On either side of the recent Rose Bowl, two voices synonymous with the classic New Year’s Day college football game went silent. Keith Jackson and Dick Enberg called so much more than what Jackson had famously dubbed “The Granddaddy of Them All,” but that’s the event that first came to my mind when I first heard about their deaths.
Enberg, who called basketball, pro football, baseball, Wimbledon and much more, was 82 on Dec. 21 when he died from a heart attack.
He had retired from announcing San Diego Padres games in 2016, and just a few weeks before his death, served on a panel discussion about the 1968 UCLA-Houston college basketball game at the Astrodome, which was his breakthrough on the national scene.
News, Views and Reviews About Sports Books, History and Culture
Also in This Issue: Baseball Artists; Nick Saban; Willie McCovey; BASW 2018 Deadline Approaching; A Soccer Writer’s Reading List; A Jewish Sprinter’s World War II Heroism; A Writer’s Farewell to Sports
His humble Midwestern on-air persona yielded the famous “Oh My!” remark that became the title of his 2012 memoir, which revealed his childlike enthusiasm for sports that embodied a 60-year career.
Enberg’s call of the end of the Bruins’ record 88-game winning streak at Notre Dame in 1974 exemplified that attitude, and it’s my first memory of hearing him.
He called the Rose Bowl from 1980 to 1989, followed by Jackson, another versatile voice in the booth, whose final call in Pasadena was the stirring 2007 win by Texas over USC on a late touchdown run by Vince Young.
It was vintage Jackson, with his soft Georgia lilt offering a pitch-perfect call, complementing and not overshadowing a thrilling finale.
Jackson died Saturday at the age of 89, and his folksy phrasings, cultivated during a poor farm upbringing in Roopville, Ga., endeared so many to college football, and not just the Southern variety. In addition to “Whoa, Nelly,” Jackson’s down-home game vocabulary included “hoss” and “big uglies down in the trenches,” a reference to linemen.
A 1987 profile in Sports Illustrated quoted former ABC colleague Jim Lampley about Jackson: “He communicates to Middle America in a way that can only be envied.”
In a 1998 interview with The New York Times that was republished Saturday, Jackson elaborated on that point this way:
“I talk to the guy who busted his butt all week to buy a color TV, and the woman who’s raising her kids, the people I owe a debt to. I’m talking to people in hotel rooms, lonesome people.”
Given his way with words, it seems ironic that Jackson never wrote a book himself (although he penned forewords for several). Kansas City Star columnist Vahe Gregorian wrote Saturday that he was all set to work with Jackson on his autobiography in the early 1990s, but the project was scotched because of a “new middleman inserted into the mix.”
In a 2013 studio session with Fox College Saturday, Jackson described the origins of the “Whoa Nelly” call (it comes from his grandfather), and explained how in the later stages of his career, he tapped back into his Georgia roots quite often.
“The older I got, the more willing I was to go back into the Southern vernacular because some of it’s funny.”
Like those men of their generation, Keith Jackson and Dick Enberg spoke evocatively across a broad range of sports, but also knew when to give way to the natural excitement of the game. It’s that sensibility, as well as their quiet dignity, that will be missed as much as their famous calls that captivated sports fans for decades.
As Jackson told Gregorian for the never-published memoir:
“There are times I turn on an athletic contest that I’m quite sure my profession has died. . . . If he wants to go into show business, he should go back to vaudeville and get his own stage. Amplify, clarify, punctuate. Don’t intrude. I live by that. I do not in any sense at any time try to intrude on what’s happening. I merely define it.”
Baseball realist illustrator Graig Kreindler has been written about often in recent years, most recently by Nicholas Frankovich at the National Review, where the artist explains his method simply: “I try to inhabit the players I’m painting. It’s like having a dialogue with them.”
The piece delves into the drawing of his lauded “The Heater Makes History,” Kreindler’s reworking of Bob Feller’s 1940 no-hitter, still the only no-no on an opening day in major league history.
More on Kreindler from The New York Times (2007); The Wall Street Journal (2015) and The Sporting News (2016). His influences include the 19th century American illustrator Howard Pyle and he often referred to the HBO baseball documentary “When It Was a Game” in the formative stages of his work.
At CBSSports.com, R.J. Anderson talks to Mike Noren, the creator of the Gummy Arts line of hand-drawn baseball cards, which was ignited when he received a doodle-a-day desk calendar from his girlfriend. He’s been previously profiled at Baseball By the Letters and his work featured in The National Pastime Museum, among other outlets.
Sport Books News
Steven Goff, longtime soccer writer at The Washington Post, recently compiled his list of a dozen soccer books worth reading, and a memoir by the late Dutch and Barcelona legend Johan Cruyff is among them.
Jeff Pearlman, former Sports Illustrated writer and author of six sports books, has been named the 2018 guest editor for the Best American Sports Writing series. On his blog, Pearlman was truly humbled. Series editor Glenn Stout says the deadline for submitting pieces for possible inclusion is Feb. 1, and those articles must have been published in the calendar year 2017. Here are more submission guidelines.
Pearlman’s forthcoming book, “Football for a Buck,” is a history of the U.S. Football League, and is due out in September (Hachette). For The Athletic Ink (paywall) he wrote about Donald Trump’s less-than-auspicious ownership of the New Jersey Generals.
A Few Good Reads
- Call Me Deacon Blues, yet again: Alabama’s rousing overtime win over Georgia on Monday for the college football national championship was sparked by the benching of SEC player of the year Jalen Hurts in favor of rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa. At The Ringer, Ben Glicksman quickly turned around this well-written piece about Nick Saban’s willingness to change a lot more than quarterbacks;
- At Tablet, Robert Rockaway and Maya Guez tell the magnificent story of Georges Loinger, now 107 years old. In the 1940s, he was a noted French Jewish 400-meter runner who used his athleticism to save hundreds of Jewish children from the clutches of the occupying Nazi regime during World War II. In 1951, Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion, upon meeting Loinger, declared to him, “You are a good Jew;”
- At the San Francisco Chronicle, longtime baseball writer John Shea has this insightful piece on Willie McCovey, who recently turned 80;
- Sports Illustrated is now a bi-weekly publication, reduced to 24 issues for 2018 as it battles an ever-changing sports media industry. Rick Edmonds, an analyst at The Poynter Institute and a long-time fan of the magazine, is hopeful that “the brutal economics now hitting magazines as harshly as newspapers won’t change the old boy beyond recognition;”
- The continuing fallout in the sports media ranks is just one reason former VICE sports editor Jorge Arangure is done working in the genre:
“I want to be challenged again. Hopefully, someone gives me a chance. The basic principles of journalism don’t change just because you’re writing and editing stories about sports. In the end, it’s all about building stories.”
Cy Young, 89, was no relation to the Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher, but was the first and still only American to win an Olympic gold medal in the javelin, in its inaugural competition in Helsinki in 1952. The achievement came on his 24th birthday, but that was essentially the end of his athletic career. He suffered an ankle injury right before the Melbourne Games in 1956. While keeping up with track and field for many years, Young preferred a quiet life as a walnut and almond rancher near Modesto, Calif., as he told a reporter for the Modesto Bee:
“You’re close to God and nature in the field. I love everything about farming—the hard work, eating the dust, feeling the heat. I just love it. I really do.”
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The Sports Biblio Digest is an e-mail newsletter delivered each Sunday. It contains commentary and links about sports books and history. You can subscribe here and search the archives. This is Digest issue No. 110, published Jan. 14, 2018. The Digest is a companion to the Sports Biblio website.
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