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.