Retirement is full of irony for Jack Cristil.
The legendary Mississippi State University football and basketball radio play-by-play announcer doesn”t know if he”ll have time to attend, watch or listen to any games during the upcoming seasons. But after logging more than an estimated 1 million miles of travel during his 58 years as voice of the Bulldogs, Cristil will help usher fans to Starkville via the Jack Cristil Highway.
Cristil, 86, was the guest of honor Monday at the Colvard Student Union on MSU campus for the unveiling of the signs which soon will adorn Highway 82 in the Starkville city limits. MSU President Mark Keenum, Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman and Cristil”s longtime broadcast partner and successor Jim Ellis each took turns telling stories about listening to Cristil on the radio and explaining why he”s a living legend in Bulldog country. Keenum also announced MSU Journalist in Residence Sid Salter is working with Cristil on a biography of Cristil”s life.
While Cristil relives the past with help from Salter, he said he doesn”t know what part MSU athletics will play in his future. He”s not sure if he”ll have the chance to attend any games in person, watch on TV or listen to Ellis on the radio.
“I really haven”t given it any thought. I have no idea,” he said. “I go to dialysis three times a week, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. How that”s going to fit in with the schedule remains to be seen.”
Cristil”s doctors have told him his kidneys are improving but he doesn”t have much more information.
“It”s a day-to-day process,” he said.
While coming out of retirement like many highly visible pro athletes seems unlikely at his age, Cristil said he “wouldn”t be surprised if I have those thoughts and feelings.”
If he does get the chance to listen to Ellis on the radio, it won”t be a surreal experience for Cristil to not be in the booth next to his cohort.
“I”ve heard Jim for so many years doing baseball and I”ve worked with him for so many years in football. I”ll be able to visualize exactly what he”s describing,” he said.
As for having a stretch of highway named in his honor, Cristil was humbled by the gesture.
“I”ve ridden these highways in the state of Mississippi and read these inscriptions and been amazed at some of the people who have made contributions to the state. Obviously, they”re very important people and to be put into that category is very flattering,” he said.
Earlier in the afternoon, as Cristil spoke to the crowd gathered at the Union he joked that he”s “egotistical enough and self-centered enough to think I deserve this.”
Cristil cracked several jokes before the crowd and spun several yarns about his tenure at MSU, but he repeatedly gave thanks to his family for their patience with his many trips from Tupelo to Starkville and beyond and thanked all MSU fans for “putting up with me for over half a century.”
While Cristil was humble, his presenters bragged for him. Keenum remarked that many State fans have never heard another voice handle play-by-play duties for the Bulldogs. He counted off a few of the various awards Cristil had garnered over the years, including his inclusion as the first non-athlete and non-coach enshrined in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
Adding some statistics for good measure, Keenum stated Cristil had called approximately 60 percent of all MSU football games and 55 percent of all MSU basketball games while attending more than 1,500 athletic events.
Wiseman spoke of the persistent bond he and his father shared through MSU athletics and how many of those shared moments involved Cristil on the microphone.
Ellis told the story of his first memory of Cristil on the radio, an MSU football game against the University of Kentucky in 1955 which ended in a comeback win for the Bulldogs. When Ellis joked that he “bet no one else in this room remembers that game,” two hands went up. One was Cristil”s.
Northern District Transporatation Commissioner Mike Tagert recalled a more somber moment during a tough MSU loss when Cristil memorably stated MSU”s “most effective offensive drive of the game will be the drive home.”
Hoping the drive home will take place on a positive note in the future, Tagert stated “Now that drive will take place via the Jack Cristil Highway.”
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.