Voices of the Game – Frank Broyles and Keith Jackson
by Marty Mulé for The New Orleans Times-Picayune, November 11, 2008. Reprinted by permission.
It’s not Alabama or Notre Dame, Penn State or LSU. But perhaps this is one of the most remembered teams in Sugar Bowl history: Keith Jackson and Frank Broyles.
Some of the most famed voices ever to fill the airwaves – Harry Wisner, Red Barber, Ray Scott, Bill Stern, Al Michaels, even Howard Cosell – have called games in the Sugar Bowl. But in almost a decade of being coupled on ABC-TV, Jackson, the old pro of the airwaves, and Broyles, the University of Arkansas AD and former coach, may have been among the sport’s most memorable announcers – for college football in general as well as the Sugar Bowl. “WHOA, Nellie,” one of Jackson’s staple of game-by-game exclamations, became part of the language of American pop-culture. And it was usually followed by “Now, Keith,” and some folksy insight by Broyles, who never lost his country-boy charm, on the air or off.
In their tenure as the marquee broadcast pairing in college football, they did six Sugar Bowls together. Jackson did more with other partners, and Broyles has worn more hats than any person in the 75 years of Sugar Bowl existence, participating as a player, assistant coach, head coach, athletic director and sportscaster. “And I have enjoyed every one of them,” said Broyles, who may have been being excessively gracious. His Razorback teams were 1-3 in New Orleans.
But Broyles, teamed on-the-air with Jackson, seldom had a bad day.
“He was my mentor,” Broyles said of Jackson. “He had been in the business quite a while when I joined his team. He coached me. We were both from Georgia. He had an accent somewhat like I had. Believe it or not, Keith was from Carrollton and I was from Decatur, and I had played baseball against him as a youngster in American Legion ball. We found that out later.
“Keith Jackson has no ego. The game was the biggest thing. He made sure that the fans knew more about the game than they did the announcer. Funny thing happened when we were doing the Sugar Bowl between Georgia and Penn State (in 1983), and I was trying to explain something. My explanation kept getting longer and longer, and Keith finally said to me, ‘Frank, do you think my mother would have understood that.’ And I said, ‘No, she wouldn’t,’ and he said, ‘Don’t ever do that again.’ Said it right on the air.”
“We laughed. We had that kind of relationship, on the air and off.”
That particular game, which Penn State won 27-23 for the national championship, was one of the two best Sugar Bowls Broyles saw, the other being Alabama’s 14-7 victory in 1979, highlighted by the Crimson Tide’s fourth quarter goal-line stand to also claim the No. 1 pennant. But the memory of the ’83 game makes him almost gush. “That was terrific football,” Broyles says of Joe Paterno’s first national championship. “Those were just well played by both teams. They both were physical, had speed, passing, good punt coverage, kick coverage; they were expertly coached, and the teams were the best in America.”
Jackson, whose first Sugar Bowl was the 1974 game between Florida and Nebraska, said Alabama’s “goal-line stand” victory was the most exciting Sugar Bowl he ever did, but that the 1980 Alabama-Arkansas match (when Lou Holtz was the Hogs’ coach and Broyles was in the odd position of working simultaneously as the Razorbacks’ loyal AD, the man who hired Holtz, and the dispassionate analyst) was his most memorable because of a monsoon that broke over the Superdome during the game.
The downpour caused ankle-deep rivers in the streets and left fans – and broadcasters – stranded in the Dome area.
Jackson, Broyles and their wives were scheduled to appear at a postgame party, but transportation downtown came to a virtual end because of the water.
“Finally, Frank ran out into the street, flagged down a towel-company van, threw a $20 bill on the seat, and asked the driver to get us to our destination,” Jackson chortled years later. “So that’s how we got there – the four of us sitting on stacks of towels in the back of a van.”