s not. I’m such a ham. Listen, I’m still having a great time, people are happy I’m there and these people I sing with are the best friends I’ve got. Singing with these people is my biggest joy and my biggest blessing in life.

But.

One of the nicest compliments I’ve ever gotten was that I am a “Renaissance man.” I’m hopeful that doesn’t mean I look like I was born in the 1400s. It apparently means I can do a lot of things well. Or at least that I can do a lot of things.

However, it makes me mindful of the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none.” Sometimes, I confess I wish I could be a master of one.

It wouldn’t necessarily have to be singing. It would just be really cool if I were the go-to guy for something.  I wouldn’t have to be the best ever, just really good at a particular thing. “Oh, no!” they’d say. “Our flange has fallen off the sprocket! We better call Jim!”

But I digress. Back to singing.

I don’t want to be the greatest worship music soloist ever. I would just like to be good enough to be called upon every once in a while. “Jim would be just right for this,” they’d say, and I’d modestly clear my throat and sing it.

Modestly? Oops. I think I’ve stumbled upon my problem.

See, that’s the thing about modesty. The minute you think you’ve got it, you don’t.

I need to understand that I’m part of a team. A team is made up of people who all have their specific role. My role is to blend. That and maybe some comic relief.

If I had the gift, they’d tell me. I may not have the gift, but I do have a gift. I sing well enough — and provide enough comic relief — that my fellow singers would miss me if I was gone.

The model here is John the Baptist, or as he is sometimes more accurately called, John the Baptizer. He came to pave the way for Jesus Christ’s ministry.

John understood his role. In John 3:28-30, he says:

“You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

In my very small role of occasionally helping to lead worship (and in everything else, for that matter), I have to understand it’s not about me.

My role is to point to Christ. I must decrease so that He may increase.

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Oscars have a taste of sports, and vice versa

A year ago, I wrote a sports column about the Oscars. Yeah, I know. I used to do weird stuff like that. It was all about the fiasco last year when La La Land was announced as the Best Picture of the year instead of Moonlight.

“It appears,” I wrote, “that while La La Land won the popular vote, Moonlight won the Electoral College.”

Academy_Award_trophyI also mentioned how the previous Super Bowl, the World Series and the NBA Finals — where the Atlanta Falcons, the Cleveland Indians and the Golden State Warriors were all leading until they were respectively overtaken at the end by the New England Patriots, the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Cavaliers — could’ve also been the victims of accounting errors.

We talk a lot about how real life is a lot like sports. But sometimes sports are a lot like real life.

People get all excited after the Super Bowl about what the TV rating was. They want to know where it ranks among the most watched television shows of all time, and these days, the top 10 TV shows of all time are all Super Bowls.

But the Oscars are a lot like sports, too. After Sunday night’s Oscars show (the 2018 version in which no one messed up anything, other than making the thing more than 3 hours and 45 minutes long), everyone was waiting to see how the rating numbers would turn out.

Not super, it would seem.

ABC’s telecast earned an 18.9 big-market overnight rating and a 32% share of the audience, according to Nielsen. The overnight rating covers about 70% of U.S. TV households and measures what percent of total televisions were tuned to the program; the share measures the percent of TVs in use. The show was seen by 26.5 million viewers. The only TV shows likely to be seen by more people this year will be sporting events.

The Oscar rating is 16% lower than last year’s 22.5/37 mark and the viewership is 19% less.

Well, that’s not overly surprising, is it? First of all, everything went smoothly this year. Obviously, the Motion Picture Academy didn’t learn its lesson from last year: If you want to pull in the viewers, you’ve got to mess something up! That little business with PricewaterhouseCoopers in ’17? Brilliant! It was the best thing since Jennifer Lawrence tripped going up the steps to claim her Oscar in 2013.

Going by the script doesn’t work anymore — except, you know, in the movies. On TV, it’s strictly unscripted. You need something Survivorish, American Idolish, Big Brotherish and, best yet, Bachelorish to grab the big ratings on TV these days.

The Oscars this year might have been fairly predictable this year anyway. With so many other award shows taking place, and with so many of the same winners coming in for the same awards in each of them, the feeling was more one of déjà vu rather than of surprise.

On top of all that, in this year of the #metoo movement pointing out sexual harassment allegations in Hollywood, half the audience (the male half) may have felt a little too sheepish and guilty to tune in.

