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RIP, J. Fred Duckett

It’s a very sad day for outdoor football.

J. Fred Duckett, who heralded the exploits of “Jose Cruuuuuuuz!” as the Astrodome’s public-address announcer and proclaimed, “It’s a beautiful day for outdoor football,” to generations of Rice University fans, died Monday night at a Houston hospital. He was 74.

One of Houston’s most distinctive voices, Duckett was remembered by friends and former colleagues as Houston’s foremost expert on track and field and as the institutional memory for a half-century of athletics at Rice, his alma mater.

“He could bring such perspective,” said Bill Cousins, Rice’s former sports information director. “You can look at the picture of Dicky Maegle being tackled in the Cotton Bowl, and J. Fred could tell you the names of the Rice cheerleaders standing on the sidelines.

“He spanned generations, and he was always there when we needed him.”

Duckett grew up playing on the fields around Rice and attended the university in the early 1950s, competing in track and football as a member of the Owls’ scout team under legendary coach Jess Neely. Sidelined by an injury during his junior season, he began working with Bill Whitmore, the Owls’ longtime sports information director, and was involved with the program for the balance of his life.

Away from his alma mater, he was the PA voice of the Astros from 1969 through 1992 and also worked the mic for the Oilers and for several other local pro franchises.

“Strangers,” he said during a 1990s interview, “are always telling me, ‘I’ve heard that voice. I just don’t know where.’ ”

Fans were never unclear, though, about their love for Duckett’s exaggerated announcement of Jose Cruz’s name. Cruz was one of Duckett’s biggest fans.

“He gave me one of his bats from his last game as an Astro,” Duckett said in 1991. “When he signed it, he put about fifteen U’s in there.”

Cruz, now an Astros first-base coach, said Monday night from Milwaukee: “He meant a lot to me. He’s the one to come out with the way they announced my name. He was the guy to do that, and I’ll never forget him.”

Another lasting love was track and field. His notebooks of local track and field records dating back decades were an invaluable resource for researchers.

“It’s man and woman against himself and herself,” he said in an 1980s interview. “They’re competing against what they can do, not if someone can block for them or pass the ball under the basket.”

After graduating from Rice, Duckett earned a master’s degree in history from the University of Texas and taught at St. John’s and at Awty International in addition to working as an insurance salesman.

Duckett’s wife of 29 years, Baudine, died in January. Friends said he had suffered from leukemia for several months.

Rice football games won’t be the same without you, Fred. We fans will always remember you, and I sincerely hope that whoever they find to handle the announcing duties will keep telling us what a beautiful day it always is for outdoor football. Rest in peace, J. Fred Duckett.

More tributes to this local sports icon are here, here, and here.

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  1. Greg Lucas says:

    I worked with Fred on several Track and Field telecasts for the old HSE and Prime Network (predecessors to FSN) and it was always a joy. Fred KNEW everything about track and field and I gladly turned things over to him while serving as little more than the “host” for the shows. He will be truly missed by a lot of people.

  2. James R. Stevens says:

    J. Fred and I met on two occasions when we probably weren’t suppose to meet. We moved one of Bill Whitmore’s associates from appartment to appartment twice, without the associate being there at all. J. Fred,I will miss most the acknowledgement of Slippery Rock as a real school during some of the old SW Conference games. I loved the announcement of scores of schools that may not have been as large as the Southwest Conference at that time.It added humor,which you were about, and a sense of caring,on your part,for the rest of the sports being played throughout the country.I will also miss seeing your car on the freeway from time to time with your familiar licence plate. J. Fred. You will be missed! THANKS for Being!

  3. A. Vital says:

    I will always remember J. Fred because I met him at several high school track meets. I used to sit down with him briefly in between field and running events and just talk about sports. His knowledge and expertise was always something I looked forward to. Glad I got the chance to know him.