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Terminology... The Granddaddy of Them All
This is article #19 in a series covering the origins of football’s terminology. All are available under the Terminology tab above. My book, Hut! Hut! Hike! describes the emergence of more than 400 football terms.
There is no joy in taking down a legend, but the truth must prevail in the search for the origins of football terminology. So here's the truth: Keith Jackson neither coined the phrase, The Granddaddy of Them All, nor was he the first to associate it with the Rose Bowl, and it's not even close. To make that case, we'll look at the phrase's origin, its first connection to the Rose Bowl, and Keith Jackson's role in solidifying the connection.
The Granddaddy of Them All originally and still means the first, oldest, or best of something. It first appeared in print to describe an unusually large raccoon caught in Nebraska in 1897. Over the next several decades, it applied to all manner of things. Its first link to football came in 1932 when USC's quarterback, Orv Mohler, was called the Granddaddy of Them All because he was older than his teammates at 23 years old. The 1930s also saw the phrase used to describe the Notre Dame-USC and the Harvard-Yale series. During the same decades, its first connection to the Rose Bowl came when sportswriters deemed Columbia's upset victory over Stanford in the 1934 Rose Bowl the sports story of the year and, therefore, the Granddaddy of Them All.
A key moment, however, came on January 1, 1949, as the 35th Rose Bowl loomed. It was the first Rose Bowl played by Northwestern, leading a Louisiana newspaper to headline its preview of the Rose Bowl, as shown below.
From then on, Granddaddy of Them All was a common description for the Rose Bowl, particularly after 1970. The phrase became so closely tied to the Rose Bowl that they printed the slogan on the Rose Bowl game tickets from 1977 to 1987 and 2016 to 2019.
Critically, while Keith Jackson handled the television play-by-play for fifteen Rose Bowls, his first came in 1989, after the slogan had appeared on game tickets for eleven straight years. In the end, the Keith Jackson connection to the Granddaddy is a legend -and one the Rose Bowl actively promotes- but the legend that Keith Jackson coined the phrase is untrue.
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