“They call it in some circles the Hail Mary. It was certainly perfect…” – Keith Jackson, Colorado/Michigan game
When you write about a legend like Keith Jackson, how do you pick the game that best exemplifies his broadcast career? That’s a challenge. You’re talking about a man who has called the Olympics, baseball, even Monday Night Football.
But for all that he’s done, he’ll best be remembered for all of his Saturday afternoon’s presenting us the best that college football has to offer. We could talk about Wide Right. He was there for what would be Woody Hayes’ final game.
You could also start at the early part of his career, calling games for Washington State. There was his final one, the night that Vince Young became a college football legend. We could even talk about the ’85 Iron Bowl edition of “The Kick.”
Whatever the college football moment, Jackson’s voice was there providing the narrative to what we saw.
Few moments, however, could match the one that occurred one Saturday afternoon in September 1994. The Colorado Buffaloes marched into Ann Arbor, fresh off a blowout victory over Wisconsin and ranked seventh in the country.
The Michigan Wolverines came into the game having knocked off third-ranked Notre Dame a couple weeks prior thanks to a Remy Hamilton game-winning field goal in the final seconds. Jackson had the call along with his broadcast partner at the time, Bob Griese. A battle of two top 10 non-conference opponents facing off in a tough environment at Michigan Stadium, there’s nothing like it.
Colorado had a 14-9 lead at halftime. However, they struggled in the third quarter as Michigan scored 17 unanswered to take a 26-14 lead.
The Buffaloes weren’t going away quietly, however. Late in the game, a 72-yard drive culminated in a Rashaan Salaam one-yard touchdown run which cut the lead to 26-21 with 2:16 left.
On 3rd and 7, Michigan quarterback Todd Collins handed the ball off to Tim Biakabatuka, who ran it for a few yards but came up short.
Kraig Baker, the freshman punter, came in to punt the ball inside the Colorado 40 (PEAK B1G, I know), it led to fair catch call at 15-yard line with 14 seconds left.
Colorado needed to drive 85-yards in a short amount of time to win the game.
Quarterback Kordell Stewart started the drive by throwing down the middle to wide receiver Michael Westbrook as he got taken down at the 36-yard line.
The offense immediately rushed up to the line where Stewart spiked the ball with six seconds to go. Six seconds and 64 yards to go. The Hail Mary pass was the best option for Colorado.
Colorado had three receivers lined up to Stewart’s left, including Westbrook. Stewart took the snap from the center, backed up as he had enough protection and launched the ball from the 27-yard line. The ball got down around the two-yard line right around traffic as it soon got tipped into the waiting hands of Westbrook. Touchdown Colorado!
“Incredible,” Jackson shouted.
The Buffaloes celebrated in the end zone as Michigan looked on in disbelief. It’s one of the most memorable moments in Colorado history, perhaps the most. It’s a longer Hail Mary pass than the Doug Flutie one versus Miami.
The Buffaloes used the momentum from the Michigan win to march into Austin and defeat Texas 34-31.
The key play was a game-winning 24-yard field goal by Neil Voskeritchian with a second left on the clock. Ironically, Westbrook caught another tipped pass, this time courtesy of Salaam, during the final drive.
Colorado lost to Nebraska just a few weeks later 24-7, killing their hopes at winning a national title. However, they won out, defeating Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and finishing third in the country.
Michigan, meanwhile, rebounded with wins over Iowa and Michigan State. However, they’d lose to third-ranked Penn State. They’d lose again two weeks later to Wisconsin and fell once more against Ohio State in the season finale.
Michigan went on to defeat Colorado State in the Holiday Bowl.
As for Jackson, he went on to give us many more moments as a college football announcer. He’s someone you can’t duplicate, no matter how hard you try. I only got to truly experience his final years as an announcer. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have an impact. Jackson got to call some of the best games in college football during that time. It made me a fan.
There are many voices in college football. However, there are few who are as unique as Keith Jackson. He might be gone now, but as long as they keep calling the Rose Bowl “The Grandaddy of Them All,” as long as linemen are called “The Big Uglies,” that voice will always be present.