Male red-carpet interviewers were not only afraid to ask actresses who they were wearing, they were afraid to even look at what they were wearing.

JUST LIKE REAL LIFE

There were true sports connections at the Oscars on Sunday night.

The first was when Kobe Bryant, the former Laker, won the award for animated short, with artist Glen Keane, for Dear Basketball, the letter that Bryant used to announce his retirement on The Players’ Tribune website.

More than one account noted the irony, however, in celebrating Bryant’s achievement in this particular year when, in 2003, he was accused of raping a 19-year-old hotel employee in Colorado. Bryant admitted to a sexual encounter with the woman, but denied the assault allegation. The criminal case was dropped after Bryant’s accuser refused to testify. She later filed a civil suit against him, which was settled out of court and included Bryant’s public apology to her, although he admitted no guilt.

The second Oscar sports connection was by Icarus, the Netflix film that won for best documentary feature, detailing Russia’s state-sanctioned Olympic sports doping program. Director Brian Fogel told Entertainment Weekly the International Olympic Committee’s decision to allow Russian athletes to compete in the Winter Games under a neutral flag as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” was “a slap in the face to every clean athlete in the world.” The IOC has since lifted the ban on Russia.

Fogel said Russian whistleblower Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov “now lives in great danger,” and that IOC president Thomas Bach should resign.

“He is a crook,” Fogel said. “… If you can corroborate and prove and substantiate a fraud of this caliber on this level that spans for decades and then essentially give that country that committed that fraud a slap on the wrist, allow 160 athletes to compete in those games … and then … lift the ban on that country? What a fraud. What a corrupt organization, and that man should be embarrassed and ashamed of himself. He needs to resign.”

Sometimes sports aren’t all fun and games. Neither are the Oscars.

Falling hard — again — for the Olympics

I’m supposed to be this hardened, cynical reporter-type guy, you know? When I cover sports, I’m supposed to be objective, unemotional, unsmiling, uncaring. And I am.

Gold_medal_of_the_2018_Winter_Olympics_in_in_PyeongchangBut when the Olympics, especially the Winter Olympics, come around, I’m an old softie. I listen to all the stories about how many sacrifices the athletes and their loved ones have made, and then I see how happy they are when they’ve won (or sad when they haven’t), and I just start blubbering.

Figure skating! I watched figure skating! And curling! I watched so much curling, I almost understand how the game is played!

Good grief, I cheered for cross-country skiing! Cross-country skiing, where they ski on flat ground, and even uphill! Who skis uphill, for crying out loud?

Biathlon. Why am I fascinated by biathlon? Because you ski for a while and then you shoot things, that’s why! I mean, that’s a real-life version of a video game right there. And have you ever tried cross-country skiing and then hitting a target about the size of a silver dollar? Do you even know how big a silver dollar is? Come back to me when you know how big a silver dollar is. Then we’ll talk.

The Olympics are an amazing thing. Winter or Summer, they never cease to enthrall me. And I’m not very enthrallable. I’m a pessimist. I expect the worst. I almost root for it.

But when the Olympics come around, my faith in human nature is restored. I remember what sport is all about. I remember what peace among nations is like.

Sure, there are a lot of people who downplay the importance and significance of the Olympics. Russia gets banned from the Winter Games, then gets quasi-reinstated under some kind of strange moniker like Olympic Athletes From Russia With Love. North Korea sends a delegation to Pyeongchang and the U.S. delegation ignores it. At the end of the Games, North Korea says it is open to talks with the U.S., but does anyone really expect much to come from it? Maybe not, but would it even exist without the Olympics?

THE KIDS WERE ALL RIGHT

The United States won 23 medals at the Winter Olympics, nine of which were gold, and this was seen as extremely subpar and far below expectations.

Granted, this was the lowest figure for the U.S. in 20 years, but the reaction to it was pretty subpar, too.

The U.S. Olympic Committee had estimated Americans would win 37 medals at Pyeongchang — 25 at the least, according to an internal chart obtained by The Associated Press.

“We’re going to take a hard look at what occurred here,” USOC sport performance chief Alan Ashley said. “Everything we’re responsible for and everything that is basically under my responsibility is focused on how to help our top athletes achieve success,” he said. “I’m accountable for that, and I’m not going to shy away from that.”

