John Shearer: Announcer Keith Jackson Once Pulled For Mocs

Saturday, January 13, 2018 - by John Shearer
Keith Jackson
Keith Jackson

Keith Jackson, the popular ABC sports announcer who was known for broadcasting college football and for using such down-homey terms as “whoa, nellie,” died Saturday at the age of 89.

One little known fact about him is that he was apparently a fan of the Chattanooga Mocs and coach “Scrappy” Moore.

Back in the early 1980s when I was a student at the University of Georgia, I read a story in the Georgia football game program on Mr. Jackson, who was being profiled due to the fact he was from Georgia.

To my surprise, he said he grew up listening to the University of Chattanooga football games on the radio from his hometown of Roopville, which is near Carrollton and the Alabama line west of Atlanta.

That must have occurred because Chattanooga in 1935 started playing college football games on Friday nights under some lights, which was a little unique for college football at that time.

It was reportedly done to allow local fans of SEC teams to go to the Chattanooga games and then still attend or follow on the radio their favorite bigger teams' games on Saturdays. And at that time, high school football games were not all on Friday night, with some taking place on Friday afternoons, Saturdays during the day, or, as sometimes occurred at Chamberlain Field with a team like Central, Saturday night.

Because many of the Mocs’ games were on AM radio at night, Mr. Jackson as a boy or teen-ager could pick them up from 100 or so miles away. Further research would be required to see if the games were on the pioneering WDOD or another station, and who the announcer was.

But the games apparently made an impression on Mr. Jackson and made him interested in becoming an announcer, as did likely the announcers from other schools he followed.

Mr. Jackson was said to be an admirer of Coach Moore as well.

With the help of Chattanoogan Bill Peterson, I found another story in an archived 1989 edition of the Michigan Daily newspaper online in which Mr. Jackson also mentions his interest in the Mocs.

As he told the newspaper in an interview printed in a Q and A format, “I like to do college football because I grew up with college football on the farm. One of my favorite teams when I was a lad growing up was the University of Chattanooga Moccasins, which is now the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. They were coached by a fella named Scrappy Moore.”

The time period when he followed the Mocs games would have likely been from the mid-to-late 1930s, when he was about 8 or 10, until he was probably a high school student in the early-to-mid 1940s.

Among the standout Moc players during that time were such backs as Thurman Scott, John Nardo, Don Barbee and Sib Evans, as well as defensive standout Bob Sutton, end Billy O’Brien and Junior Orend and Frank Grigonis, among many others. And Scrappy Moore was the head coach through the 1967 season.

Further research would also be required to see if he ever attended a Mocs game at Chamberlain Field or ever came to Chattanooga to make an appearance after becoming a well-known announcer, and if he discussed his memories in more detail.

During that time when he followed the Mocs, they hosted a very good Tennessee team at Chamberlain Field in 1939 under Bob Neyland, and Georgia several times in the 1940s. Since those were bigger games, they were all played on Saturday afternoon.

The UC Friday night tradition continued into the 1960s, as did the Mocs’ tradition of having a Thanksgiving Day home game.

Keith Jackson continued broadcasting games until early 2006. He was actually scheduled to retire after broadcasting the national championship Fiesta Bowl game between Tennessee and Florida State in early 1999, but he ended up broadcasting several more seasons mostly closer to his California home.

The Fiesta Bowl was also the game after which the legendary John Ward, the Voice of the Vols, retired.

* * * * *

Another interesting fact I came across recently about the Chattanooga Mocs and national sports history deals with Steve Belichick, the father of noted New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. The elder Belichick actually once coached against the Mocs in Chattanooga.

Steve Belichick was an assistant coach overseeing the backfield at Vanderbilt from 1949-52 under coach Bill Edwards, and the Mocs played the Commodores in both 1950 and ‘51.

On Nov. 4, 1950, the older coach Belichick roamed the sidelines of Chamberlain Field as the Commodores beat Chattanooga by a score of 34-12. The next year at Nashville’s Dudley Field, Vanderbilt also won against the Mocs, 19-14.

His son, Bill, was born in Nashville in April 1952 in the spring before his last year with the Commodores before becoming an assistant at North Carolina and later Navy.

Bill Belichick’s Patriots were to host the Tennessee Titans Saturday night in the NFL playoffs.

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