Keith Jackson and Bob Griese expect a pretty fair game in the 84th Rose Bowl.
Fair, as in professional, objective reporting. That might not be as easy as it sounds for ABC play-by-play man Jackson, a Washington State graduate who has contributed time and dollars to his alma mater, and for analyst Griese, father of Michigan quarterback Brian Griese.
Neither Jackson nor Griese hide from their backgrounds. Both say loyalties won’t interfere with their duties.
“Personally, what does it mean to me for WSU to make the Rose Bowl?” Jackson said, repeating a question on a conference call last week. “When the red light goes on, it doesn’t mean a thing. It’s a football game to be covered.
“My wife and I have been involved in (WSU) academics until this year when we gave some money (to athletics) to help build a new facility. It doesn’t really have a great meaning. We’re proud of them, happy for them, and it’s a privilege to know if you preserver and work hard, something good is going to happen.”
“This is kind of fun and interesting for me,” Griese interjects. “I’ve been asked these types of questions (because of his son) and now it’s interesting for me to see how my partner is going to answer some of these.”
Bellows the straight-shooting Jackson: “I’m going to have a hell of a good time.”
Jackson practices what he preaches. He took Michigan coaches for dinner sometime this week.
“I think that squares me up,” Jackson said.
Griese admits sounding detached during Michigan broadcasts isn’t always easy. Yet, he’s received letters from administrators at Penn State and Ohio State, citing his balanced performance during their games against Michigan.
However, ABC originally didn’t allow the understated Griese to work his son’s games.
“Three years ago ABC decided there might be a perception of unfairness,” the elder Griese said. “That changed the following year. Brian understands the position I’m in and the way I have to handle it.”
After Michigan clinched the Big Ten title with a win over Ohio State, Griese interviewed his son.
“That was definitely a different experience,” Brian recalled. “I had never really dealt with him as a media figure. I couldn’t really answer his questions seriously. It was nice for him to be at the game when we won the Big Ten and to share in that moment with me.” Griese shares guardedly.
“You have to watch what you say,” he said. “Fortunately there’s never really been a game where Brian had a bad game. He had one bad half against Iowa and we didn’t do that game. You have to temper what you say about the good things he does. I usually let Keith take care of that. If he does things that are bad, you call a spade a spade.”
Coaches of Michigan opponents are perhaps more wary in pregame meetings with Griese, but most aren’t about to give away their game plans, anyway. Even if they did, Griese said he wouldn’t share the information with his son.
Wisconsin coach “Barry Alvarez made a comment about it (before playing Michigan), but he was fine when we met,” Griese said. “Penn State (defensive coordinator) Jerry Sandusky helped me get ready for our broadcast. As I got ready to leave he tells me, ‘Tell that quarterback on the other team we’re going to get after his ass.’ “
Speaking of which, Jackson got after the One-on-One radio network, which theorized that ABC and ESPN co-conspired to help Michigan’s Charles Woodson win the Heisman, based on the networks’ broadcasting numerous Wolverines’ games.
“I’ve never heard of One-on-One and the horse’s ass who did it,” Jackson said. “I’d like to meet him.”
Griese intervened. “Take it easy, hoss.”
Jackson eased up for about, oh, a nanosecond.
“The worst thing that’s ever happened to the broadcast industry is sports talk,” he bristled.
As with much of the nation, Jackson and Griese are intrigued by the matchup of WSU’s unstoppable offense and Michigan’s immovable defense.
“The key guys for Michigan are (defensive end) Glen Steele, and Josh Williams and Rob Renes in the middle because Washington State hasn’t shown they can protect the quarterback late in the game,” Jackson said. “Arizona State beat them right up the middle and this is an area that (defensive coordinator) Jim Herrmann has studied.”
“The offense carries WSU; the defense carries Michigan,” Griese added. “WSU is going to make big plays one way or the other, so you as a (Cougar) defensive player are going to be out there quicker.”
Jackson voted for Michigan’s Charles Woodson for the Heisman. Griese sided with Peyton Manning.
“Why didn’t you say that on the air?” Griese asked.
“Because I knew my poor mail man would never get to the house,” Jackson replied.
Asked whom they might draft first between Manning and WSU’s Ryan Leaf, Griese seemed to be in Manning’s corner while Jackson wasn’t as easy to read.
“I’m a big fan of Manning,” said Griese, a Hall of Fame quarterback. “He wasn’t in an offense that was easy to succeed in. Comparing him to Leaf, Ryan’s a great athlete and a specimen and can throw, but it’s easier for a quarterback to succeed in a one-back, three- or four-receiver set where you spread everybody out.”
Jackson broadcast WSU’s season-opening win over UCLA and inadvertently referred to Leaf as “Bledsoe” several times.
“Decision-making is probably the one area Manning might have the edge and that would come from where he came from,” Jackson said. “Here’s another father-son quarterback combo (like the Grieses).”
Jackson, in his fourth decade with ABC, is pleased to be crossing paths with WSU veteran radio announcer Bob Robertson.
“I’ve known Bob since the middle ‘50s when I was in Seattle and he was in Tacoma,” Jackson said. “Bob is one of those voices of college sports who has gone for half a century. He’s just done a solid, steady job for a long time. First class.”
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