Fortunately (at least fortunately as far as my point of view is concerned), Ashley had been contradicted earlier by the most famous current name among U.S. Winter Olympians: Lindsey Vonn.

“To quantify it in how many medals you have is not appropriate and doesn’t respect the athletes and what they’ve put in to be in these games,” she said.

Sure, all athletes and all nations are in it to win it, but there were some fantastic performances by U.S. athletes at these Games and there were fantastic performances by athletes from nations that prevented the U.S. from getting medals.

Lighten up. Those things happen. At least the Olympics don’t have an Electoral College.

PROUD AS A PEACOCK

During the Olympics, I even become a fan of NBC. While others may always find something to criticize about the Peacock Network’s coverage, I think it does a great job every time.

nbc-olympic-rings11In fact, the Pyeongchang Games may be among NBC’s best ever. As the rights holder for the United States, NBC carries a lot of clout when it comes to things like the schedule of events during the Olympics. Therefore, many of the biggest events took place during the day in South Korea so they could be shown live on the East Coast during prime time.

NBC’s best move, however, was to also show those events live on the West Coast, both on NBC and on NBCSN. Live is always better, no matter what your time zone is, especially in this age of live streaming. NBC was great at that, too, making even the opening and closing ceremonies (which were shown tape-delayed on broadcast TV) available live online during U.S. overnight hours.

Mike Tirico was stellar in his first appearance as prime-time host for NBC, replacing Bob Costas. Not to take anything away from Costas, who has also been stellar in all his hosting duties, but Tirico was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about every aspect of the Games and it showed.

The prime-time stars of every Winter Olympics, however, are the figure skating commentators and NBC did well there, too, with Terry Gannon on play-by-play and Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir as analysts. All were quite solid. NBC definitely sees Lipinski and Weir as a team, but while it’s evident that Lipinski could survive without Weir, Weir could not survive without Lipinski. The three were chosen mid-Games to host the closing ceremonies and they did well at that also.

***

But it’s time now to get back to cynicism — back to baseball’s labor issues, football’s PR problems, basketball’s tanking claims and college sports’ ethics worries. It’s time to get back to national and international politics. But for a couple of weeks in Korea, the world was able to concentrate on pure sport and the benefits it brings.

My Olympic motto: Faster, Higher, Sillier

PyeongChang 2018 emblemWe really need the Winter Olympics right now. Actually, it seems like we need the Olympics every time they come around. The world is like that more and more. We need some peace, and every two years the Games — Winter or Summer — come along to give it to us.

And the great thing about the Winter Olympics in particular is just how much silliness there is to them. There are just so many winter sports where the casual observer is left to wonder, “Who was the person who decided this would be a good idea?”

Bobsled was a crazy enough notion back in the 1920s and ’30s, let alone the 85 mph speeds there have been at Pyeongchang this week. But as we’ve gone along, we’ve gotten even crazier.

People started luging. They became lugers. No matter how you write things about what people do with the luge, it makes them look like deviants: “We caught these people luging, your honor.” “Bailiff, lock them up immediately.”

Somehow, someone first decided it would be a great idea to take a tiny little sled, lie down on it and go down a curvy piece of ice feet first. Frankly, it appears the strongest muscle on these athletes is the neck muscle that they use to prop their head up to see where in the world they’re going. Or to see that path of white light right before they enter the Great Hereafter.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough, they decided to go down an even smaller sled even faster. And oh, yeah, headfirst. It’s called skeleton because that’s all that’s left of you when you finish.

Snowboarders have become a big part of the Winter Olympics. Everything they do puts them just an inch away from breaking their neck. The halfpipe is extraordinary to watch, but it’s also incredibly scary. Still, I suppose it could be worse. It could be the fullpipe.

Remember when ski jumping seemed like the very craziest thing you could so on skis? Well, right on the heels of snowboarding is freestyle skiing. Essentially it takes all the thrills and chills (literally; it’s really chilly out there) of snowboarding and makes it even more insane. Seriously, whoever thought skiing sideways down the handrail of a staircase should be made to ride nothing but elevators for the rest of his life.

All this makes ice hockey seem like ballet.

