For generations around our Swampland Footprint, the play-by-play announcer of your favorite university was like a part of the family. Yes, there was a time before ESPN and billion-dollar network deals when not every game was on television. Classic voices like Tennessee’s John Ward, Kentucky’s Cawood Ledford, LSU’s John Ferguson, Georgia’s Larry Munson and Auburn’s Jim Fyffe were part of the fabric of the college sports that we follow with such passion.
Newer play-by-play broadcasters do not have the same connection to the fans because of the cable generation that gets to see every college game on television. The last of this ‘old-school’ group of legendary voices has finally retired. Mississippi State’s Jack Cristil, who started calling Bulldogs’ football games in 1953 and picked up the basketball duties in 1957, decided to retire at the age of 85 with ongoing health concerns.
In a classy and understated way, Cristil let the generations of MSU fans (who only know one voice) know of his retirement in a quick aside during his final broadcast:
"All good things, as they say in the trade, have to come to an end sooner or later. Doing this treatment will restrict me to the point where I cannot represent this university the way that it should be represented. And when I cannot do that, I have told many people over the years that I would step aside. Now it's time to step aside."
The statistics of Cristil’s amazing career are staggering. He called 636 Mississippi State football games (59% of the games the Bulldogs have played in their history) and 1,538 basketball games. His tenure spanned 12 football coaches and eight basketball coaches. But more important than the numbers was Cristil’s connection to the fans. Former Mississippi State player and coach Rocky Felker:
"Jack's a legend. I, just like a lot of Mississippi State fans, grew up listening to Jack Cristil. That's probably the first time I remember anything about Mississippi State was sitting in the living room with my dad listening to Jack Cristil on the radio."
Veteran Mississippi columnist Rick Cleveland recently shared a column he penned about Cristil from 2002, when the legendary voice was being honored for 50 years of service at Mississippi State. There was a great quote in the article about the feeling young fans experienced when they listened to Jack Cristil, but it was not from a Mississippi State fan. Instead, it was from Ole Miss legend Archie Manning:
"Some of my fondest childhood memories are of sitting at the kitchen table
with my daddy, listening to Jack Cristil describe Mississippi State football
games. He made the games come alive for me. I loved his voice and the way he
described the games. It was like he put you in the stadium. He was, in many
ways, my introduction to college football. And, still, when I hear his voice
I think about those afternoons with my daddy. Jack Cristil's voice, to me,
is college football."
Well said Archie. Family, Saturdays in the South, college football; when your voice is associated with these things, you are truly a legend. We wish the best of health to Jack Cristil, and say thanks for his inspiring career.