“Remember, kid, there’s heroes and there’s legends. Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. Follow your heart, kid, and you’ll never go wrong.”
December 10, 1925 – September 7, 2014
Everybody has a Jack Cristil story. Whether it’s a personal interaction or the memory of their favorite radio call, the news of his passing was greeted not with sadness, but with appreciation of a full life lived and the sharing of stories from a legendary career and person.
His time as the Voice of the Bulldogs began in 1953, long before many who knew him were even alive. It ended with his retirement in 2011, on the road in Knoxville for Mississippi State basketball.
I remember it clearly. A group of friends sat in my car in a parking lot in West Point before a wedding reception. We weren’t just waiting to hear the result of the game, an MSU win. We ran late because we wanted to hear Jack’s last words. We wanted to hear him say, “Wrap that one in Maroon and White” just one more time.
Like Jordan’s last game or Gretzky’s last skate, it was something you had to be a part of, an event which demanded your attention and respect. That something so big, so great was ending held weight. It was the last chance to experience an artist at work. A two-hour basketball game became a tribute to the career of an icon.
For 58 years, Jack was the Voice of Mississippi State. More than just the voice: Jack was Mississippi State sports. The two are synonymous and he was the way everyone experienced the game for so long.
Families, father and son, sat together around the radio to listen to Jack and the Bulldogs. When State fans remember those games, when they remember those moments with family, they remember Jack.
His medium was so unlike the way games are delivered on TV today. Jack was in your home, but never intrusive. He was a storyteller who worked in real time, relaying tales as they happened. Kids got to stay up late to listen to him on the radio. Farmers took his voice with them on the tractor, families rode with him in the car.
Even when watching the game in person, my dad always brought a headset to the stadium so he could listen to Jack call it on the radio. He was as good as real life, if not sometimes better.
He was recognized by his baritone voice and flawless inflection, but it was his dry humor and honesty which helped make him so enjoyable. Jack was the consummate professional. He loved Mississippi State, but his job was to describe the game with detail and accuracy. If the picture he painted was positive, you knew it was true. If the verbal canvas was colored in a negative light, you had to believe that, too.
He was never one to hold back and his wit was as sharp as his voice was smooth. He rarely, if ever, told a joke in the practical sense. But those who listened, who paid attention to his words, found themselves in a regular state of laughter and entertainment.
What his last words in life were, we don’t know. Those are for his family, for himself. But a man who lived and spoke in public, his final words on air came that night in 2011 after one last game, one more Bulldog win.
It was appropriate that the moment, to those of us listening, was all about Jack. When to Jack, that moment was all about those of us listening.
“I’m not going to talk basketball for the next couple of moments,” he began as the final words came. “I certainly would like to have a personal message with you. I have been privileged and blessed for the past 58 years to have the opportunity to represent Mississippi State University as their broadcaster for football and basketball. All good things, as they say in the trade, have to come to an end sooner or later. Please accept my sincere, my genuine, my honest and heartfelt thank you for all the kindnesses that you have displayed to me over these past 58 years. It has been one genuine pleasure to be associated with such a magnificent university as this with its administration, its faculty, its students and the Mississippi State family.
“Please, ladies and gentlemen, accept my genuine, my honest, my heartfelt thank you for all the kindness, the courtesy and the encouragement that you have given to me and to my family over these years. The Mississippi State University family is second to none, and as family, I know you understand. Thank you very much. May God’s great blessings be upon you and your family. Thank you.”
His body has taken its final breath, but Jack will never leave Mississippi State. So long as he is remembered, he’ll never be truly gone. Legends never die, and this one is wrapped in Maroon and White.