Figure skating, speaking of ballet, looks so graceful, but it’s also dangerous. It’s all fun and games until a flying sequin puts somebody’s eye out. Figure skating is very deceptive. It’s so elegant, but also has a move known as the death spiral.

Don’t be misled. These spinning skaters could throw up at any time.

Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu won the men’s singles figure skating competition and each time he skated, hundreds of Winnie the Pooh dolls were thrown on the ice afterward. Fortunately, there were no Pooh Bear concussion catastrophes and, as you can see here, Hanyu handles the gifts very well.

Speedskating is an exciting sport, especially when you get a bunch of guys on the short track for the 1,500 meters. It’s kind of like dirt-track auto racing, except there are a lot more crashes. In fact, a lot of people watch speedskating just to see them crash.

I want to be clear. There are more sedate sports at the Winter Games, such as curling.

At first you may think this involves cosmetology, but put your curling irons away. At the Olympics, curling involves stones, houses, skips, brooms and hacks. The skip sends the stone down the ice and then the sweepers use their brooms to guide it. There’s a lot of yelling by the skip to keep the sweepers — and the spectators — from falling asleep.

This sport isn’t called Chess on Ice for nothing.

It’s actually a lot more like shuffleboard on ice — similar to what they were playing on the Titanic after it hit the iceberg.

Cross-country skiing would generally not appear to be very exciting either. It’s like regular skiing, just without the hill. Well, to be honest, there are hills; it’s just that some of them go up.

Cross-country skiing has been used as transportation as far back as the 13th century. As a sport, think of cross-country skiing as Nordic rush hour.

Now for those of you who can’t view the Olympics as a success unless the United States is wiping out all other nations and leads the medal count, these Games may not be for you. Through Sunday, the U.S. was tied for sixth in the medals race with 10: five gold, three silver and two bronze. There were also a couple of gold-wrapped chocolate medals found in someone’s backpack. Norway leads with 28 medals overall, followed by Germany with 20, Canada with 17 and the Netherlands with 13.

That’s the way it should be. Those guys have a lot more ice than we do anyway. And besides, if you’re all wrapped up in who’s winning medals, you really aren’t watching the Olympics the right way.

Embrace the silliness.

NFL conference championships are a great show for underdogs

On one hand, this should be a very interesting NFL playoff Sunday. Three of the four teams involved in the conference championships have almost completely unknown quarterbacks. If you’re a fan who consistently enjoys rooting for underdogs, these two games were meant for you.

Playoffs_rgbAt 12:05 p.m. PST Sunday, the AFC championship game features the Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville Jaguars visiting Tom Brady’s New England Patriots on CBS and at 3:40 p.m., Fox will have the NFC championship with Case Keenum and the Minnesota Vikings at the Philadelphia Eagles and Nick Foles.

Sure, everybody knows Brady and there’s always the likelihood that the Patriots will not only win Sunday, but go on to win Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4. That’s just the Patriots. That’s who they are. But Sunday’s conference championships give us the opportunity to dream a little bit and wonder what it would be like to have the Jaguars in the Super Bowl, or to have the Vikings being the first team to play the Super Bowl in their own stadium.

CBS analyst Tony Romo — who has been brilliant in his first season as the network’s No. 1 booth analyst, working with Jim Nantz — says anything could happen, but New England is the team to beat.

“Whether it’s Jacksonville, Minnesota or Philadelphia, New England will be prepared and they’ll be ready,” Romo said this week. “… To win this thing, they’re going to have to go through two dynamic defenses and that’s a lot of hits on the quarterback. That’s a lot of throws under duress.

“… If anyone can do it, it’s Brady. If anyone can get their team ready, it’s [coach Bill] Belichick. We’ve seen it. But, it’s definitely a challenge and I would say whoever comes out of the NFC is a very formidable opponent. And they’re going to be in the mix. All four of these teams can win a Super Bowl. And you can’t say that every year.”

On the NFC side, the Eagles have taken an us-against-the-world approach that CBS’ Bill Cowher says has worked to their advantage.

“I don’t think they are [underdogs], but don’t tell them,” Cowher said. “I think they are playing the underdog role pretty well right now. … Last week being the underdog at home kind of fueled them to play that card to take them to the Super Bowl.”

The Vikings, however, will be a formidable opponent for Philadelphia, especially after their amazing, last-second 29-24 win last week over New Orleans. Cowher said much of the Vikings’ success falls directly on coach Mike Zimmer.

