By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Jack Cristil doesn’t miss being in the broadcast booth; at least, not nearly as much as he misses the people.
It’s been a year since Cristil, 86, retired after a 58-year career of calling Mississippi State football and basketball games on the radio. His days now are spent taking dialysis treatments, running errands to the post office or grocery store, watching TV. He has no hobbies.
Cristil called it a “very confining” situation.
One thing he has plenty of time for, however, is thinking. Thinking about the camaraderie he so treasured when he was still working. Thinking about longtime neighbors who are now either in a cemetery or nursing home.
“Now you realize how much you miss them,” Cristil said. “You knew you had great neighbors, and they were great friends, and they were always available if you needed anything, and you could always go visit. You can’t do that any more. And those things you miss.”
Cristil is a man who’s learned to roll with the body blows that come with living so long. He’s lost a wife and a sister to illness, and he’s now dealing with a failing kidney. Dialysis treatments – three times a week – leave him weak.
“But the thing I think Jack struggles with is so many of the people that had shared experiences with him and that can really relate to his life just aren’t here any more,” said journalist Sid Salter, who wrote Cristil’s biography. “It’s one of the curses of living a very long and productive and aware life, is that you kind of get to be the last man standing.”
Today at halftime of the Bulldogs’ 4 p.m. game against Arkansas, MSU will honor Cristil with a banner hung from the rafters at Humphrey Coliseum.
Salter learned how much Cristil valued human connections when the two worked on the book last year. When first approached by MSU president Mark Keenum about doing a book, Cristil balked, fearing it would simply be a “sports book” about his broadcasting career.
Salter knew there was more to Cristil than his job, “but I’ve got to admit, until I started doing the genealogical research, the sort of epic nature of Jack’s life story was not apparent to me.”
Cristil is the son of immigrants – mother Mollie fled political persecution in Russia, while father Benjamin came from Lithuania.
Dealing with loss
Throughout the many lengthy interviews Salter had at Cristil’s kitchen table, the two began to form a connection through shared experiences. Like Cristil, Salter lost his wife and a sister to illness.
“For the first several interviews I could tell that he really wasn’t all in,” Salter said. “There was still a little bit of a wall up. I finally let him read the first chapter, and after that we got to the point that I felt like he trusted me and would give me very honest answers to the questions I was putting to him.”
Cristil said he’s very happy with the end result. The book certainly chronicles his career, which spanned a large chunk of sports radio’s evolution.
“It’s all marketing now,” he said. “As I was telling Jim (Ellis) even before we parted company, all we were was one lengthy commercial interrupted by a ballgame. … I don’t know that I really miss it. In some aspects, I’m glad I’m out of it.”
Ellis has taken over Cristil’s play-by-play duties for football and basketball. Cristil misses spending time with him, although the two try to talk when they can.
“That, I miss,” said Cristil. “I miss his companionship.”
They’ll see each other again today at Humphrey Coliseum when MSU hosts Arkansas.
Today’s honor will be one of several sweet moments Cristil has experienced in the past year, from the numerous cards sent by fans to honors like the Boy Scout Distinguished Citizen Award he recently received from the Yocona Area Council.
He’ll take in today like he does every other day.
“I’m just marking time. I’m 86 years old,” he said. “If I was 100 percent healthy, how many more years have I got in front of me, or how many more days? Of course, nobody knows that, but what I’m saying is obviously I’m in the fourth quarter, and the clock’s running.
“I just take it day to day. That sounds trite. But that’s the only way you can do it.”