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 Cristil’s 58-year career as the voice of the Bulldogs.
“The sign is wonderful,” Ellis said, “and 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 you’ll hear Jack going, ‘80 yards from the land of milk and honey.’”
Mississippi State University held a public dedication ceremony Monday to designate the Highway 82 bypass as the “Jack Cristil Highway,” 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 Cristil’s 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.
“If such technology does not exist,” Tagert said, “we will find it.”
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 MSU’s behalf, handling play-by-play announcements for 1,500 athletic events total and 636 Mississippi State football games.
“I’m pretty sure that there’s no one else who’s logged more miles than Jack Cristil has on behalf of Mississippi State University,” Keenum said. “Even, again, when we played right here at home, he was traveling back and forth from here to his home in Tupelo. That doesn’t even count the untold number of miles he has traveled for hundreds of athletic and alumni events supporting and representing our university.”
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 Mississippi’s highways better than anyone.
“On 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,” Ellis said. “I’ve made some great memories. Personal memories, for me, were even better than the memories that you guys have. He’s been a dear friend to all of us, and we were privileged to work with him.”
In light of Father’s 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 Cristil’s voice. Wiseman said his father and grandfather had bonded the same way.
“I’ve got to tell you, Mr. Cristil, I am a little bit sad,” Wiseman said. “I don’t have kids yet, and I’m 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, ‘Daddy, who’s Jack Cristil?’ and I could say, ‘He’s somebody that was very special to me and your granddaddy. Always has been, always will be.’”
Cristil said he had a memory to share as well, a memory of his very first commute to MSU.
“I 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,” Cristil said. “Well, now they’ve put my name up on the highway, and I can’t get lost.”
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.
“Thank 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,” Cristil said. “This 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.”