“Mike, in my opinion, does a good job of keeping everyone on edge,” Cowher said. “… What really speaks volumes about Mike, he doesn’t let people get comfortable.  I think there is a lot to be said for that. And they have had a lot of success, but they are still playing with an edge. … I give a lot of credit to Mike Zimmer for having the no-nonsense approach he is taking to this team. They have adopted that and they are a reflection of their head coach.”

DIGG-ING THAT CALL

The most amazing moment of the weekend was how the Vikings beat the Saints on a 61-yard pass play from Keenum to Stefon Diggs with no time left.

Just as impressive were the calls of the play on TV and radio. Fox’s Joe Buck, not particularly known for emotion, screamed his head off:

“Keenum steps into it. Pass is caught! DIGGS … SIDELINE … TOUCHDOWN! UNBELIEVABLE! VIKINGS WIN IT!

Kevin Harlan on Westwood One radio, who is known for emotion (even on unemotional plays), had a great call, too:

“Shotgun snap. He moves up, he throws a long line drive on the near side. Leaping to it, catch made! My goodness! IT’S GOING TO GO IN FOR THE TOUCHDOWN! GRAB BY DIGGS! He broke a tackle, 61-yard touchdown throw! The Vikings have won! The Minnesota Vikings have won!”

Of course, the Vikings’ radio broadcast on the team’s 68-station network was loud and proud. Paul Allen and Pete Bercich were astonished:

Allen: “Case on the deep drop, steps up in the pocket, he’ll fire to the right side, CAUGHT BY DIGGS! STAY IN BOUNDS!”

Bercich: “OH, MY GOD! OH, MY GOD! NO WAY!”

Allen: “HE GOT LOOSE! AT THE 30, THE 10, TOUCHDOWN! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”

Bercich: “WHAT A MIRACLE FINISH!”

Allen: “IT’S A MINNEAPOLIS MIRACLE!”

Bercich: “NO WAY!”

Allen: “STEFON DIGGS AND THE MINNESOTA VIKINGS HAVE WALKED OFF ON THE NEW ORLEANS SAINTS!”

AT THIS RATE …

Ratings for the NFL’s divisional games last Sunday were bleak. SportsBusiness Daily reported that the contests had their “lowest figures in at least a decade, despite three of the four games coming down to the wire.”

As might be expected, the thrilling Saints-Vikings game had the best mark, with a 21.8 big-market overnight rating for Fox. Anything over 20.0 is a big rating for any program, but it was the lowest figure for a Sunday afternoon divisional game since the 2009 Chargers-Steelers game had a 21.4 on CBS. The first game Sunday, Jaguars-Steelers, pulled in a 20.4, the lowest mark in that spot in at least 15 years.

The two Saturday games fared worse. NBC had a 17.4 for Eagles-Falcons and CBS had a 16.6 for Titans-Patriots. Those were the lowest ratings for Saturday divisional games since 2009.

UP & DOWN THE DIAL

Chris Berman and Tom Jackson will reunite on ESPN after this weekend’s NFL conference championship games to host a special edition of NFL PrimeTime at 7 p.m. Sunday. The two worked together for 29 years on various studio shows. Berman will also host the show following Super Bowl LII. Matt Hasselbeck will be the ESPN analyst for the Jan. 28 Pro Bowl alongside play-by-play man Sean McDonough. Several reports speculate this will be an audition for Hasselbeck to replace Jon Gruden on Monday Night Football next season. … SportsBusiness Journal sources say ABC “has emerged as a surprise bidder” for the NFL Thursday Night Football package. Other than playoff simulcasts with Disney sister network ESPN, ABC hasn’t shown NFL games since Monday Night Football was shifted over to ESPN in 2006. CBS and NBC are the incumbents for the TNF package and have submitted bids along with Fox.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not only join NBC’s NASCAR coverage this season, he will also be part of the network’s Super Bowl and Winter Olympics programming. … Katie Couric has been tabbed to co-host the Winter Olympics opening ceremony with Mike Tirico. The former Today host (as well as anchor for the CBS Evening News) hosted opening ceremonies at the Sydney, Salt Lake City and Athens Games. NBC’s most recent Olympics, at Rio de Janeiro, was hosted by Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera. Lauer was fired by NBC in November after sexual harassment allegations. … NBC plans to stream the opening ceremony live (it would start at 3 a.m. PT), then show its curated version on TV in prime time. …

