Saturday, February 26, 2011

Thank you, Jack!

I just heard Jack Cristil call his last Mississippi State ballgame. After calling 1,538 basketball games and 58 of 110 football seasons, the voice of Mississippi State Bulldogs…OUR voice, Jack Cristil, is retiring to take care of his health. When I heard the news Wednesday night, I was in shock. I’m not completely sure it’s fully sunk in even now. During the football season I tweeted how much I love Cristil’s voice. It is as familiar to me as a close friend’s. I could recognize it immediately in a crowded room on any given day, and I think in 50 years that will still be true. Tonight I sat on my couch, live streaming the game on my laptop, and listening to a game that on any other night would have been called a great game of basketball, but tonight it was so much more than a game for the win or loss column. Tonight, I …no, we all, prayed that the boys would pull this game out so we could all hear it wrapped in maroon and white one last time. And with tears streaming down my face, I sat here for the last time listening to Jack.

No matter how advanced television screens and jumbotrons become, I think we will always cherish the radio play-by-play man calling games. There are so many wonderful things about sports, but one of the greatest is the way in which day after day, season after season we invite a man many of us have never met into our homes or cars; we sit down with him and listen to his stories and his view on a game and/or season; we close our eyes as he paints a picture of a game that only one of us can see; and we grow to love him just like a family member or intimate friend. For 58 years, my family and other Mississippi State fans have happily welcomed and loved this familiar friend as we experienced the game, listening to Jack.

When I was little, my family and I would go to Mississippi State games. My grandaddy would go with us, but often he would sit outside the stadium and listen to the radio to hear Jack Cristil call the game. If Grandaddy did come in the stadium, he brought his radio with him and watched the game while listening to Jack. When, in later years, he became so sick he couldn’t leave his bed, he never missed a game; he always had Jack to walk him through, play-by-play. Still, all these years later, I see my grandaddy's face and miss him when I’m listening to Jack.

Growing up, my dad would sit in his recliner in the den where the rest of us were watching tv, and he would wear headphones with a curly wire spanning across the room to the stereo unit above the tv. He sat in the same room with Momma and us kids enjoying our company while listening to Mississippi State games on the radio. My dad would impersonate Jack…always close enough to make us smile but never close enough to nail the voice. My dad loved the great shows of my childhood just like the rest of us, but if a State game was on, he'd rather listen to that. I always think of my daddy and miss him when listening to Jack.

When I moved to Georgia, leaving Mississippi long term for the first time in my life, I felt lost and out of place. Every Saturday in the fall, I would turn on XM radio, sit back, and be transported home – to Mississippi, to Scott Field, to the swish of maroon and white pompoms, and the sound of cowbells ringing. No matter where I was or what I was doing, I was always “home” when I was listening to Jack.

My family, and other Mississippi State fans, knows the plight of the eternal underdog. As an eternal underdog, it’s hard to ever tell what a game will hold or how it will end. When we turned on the radio we knew the game may be “Wrapped in Maroon and White” or end with the Drive of the Game being Jack’s drive home to Tupelo, but we sat there through all of the games (from the jubilant victories over Ole Miss and seasons ending in NCAA tourneys or bowl games to the heartbreaking losses and seasons of hopelessness) praying for a win, knowing the possibility of a loss, but enjoying the ride while listening to Jack.

Jack Cristil is as much a symbol of Mississippi State sports as Maroon and White, Bully, and the cowbell. In my lifetime, official logos for Mississippi State have changed more than I’d like to remember. There was the descending, interlocking MSU of my early childhood followed by the interlocking MS that the baseball team refuses to let go of and the current M, the upright Walking Bully and the current Walking Bully on all fours, and I’m sure there were plenty others in between. The third color (in addition to Maroon and White) has gone through changes from gray to black and back and forth. The football stadium seems to have tripled in size from when I was a child, and the Hump seems to get louder and fuller every year. Countless players have come, have played, and have left – for careers in professional sports, sports casting, banking, etc. Much has changed in the 32 years I’ve been alive, and even more has changed since my Granddaddy graduated from Mississippi State. Yet, as the years have spanned, we’ve all been listening to Jack.

Through it all, there has been one unwavering constant, one steady and well-known voice. That one familiar voice came through our radios, embraced us, and used sports to help heal us after players like Nick Bell and Keffer McGee left this world sooner than they should have. Mississippi State football was the first sporting event after the attacks on September 11, 2001, and that same voice was there to comfort not only Mississippi State fans but a grieving state and nation. Through 58 years of Mississippi State football and basketball games, there has been that one familiar, legendary voice consoling us through horrible losses, cheering with us in unexpected wins, sharing our anger as well as our tears of joy, celebrating our victories, and carrying us through from the first second of play until the final buzzer. And, while Jim Ellis brings another familiar voice to Mississippi State sports and is the only man who can fill the seat left vacant by a living legend, Man! ... I sure am gonna miss listening to Jack!


Katie said...

I almost cried reading this.
Elizabeth, I swear if you still lived here, we'd hang out all the time.
Jack Cristil is the voice of my childhood. Since I've been going to games as a baby. I have to actually meet the man. It would be awesome. He and Walt Grayson are the voices I want to hear when I lose my sight one day.
I'm so glad tonight was a win.
Wrap it in maroon and white.

Will said...

Well done, Ms. Crews. Could not have said it any better.

timothy70 said...

Very well done! You have a real talent and a Love for MSU! That
makes you very special in my eyes!

Gregory Ruff said...

Great read , I agree...

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