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Keith Jackson, 89, broadcaster with ‘Whoa, Nelly! call, dies

Keith Jackson

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Keith Jackson

Keith Jackson, whose signature phrases like “Whoa, Nelly!” made him the down-home voice of college football during more than five decades as a sportscaster, has died. He was 89.

Jackson died Friday, according to a statement Saturday by ESPN, which consolidated with ABC Sports, Jackson’s longtime employer. No cause or place of death was given. Jackson was a longtime resident of Sherman Oaks, California, and Pender Harbor, British Columbia.

Jackson covered many sports, but he was best known for college football. A native of rural west Georgia, his smooth baritone voice and use of phrases like “big uglies” for linemen gave his game calls a familiar feel.

He might be best known for his “Whoa, Nelly!” exclamation, but he didn’t overuse it during games. Borrowed from his great-grandfather, a farmer, the phrase was also part of a commercial Jackson did for Miller Lite in the mid-’90s.

In a Fox Sports interview in 2013, Jackson said his folksy language stemmed from his rural upbringing and he became comfortable with the usage through the years.