Golf Channel is struggling to show live golf events while technicians belonging to the International Alliance of Theatrical & Stage Employees are on strike. … Nicole Briscoe has signed a new contract with ESPN. A new duty will include being host of ABC’s Indianapolis 500 telecast. … The first telecast of this season’s ABC’s NBA Saturday Prtimetime package starts this weekend with Warriors-Rockets at 5:30 p.m. The network will also show a “matinee,” Thunder-Cavaliers, at 12:30. … NBCSN will show the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony at 5 p.m. Friday. … MLB Network will reveal the Baseball Hall of Fame election results at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

An appreciation of Keith Jackson, the voice of college football

Keith Jackson 2
“Amplify, clarify and don’t intrude,” said Keith Jackson. “That was my philosophy and I never changed it.” (ABC photo by Ida Mae Astute)

Watching a college football game that Keith Jackson was broadcasting was like watching a game with your dad or your grandfather. There was always an appreciation of the event, but also a sprinkling of folksy phrases.

The linemen were “the big uglies,” an unattractive but very necessary part of the game. The vast stadium at the University of Michigan was “the Big House.” The Rose Bowl was “the Granddaddy of Them All,” a moniker that became so attached to the event it was trademarked by the Pasadena Tournament of Roses. When a ball got loose, the call was “Fum-BULLLL!” When an errant pass just missed being intercepted and returned for a touchdown, “six points went a-wastin’!” And when an eye-popping play was almost too good to believe, it was punctuated by “Whoa, Nellie!”

Jackson died Friday night at the age of 89, leaving the legacy of a legendary sports broadcasting career on ABC.

Keith Jackson 1
Keith Jackson was so identified with the Rose Bowl, he coined the phrase “The Granddaddy of Them All.” (ABC photo by Craig Sjodin)

“For generations of fans, Keith Jackson was college football,” Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO Bob Iger said. “When you heard his voice, you knew it was a big game. Keith was a true gentleman and memorable presence. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Turi Ann, and his family.”

As much as he meant to college football, and vice versa, Jackson’s broadcasting career was vast and varied. His ABC career started on Wide World of Sports, a cavalcade program of often obscure sporting endeavors, which meant Jackson covered such things as skydiving, arm wrestling and motorcycle jumping. Jackson made everything he announced sound like it was the biggest thing around.

“I wanted to be a sports announcer and you’re not going to be one if you don’t go out and do whatever it is you’ve been assigned to do,” Jackson said in 2011.

After a stint in the Marines, Jackson went to Washington State College where he broadcast football and earned a degree in broadcast journalism in 1954. He went to work at ABC affiliate KOMO in Seattle, working first in radio, then in television, including some time as news co-anchor. In 1958, he did the first live sports broadcast from the Soviet Union to the U.S., a crew race between the University of Washington and a Soviet team.

Keith Jackson 3
Keith Jackson, center, was the first play-by-play voice of “Monday Night Football,” with Howard Cosell, left and Don Meredith. (ABC photo)

In 1964, Jackson became sports director for ABC Radio West and continued freelance work with ABC Sports before working full time in 1966. He also served as a radio news correspondent during those years. Jackson covered the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco, and in 1965 he worked a baseball telecast with Jackie Robinson in the afternoon and covered the Watts riots in Los Angeles that same night.

With ABC, his sports work took him to 31 countries and to 10 Olympic Games. Jackson called Mark Spitz’s seven swimming gold medals in Munich in 1972 and Eric Heiden’s five gold medals in speedskating in 1980 at Lake Placid.

While Jackson is primarily known for college football, he was the first play-by-play voice for the NFL’s Monday Night Football when it started in 1970. The next season, ABC Sports president Roone Arledge hired Frank Gifford, a handsome former player with a glamorous name, to join Don Meredith and Howard Cosell.

Keith Jackson 4
Keith Jackson poses at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. (ABC photo by Steve Fenn)

Also at ABC, Jackson called major league baseball, including 11 World Series and league championship series. His highlights included Reggie Jackson’s three World Series home runs for the Yankees against the Dodgers in 1977 and Bucky Dent’s playoff homer for the Yankees against the Red Sox in 1978. Jackson did NBA games with Bill Russell, along with college basketball, boxing, the USFL and auto racing — NASCAR, USAC and Formula One, including seven Grand Prix of Monaco races.

