And now, the end is here
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and ev’ry highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way
“Jack would want us to finish on a positive note,” his longtime radio partner Jim Ellis said. “He loved Mississippi State and he loved being right up there at that booth. He would think it’s very fitting that we’re sitting here tonight.”
Ellis was one of many to speak in tribute to legend who passed away this week. University President Mark Keenum, athletic directors both current and former, coaches, players – fans, all of them, of Cristil. Friends and family, a dozen men and women by night’s end had spoken.
To the close the memorial, MSU professor of music Michael Brown played a solo song on the trumpet – Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way.’ A more fitting end would be difficult to find.
Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way
As each person rose to spoke, some themes were consistent throughout. Nearly all could remember listening to Cristil’s voice as a child.
John Cohen, MSU’s baseball coach and a former player, grew up with his dad always listening to MSU games on the radio.
“Who is that,” John asked his father one day.
‘That’s Jack Cristil,” Dad responded. “He’s the voice of Mississippi State.”
“What does that mean, dad?”
“The coaches coach,” father told son. “The players play. The announcer paints a picture with his words.”
Keenum remembered how happy he was growing up in Mississippi on the occasions when Cristil called his high school football games. He’d record the game so he could listen later.
“That great, gruff, baritone voice is silent,” Keenum said Thursday. “But it still rings with crystal clarity in our minds today.”
Greg Carter played basketball at MSU, and while he rarely got to hear the broadcast himself, he knew all he needed to just hearing from family. Carter would call his grandfather whenever the team had a game on TV, an exciting thing in those days.
“That’s nice. But I’d rather listen to Jack call it on the radio,” his grandfather told him.
“After games,” Carter told the crowd about his grandfather, “he’d call and say, ‘Jack said y’all played real well.’ Or he’d call and say, ‘Jack said y’all didn’t play so great. You need to do better, son.’”
Ellis, who went on to work with Cristil for years, was just a kid the first time he heard his future partner on the radio. First, it was a football game. Second, it was basketball.
“I was mesmerized by Jack’s voice. I remember it,” Ellis said. “You turn the radio on and you know it’s Jack Cristil. You didn’t have any doubt.”
Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way
There are two things all will say about Cristil. First, that he was as professional as they come. He always spoke truth on the air. And second, that despite his on-air impartiality, Cristil absolutely loved the school he worked for.
“We sometimes talk about athletics as a window into all aspects of the university,” Keenum said. “Jack was the one who so often flew open that window.”
And as much as Cristil loved MSU, State loved him just as much. More, perhaps.
“I don’t believe we’ve ever had a person connected to MSU that has been appreciated and loved like him,” former basketball coach Kermit Davis said.
Said Ellis, “Jack really loved this university. I don’t know how many times he told me, ‘I’ll never be able to give this university as much as it has given me.’”
Ellis remembers the advice Cristil would often give him, the message he made sure to remind him of.
“Always remember who you work for,” Ellis recalled Cristil telling him. “You work for Mississippi State University. You want to be loyal and helpful and positive with every coach. You want to be the same way with every athletic director.
“But they’re going to leave someday. They all do. There’s going to be somebody in their place and you want to be supportive of them, too.
“You never are broadcasting for a coach or an athletic director, but you’re always broadcasting for this university. This university is bigger than any one person. Remember that.”
In 1953, Cristil was hired by then-athletic director Dudy Noble. It was one of many outstanding hires by Noble across the department over the years, though Ellis said it was surely the one which made the most impact of any hire Noble made.
Finally, 58 years later in 2011, the legendary run came to an end.
Former MSU athletic director Larry Templeton, standing next to Cristil’s daughters, remembers the end.
“One of the toughest days of Jack’s life took place when he called and said, ‘This is it. It’s time for me to turn the microphone off.’ … But we didn’t turn him off,” Templeton said. “From the bottom of these girls’ hearts and this family’s heart, we say thank you.
“I think the most appropriate way to end this is to say there are heroes and legends. We have heroes in helmets. We only had one legend that taught us to wrap it in Maroon and White.”
Said current athletic director Scott Stricklin, “His voice, his iconic phrases and his presence will remain on this campus and in our hearts.”
So many who spoke Thursday tried to find words as appropriate as Cristil’s over the years.
“The Mississippi State family was blessed by his presence,” Keenum said. “The good that he did and the joy that he spread will be among all of us as long as the Bulldog family continues to gather and cheer the Maroon and White. Godspeed, Jack Cristil.”
“He said after one game,” former player and football coach Rockey Felker remembered, “‘This one will be forever remembered,’ and Jack will be forever remembered.”
Ellis, in closing, put it as well as any.
“His gift of saying the right things at the right time has wrapped all of us in Maroon and White for decades.”
I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried
I’ve had my fill, my share of losing
And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way,
“Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way”
As the memorial reach its final minutes, Cristil’s daughters stepped to the podium.
“I’d like to talk to you not about Jack Cristil, but about Jack as my daddy,” Kay Cristil Clouatre said.
While those who grew up listening to Jack knew him for his broadcasting talent in football and basketball, his greatest passion was not on a field or court.
“He loved his family,” Felker said. “You knew that.”
His wife, his daughters and the extended family from there meant more to him than any outcome could have. Jack was full of talent, yes, but even more, he was full of love.
Kay told the story of her teenage self who had a crush on one of the players on MSU’s football team. Like any young girl, she wasn’t in the business of sharing that news with her father. But, somehow, Daddy had found out. Rather than tease his daughter or blow it off as the silly thoughts of a teenager, Jack silently found a way to make his daughter’s day.
On the plane home from a game out of town, Jack asked the player if he’d write his daughter a note. “She’s got a crush on you,” he told the young man.
Kay remembers her mother coming in to wake her up. She told her that daddy was home and asked if he could come in her room. He had something for her.
“He walked in and handed me that note. I thought that was the greatest thing in the world,” Kay told the crowd Thursday. “That’s what daddy has meant to me all these years. Not Jack the Announcer, but just Daddy.”
After Kay, Rebecca Cristil Nelson stepped forward to talk about her father. Her message was short, one of appreciation for those who supported her dad over the years and for those who have reached out in the days since his passing.
“I did not inherit my Daddy’s ability to express in the inexpressible, but we are so thankful for the kindness you have sent our way,” she said. “Thank you for loving my daddy.”
For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!
Sid Salter, MSU’s Chief Communications Officer and author of Cristil’s biography, knew the history of MSU’s legend as well as anyone. And in penning his life story, Salter had a window into Cristil’s soul, what made him the man he was.
“There will never be another Jack Cristil,” Salter said Thursday. “He was unique, original and talented in a way that can’t be replicated.”
In one of many conversations and interviews with Cristil, Salter asked a simple question which could have had a more complex answer.
But, Cristil being Cristil, he gave the answer Salter should have expected.
What do you want people to say about you? What legacy do you want to leave?
“Simple,” Cristil said, “That he told it like it was.”
Yes, it was my way