By STEVEN NALLEY
Steve Ellis had a favor to ask Mississippi Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert before Tagert spoke at a ceremony in honor of Jack Cristilâs 58-year career as the voice of the Bulldogs.
âThe sign is wonderful,â Ellis said, âand I hope that you will put one about 250 feet from campus, but I want your engineers down in Jackson to work on some kind of microchip or something so that when you pass, a radio will pop up at 250 feet and youâll hear Jack going, â80 yards from the land of milk and honey.ââ
Mississippi State University held a public dedication ceremony Monday to designate the Highway 82 bypass as the âJack Cristil Highway,â and dignitaries from across the community and state came to share memories of Cristil.
Tagert, Ellis, MSU President Mark Keenum, Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman and Cristilâs successor, Jim Ellis, were all on hand to pay tribute to Cristil. When Steve Ellis asked about the microchip, Tagert was happy to return the joke.
âIf such technology does not exist,â Tagert said, âwe will find it.â
Keenum said it was only fitting to name a highway after Jack Cristil, because he estimated Cristil had traveled more than a million miles on MSUâs behalf, handling play-by-play announcements for 1,500 athletic events total and 636 Mississippi State football games.
âIâm pretty sure that thereâs no one else whoâs logged more miles than Jack Cristil has on behalf of Mississippi State University,â Keenum said. âEven, again, when we played right here at home, he was traveling back and forth from here to his home in Tupelo. That doesnât even count the untold number of miles he has traveled for hundreds of athletic and alumni events supporting and representing our university.â
Jim Ellis also said it was fitting to name a highway after Cristil. After years of commuting between Tupelo and Starkville, Ellis said, Cristil knew Mississippiâs highways better than anyone.
âOn a personal note, when I think of Jack, I think about the rough flights and the long nights and the conversations around the breakfast table,â Ellis said. âIâve made some great memories. Personal memories, for me, were even better than the memories that you guys have. Heâs been a dear friend to all of us, and we were privileged to work with him.â
In light of Fatherâs Day, Wiseman said the ceremony took him back to the way Cristil played into his relationship with his own father. He said while the age gap between him and his father often strained their relationship, the two could always bond over MSU athletics and the sound of Jack Cristilâs voice. Wiseman said his father and grandfather had bonded the same way.
âIâve got to tell you, Mr. Cristil, I am a little bit sad,â Wiseman said. âI donât have kids yet, and Iâm never going to get to share that experience of you calling the ball game with a child of my own, but I was thinking about that too. I can envision a scenario where I might be riding with a child to a ball game one day, listening to your long-time partner, Jim Ellis, call the ball game, and we might go down Jack Cristil Highway, and the child would have an opportunity to look up and say, âDaddy, whoâs Jack Cristil?â and I could say, âHeâs somebody that was very special to me and your granddaddy. Always has been, always will be.ââ
Cristil said he had a memory to share as well, a memory of his very first commute to MSU.
âI was living in Clarksdale, and I was coming to Mississippi State to meet with coach Dudy Noble, and I had to inquire where Starkville was,â Cristil said. âWell, now theyâve put my name up on the highway, and I canât get lost.â
Cristil said he was grateful to be able to work with Jim Ellis and to have the support of his family. He said he also owed a debt of gratitude to the men and women of MSU who treated him with patience and support.
âThank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, not only for this marvelous occasion this afternoon, but for putting up with me for more than a half a century,â Cristil said. âThis has been a remarkable ride for me and for my family. It has been well beyond anything that I could ever dream of. Thank you for letting Jack Cristil be a part of your life.â