But college football was Jackson’s domain.

“When I was a boy, we didn’t have all this pro stuff,” he said in 2009. “All professional sports of any consequence were located in the big cities in the north, so those of us who enjoyed the game of football followed college football.” Over the years, Jackson’s broadcast partners Jack Jensen, Lee Grosscup, Bud Wilkinson, Ara Parseghian, Frank Broyles, Lynn Swann, Tim Brant, Bob Griese and Dan Fouts.

“He did it for a long, long time,” Griese told ESPN. “… He never intruded on the game. It was always about the kids on the field, Never, never shining the light on himself. And that was one of the things that I most admired about him.”

Jackson insisted he didn’t say “Whoa, Nellie!” all that often, that it was really more the people who impersonated him who did that. But in this wonderful appreciation from ESPN, you can catch Jackson saying it at the 4:35 mark.

“This ‘Whoa, Nellie!’ thing is overrated,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “There were all kinds of stories going around. People said I had a mule in Georgia named Nellie. Well, we had a mule in Georgia, but her name was Pearl.”

Jackson was given the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame’s Gold Medal in 1999, the same year he was the first broadcaster named to the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the American Sportscasters Hall of Fame and a winner of the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award by the American Football Coaches Association.

He was named National Sportscaster of the Year five times by the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

“The college football game as such doesn’t exhibit the skill pro football does, but,” Jackson said, holding up a finger for emphasis, “it’s got spirit.”

However, he was criticized in 1978 for ignoring an incident at the end of the Gator Bowl when Ohio State coach Woody Hayes punched Charlie Baumann, a Clemson linebacker, after Baumann intercepted a pass.

ABC showed the replay, but Jackson and Parseghian said nothing. Jackson explained later that they could not see the replay in their booth.

Despite majoring in broadcast journalism, Jackson told The Boston Globe in 1999, “I’m not a journalist. It’s a simple thing. When ABC spends half a billion dollars on something, I’m not going to rip and tear it apart.”

At the end of two contracts — after the 1986 and 1998 seasons — Jackson said he was headed to retirement, but both times, within months and without missing a college football assignment, he re-signed with ABC. He confined his schedule primarily to West Coast contests. His last game was the 2006 Rose Bowl, where Texas beat USC for the national championship.

Keith Max Jackson was born Oct. 18, 1928, in the west Georgia town of Roopville and grew up about 10 miles away, outside Carrollton.

In addition to his wife, whom he married while in college, he is survived by his children Melanie Ann, Lindsey and Christopher, and three grandchildren.

If Jackson’s play-by-play was essentially simple, that was by design.

“I’ve lived all my professional career with a single thought when I went to do a program,” he once said. “Amplify, clarify and don’t intrude. That was my philosophy and I never changed it.”

Overtime pays off for ESPN, College Football Playoff

Overtime turned out to be a good time for the College Football Playoff.

cfpThe CFP championship game as well as the Rose Bowl semifinal went into extra time and produced big TV viewership numbers.

Monday’s title game, won 26-23 in OT by Alabama over Georgia, was seen by an average of 28.4 million viewers on ESPN (which had 27.4 million itself), as well as on “MegaCast” networks ESPN2 and ESPNU.

It’s the No. 2 most watched cable TV telecast in history and 11% more than last year’s Clemson-Alabama title game (25.3 million). The inaugural CFP game — Ohio State-Oregon in 2015 — is still No. 1 at 33.9 million.

Monday’s game was, understandably, a huge draw in the South. Nine of the top 10 markets to watch the game were from the region with Birmingham topping the list with a 57.6 rating (meaning 57.6% of all TVs in the market were tuned to the game). The big-market overnight rating was 16.7.

For the Rose Bowl (a double-overtime victory by Georgia over Oklahoma), the overnight rating was a 14.8, the second best mark for a CFP semifinal behind Oregon-Florida State in 2016 (15.5). The Alabama-Clemson semifinal at the Sugar Bowl had a 12.5 overnight rating.

All this had ESPN smiling broadly.

