Cristil one of the many SEC radio greats

Growing up in an era when radio was often times my only link to SEC football and basketball, the voices in this league were bigger than life.

And in a lot of cases, at least to me, they were even bigger than the coaches and players themselves.

Mississippi State’s Jack Cristil, 85, is one of the last of the truly legendary broadcasters in this league. He announced on Wednesday night that he’s stepping down after nearly six decades of calling Mississippi State football and basketball.

Cristil’s final broadcast will be Saturday’s basketball game at Tennessee. He needs kidney dialysis that requires immediate attention.

Certainly, our thoughts and prayers go out to Cristil, who’s been an institution at Mississippi State.

Generations of Mississippi State fans have hung on Cristil’s every word, celebrating with him over the Bulldogs’ memorable wins and agonizing over their bitter defeats.

And before so many of the games were on television, which doesn’t seem that long ago for a lot of us, the Jack Cristils of the world were the ones so wonderfully painting the pictures in the SEC.

Their works would have made even Pablo Picasso envious.

Think about the run of broadcasters we’ve had in this league and how blessed we’ve truly been.

I could recite, “It’s a high, spiraling kick” in the booming voice of the late Bob Fulton at South Carolina before I’d even heard of algebra.

To this day, I get chills when I hear replays of Larry Munson at Georgia and the raw emotion pouring from his every word.

“Oh look at the Sugar falling out of the sky!”

“Run Lindsay, 25, 20, 15, 10 … Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott!”

“Herschel Walker went 16 yards. He drove right over those orange shirts, just driving and running with those big thighs. My God, a freshman!”

And then there was the incomparable John Ward, whose voice continues to captivate Tennessee fans even though he's been retired for more than a decade.

At nights over in the Carolinas, you could make out just enough of the Vols’ broadcasts through the static on my parents’ old stereo radio in the living room to hear Ward bellow as only he could, “Give him six! Touchdown Tennessee!”

Eli Gold, one of the most recognizable voices in sports broadcasting, is still going strong at Alabama after more than 20 years of calling Crimson Tide football.

There were so many other radio icons in this league, too, and sadly, most of them are now dead -- Kentucky’s Cawood Ledford, LSU’s John Ferguson, Auburn’s Jim Fyffe, Alabama’s John Forney and Arkansas’ Paul Eells.

It was truly the golden age for radio play-by-play in the SEC, and with the ageless Cristil now putting up his microphone for good, those of us who had the pleasure of hearing these men paint their “Picassos” every fall and winter know how lucky we really were.