Quote of the Day:
“Wrap it in Maroon and White.” —Jack Cristil, signing off on a Bulldog victory
TB was five years old, maybe four, the first time I remember hearing Jack Cristil on the radio. It was 1974, maybe 1975, and I was visiting my Grandmother deep in the backwoods, Phoenix, Mississippi. She lived with her brother, Uncle Van, an unmarried man of solitude who hardly ever talked. My Dad and Uncle Van were close. Though sixteen years apart, they’d pretty much grown up together in that place and at that time where, on a daily basis, you spent time with who you lived with, because everybody else was busy or inaccessible.
When Uncle Van and Daddy talked, there were usually a couple of sentences exchanged, followed by several minutes of silence, deep and considered thought I always assumed was taking place, then a few more sentences, then another stretch of companionable silence. Almost always they were standing, leaning on a truck or propping up a barbed-wire fence, or shuffling feet in the gravel drive. Eventually, after ten minutes or maybe an hour, Daddy, always Daddy, would take his leave and Uncle Van would grunt an unintelligible farewell and then glance over at me, sizing me up or possibly even trying to communicate in his strange, stoic, country way to the kid under their feet. I always liked Uncle Van. We never exchanged more than a 1000 words over the course of the next thirty years, but I liked him. When he died a few years ago my Dad said he always like me too, because I kept my mouth shut and most kids were too loud and made him nervous. Ironic if you know me, but true in his case.
Strange, that is what I thought of when I heard of legendary Mississippi State broadcaster Jack Cristil’s retirement. The one and only time I was allowed in Uncle Van’s inner sanctum at the crumbling, dog-trot home he shared with my Grandmother was on a dark autumn night back in 1974. Or 1975. He was listening to the Mississippi State-Memphis State game on his radio. Daddy must’ve been interested in the game too, because we never went in that room before and we never would go in it again. I remember that we won. I remember that radio broadcast making me think there were great things afoot at some faraway stadium. Things great and important enough to hold Daddy and Uncle Van’s attention and to make us all smile and I think I even got to talk a little that night. Many years later I would learn more of Bulldog football history and of a dramatic comeback victory over Memphis State around 1974 led by Rockey Felker and though I can’t be sure, because maybe it was 1975, I feel pretty confident that was the game we listened to at Uncle Van’s.
It would be several more years before I lost the wisdom and good judgement I was born with and, among other things, began to care enough about college football to recognize the great Jack Cristil’s voice announcing that the Bulldogs would be moving “left to right across your radio dial.” By then, I already understood, Jack was part of the family. Also a part of my childhood, now gone of necessity like so much else, and missed.