Jack Cristil and 58 Years as Voice of the MSU Bulldogs
By Bo Carter
College Correspondent, sportsandoutdoors.guru
From Elvis Presley to Elvis Butler, Jack Cristil saw, and met, most of them all.
No, Jack wasn’t the Forrest Gump of radio broadcasts with the charmed life and worldwide impact. But a closer look at Jack Cristil, the man and the legend, really indicates the impact he made on administrators, coaches, student-athletes, fans, and even some of the most casual followers of college athletics.
Jack Cristil from A-Z was the most memorable broadcaster and host in Southeastern radio history and held court in the broadcast booth for Mississippi State athletics’ events from 1953-2011.
A: Jack was always accurate…he was not a “homer” and he certainly was not a screamer, but if he saw and called a great play on either side of the field, court or diamond, he gave proper credit.
B: He was a Bulldog, with a capital B. Jack did not letter for the golf team (one of his “favorite” sports to watch), teach math class or even direct traffic at “Malfunction Junction,” but he spoke to or made thousands comfortable at Mississippi State alumni gatherings, receptions, tournaments, fund-raisers, and countless other public appearances. He was truly the great ambassador for MSU.
C: He was Mr. C. From former MSU Director of Athletics Larry Templeton to current AD Scott Stricklin to longtime Bulldog Club executive the personable Straton Karatassos to every team manager and student trainer, all knew and loved “Mr. C. (not to be mistaken for the enforcing actor Mr. T).”
D: Jack was dedicated. What other broadcaster, having to commute from Tupelo to Mississippi State, Miss., sometimes as many as three times a week, would volunteer to help the radio network save “some coin” by driving with late network producer Joe Phillips and others to Athens, Ga., Gainesville and Tampa, Fla., Mobile, Ala., Baton Rouge, La., Houston, Texas, and other ports of Bulldog “call?”
To borrow a line from a sermon of long ago, “Thank goodness, the minister’s (or writer’s) message isn’t on Antidisestablishmenterianism!”
One easily could go on from E-Z and find a Cristil trait worthy of superlatives. But the modest man from Tupelo, Miss., could best be summed up by many great broadcasting memories, but, better yet, behind-the-scenes memories he has given to millions.
Who can forget some of Jack’s favorite radio calls, and some of his personal memories, such as the Bulldogs’ famous trip to the 1963 NCAA basketball regionals at East Lansing, Mich., after being banned from such postseason trips by the Mississippi legislature in 1959, 1961 and ’62? Or the 6-3 win over Alabama in Jackson in 1980 to end a 28-game winning streak by coach Bear Bryant and his forces…
“I ran into Mississippi State people for years who told me they were at that game,” Jack laughed in later years, “and they were remodeling Mississippi Memorial Stadium at the time. I think we had just over 50,000, but to hear people tell it, we must have had 500,000.”
State also went to Oxford and upset Mississippi 20-17 in 1964 after the Bulldogs had not downed the Rebels in football since 1946 by a 20-0 count, and Cristil enjoyed working his first winning game from the booth in the MSU-UM rivalry since he started his career with the Bulldogs in ’53.
“Some individual plays that come immediately to mind are Don Smith’s 64-yard run against Tennessee in 1986 (State upended the Vols 27-23 at Knoxville in the debut head coaching season for Rockey Felker) and Johnny Baker’s great catch against Auburn in Birmingham (11-10 MSU triumph) in ’62 after State had not won a Southeastern Conference game from 1958-61.”
Jack was in his customary spot behind the mike when the Bulldogs wrecked Auburn’s chances at a possible second national championship in 1963 with a 13-10 win in Jackson, and he was at his trusty perch when State faced Alcorn State in the historic first National Invitation Tournament contest in Humphrey Coliseum in March, 1979.
He also remembered some of the ones that got away from State.
“Even the thrashing we took at Houston 74-0 in 1969 at the Astrodome,” he recalled, “You don’t forget things like that.”
Jack tossed his hat into the ring for some playoffs’ and televised baseball as well with the late Dennis Hudson and the always-popular Jim Ellis during some off-football-basketball trips to his favorite destination.
It was while growing up and listening to the radio greats of Jack’s youth – Ted Husing, Bill Stern, Clem McCarthy, and many of the other classic sports voices of that era – that the MSU legend began molding his style. Many have compared Cristil to the late Stern, whose inflection and genuine interest in every game really did make it feel as if he were talking to listeners right in their living rooms.
“I have tried to broadcast in a similar style,” Cristil related, “and I know folks like to listen to someone with some enthusiasm and feel comfortable with the broadcaster. Yelling and screaming just don’t cut it many times, and people get used to a professional and fluid approach.
“It’s like the great Dudy Noble told me when he hired me in ’53,” Jack added. “’Boy, just give them the score, who’s got the ball and the time remaining, and cut out all the bull.”
Coach Dudy’s greatest hire — well, along with the likes of Darrell Royal, Paul Gregory and a few other Hall of Fame members — followed that credo for 58 years. Jack even used the radio maxim of placing an egg timer in front of his broadcast position to remind avid listeners about the score, time remaining, site of the contest, and specific situations at least every two minutes during the broadcast.
It led to honors such as in 1992 when the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame inducted Jack as the first non-athlete or non-coach to be so honored. Humble as always, Cristil downplayed the tremendous honor at the awards’ banquet and feted his longtime friend and ally, the late Bob Hartley, when “The Hart” was inducted to the same Hall of Fame in 1994.
“It was very fitting because I considered Bob Hartley as the man who made my transition from minor league baseball and local sports to announcing at MSU as smooth as possible,” Cristil noted. “We spent many an hour in a car or on a plane or even in the old days on trains (such as State’s trip to Philadelphia for the 1963 Liberty Bowl — the school’s first postseason football trip since 1941), and he was a true friend. Bob’s widow, Jean, and Mavis grew to be friends down through the years, and he was always a gracious gentleman to my family.”
Also on the long list of Cristil accomplishments were the prestigious National Football Foundation Chris Schenkel Award in 1997 and 21 Mississippi Sportscaster of the Year Awards, along with many others too numerous to mention.
But what Jack Cristil wanted to be remembered for most of all was as husband to the late Mavis Kelly Cristil, father of Kay and Rebecca, grandfather, and the voice millions heard through the radios from MSU sporting events for seven decades.
R.I.P., Mr. C….
Bo Carter is former sports information director of the Southwest Conference and Big 12. In addition to his duties here, he currently serves as secretary of the National College Baseball Writers. Follow Bo on Twitter at #bcarter52 and Facebook at Bo Carter (Carrollton, Texas).