“The record-breaking audiences, over the course of multiple years, clearly reinforce how the College Football Playoff has quickly established itself as an elite event on the sports calendar,” ESPN executive vice president Burke Magnus said in a statement. “[Monday’s] thrilling finish coupled with ESPN’s innovative MegaCast presentation showcased the incredible strength of college football and the deep connection live sports have with fans.”

PLAYOFFS? PLAYOFFS!

SportsBusiness Daily reported all four NFL networks had double-digit declines for the wild-card round of the playoffs last weekend. The Rams’ Saturday night loss to the Falcons on NBC earned a 14.9 overnight rating, down 10% from the 16.5 for the Seahawks-Lions matchup last year.

Wild Card_rgbFox had the most watched game, with Saints-Panthers drawing a 20.4. However, that was still down 15% the 24.0 for Packers-Giants last season. CBS had a 17.2 mark for Bills-Jaguars, down 10% from the Steelers-Dolphins’ 19.2 in 2017. The Titans-Chiefs game on ABC and ESPN had a 14.7 rating, down 11% from a 16.6 for Texans-Raiders in ’17.

Whatever you may think about the NFL right now, between national anthem kneelings and concussion issues, it is still golden for TV networks. Nothing beats it and nothing will.

“We always want ratings to go up, but we’re 37 of the top 50 shows, which is higher than ever,” Goodell told reporters Sunday. “We’re likely to be the No. 1 show … on all of television, the Fox Sunday afternoon game. Sunday night prime time is for the seventh year in a row the No. 1 show. Thursday night football is No. 2.

“I think dominance of the NFL in television is still very clear.”

For this weekend’s divisional round, the two Saturday games are Falcons-Eagles at 1:35 p.m. PST on NBC, followed by Titans-Patriots at 5:15 on CBS. CBS gets two games this weekend. On Sunday it has Jaguars-Steelers at 10:05 a.m. and Fox gets Saints-Vikings at 1:40 p.m.

HOCKEY DAY SOCAL

image005The Kings and Ducks play at Staples Center on Saturday night and they’ve declared it Hockey Day SoCal with all kinds of Southern California events, but as far as I’m concerned, the real star of the day will be Bob Miller.

The former Kings broadcaster, who retired after last season after 44 years, will be honored Saturday with a statue outside Staples Center and a permanent banner inside. It’ll be the third hockey statue at Staples’ Star Plaza, joining Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille. Miller’s will be the first statue of a broadcaster at any current NHL arena. The banner will join those for Gretzky, Robitaille, Rob Blake, Dave Taylor, Marcel Dionne and Rogie Vachon. Fans will receive a Bob Miller “BOBblehead.”

As part of the event, Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket, as well as Fox Sports San Diego, will each offer 6½ continuous hours of hockey-themed programming beginning with two Kings vs. Ducks classic games at 4:30 p.m. and concluding with Ducks-Kings pregame and ceremony coverage at 7. Game time is 7:30.

FS West’s classic game will be the first ever played between the Kings and Ducks on Dec. 2, 1993. Prime Ticket’s will be a Ducks comeback win from Jan. 22, 2003.

UP & DOWN THE DIAL

CBS Sports Network will air a documentary that should be worth watching. History in the Astrodome: UCLA vs. Houston 1968 looks back at the classic college basketball game — the first to be televised nationally in prime time — and how it changed the sport. CBS Sports announcer — and Houston alumnus — Jim Nantz interviews the late Dick Enberg (who called the game), Elvin Hayes, Don Chaney and Seth Davis.NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, according to USA Today, but he expects to return in time to be involved with next month’s Winter Olympics. McGuire’s diagnosis comes five months after fellow NBC analyst Ed Olczyk was told he had colon cancer. … Fox Sports named Mark Silverman as president of its national networks. He’ll oversee Fox Sports, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2 and retain his role as president of the Big Ten Network.

TNT will show three games Monday on Martin Luther King Day: Lakers-Grizzlies at 2:30 p.m., Warriors-Cavaliers at 5 and Rockets-Clippers at 7:30. Also, NBA TV will have Hornets-Pistons at 9:30 a.m. and Spurs-Hawks at noon. … Australian Open coverage begins at 4 p.m. Sunday on ESPN2. NBC announced it will provide more than 50 hours of Winter Olympic virtual reality coverage to authenticated users via the NBC Sports VR app.