Matt Shepard reflects on more than 20 years as the voice of EMU Football
Greg Steiner: For the past 20 years, his voice has been synonymous with Eastern Michigan football. A multi-time Emmy Award winner, a Michigan Sportscaster of the Year multiple times, and current voice of the Detroit Tigers on Bally Sports Detroit. Matt Shepard, you've handled football for Eastern Michigan, really started in 1999, took a little break, and then the last 20 years, it's been a fun ride, Matt, but a little different fall this year in that maybe something different in your life and trying to take a pause with Eastern Michigan.
Matt Shepard: Yeah. It did not come easily, and it was heavy on me. It's heavy on my family. And it remains heavy, because I love doing what I do with the Tigers. But Eastern Michigan felt like a family to me as well. I did it because I love football, but I did it because I love the people there at EMU and everybody associated with that football program. I have the utmost respect for Chris Creighton. So, it was a really hard decision for me, Greg, because I truly love the people there and I love that school and what they've done for me and what they stand for. But there's a time, I think, in everybody's career in broadcasting where you have to throttle back a little bit. My wife has made extremely supportive, but she's made a ton of sacrifices for me. And with my daughter, our youngest now going off to college, we thought it would be a really good time for us to get a chance to travel just a little bit in the offseason and go see my daughter during some college football Saturdays and spend some time with some fans and some friends where my daughter goes to school. So, all those things kind of played a factor. You know, I really never did the Eastern Michigan for the money. As I said, I did it for the people and the camaraderie. And those are the things that I'll miss most because I don't think I've attended a college football game as a fan in over 20 years, and it's going to be hard for me not to want to drive to Ypsilanti and go in the booth and have great conversations with the people I care about. So, it's still a little raw for me. It's a little tough.
Greg Steiner: Yeah. Like I said, when you called me in the summer, you got emotional. I was emotional. And I mean, we've been a big part of each other's family for the last 20 years, as my time at Eastern started and at the same time you did. I've never known a play-by-play voice other than yourself. But how difficult was it? I mean, the last few years to balance the Tigers and Eastern Michigan knowing that it is a grind, but then you'd quickly pivot and never miss a beat.
Matt Shepard: It wasn't that difficult, first of all, because Eastern was very kind in allowing me to come in with about half a season left. Most schools, most broadcasting companies, most members of the front office at Eastern Michigan wouldn't allow that. It was difficult because Rob Rubick is one of my best friends, so that made it for an easy transition. And it wasn't difficult because Tom just did such a great job in the first half of the season. So, you just kind of pick up from one professional to the next, and I think that's what helped. But let's face it, I mean, it also helped because it's fun. It's a lot of fun for me. I look forward to every single Saturday. I look forward to going to Rynearson and watching practice and talking with Chris and talking with you and Alex on the sidelines. Those are the times I really, really enjoyed.
Greg Steiner: Speaking with Matt Shepard, the voice of the Tigers, voice of Eastern Michigan for a long time. A lot of people don't know, but, of course, they know that you have your degree from Central Michigan, but you did get your start here at Eastern. You were a student here. You tried walking on to the baseball team. What was it when, in 1999, you got that call asking you to come? I mean, we've had great leadership at WEMU over the years. Art Timko, Clark Smith, now Molly Motherwell have all done a fantastic job. What was it that first attracted you to come to this position?
Matt Shepard: Well, calling football at the division one level, there's not many opportunities like that. It was close to home. That helped. But also, because I enjoyed my two years at EMU, even though I didn't fulfill the dream of playing for Eastern Michigan baseball, I still enjoyed going to football games as a student there. And I like the people there. I mean, it's as simple as that. I mean, sometimes, you know, it's not work. There's that old cliche. It's not work if you love it. But it does help to be able to go to a place and truly enjoy being around the people you work with. So, Jim Streeter first, you now, Alex as well. You've had a number of assistants in your office who we've had great memories with. So, those are the things that are were appealing to me about Eastern Michigan, and they still are appealing to me about Eastern Michigan. In addition to that, I think the quality of football, and I know some people I laugh a little bit at that. But, look, Eastern has played in some big time venues. We've been there. And, as of late, especially with Chris, they've played in some big time games. So, the coaching staffs--all of them--have always been very welcoming, allowing me to get to know the student athletes. And then, of course, like I said before, the people at WEMU and EMU's football and sports information and all those people made it such a family atmosphere for me that it was all very appealing and still is appealing to me. I still think it's a great job.
Greg Steiner: When you look at some of the moments, you hit on some of them. I mean, we think back to the the night in downtown Detroit at the Quick Lane Bowl in 2019. That has to be one of the more special memories for the multi-overtime game against Central Michigan, also at Ford Field. When you think of some of the things, what kind of stands out as some of your highlight moments?
Matt Shepard: Yeah, I don't look at games, to be honest with you. I know that's what it's about. And you just mentioned a couple of them that were really good. I love the game at LSU where we were right there at the half against Leonard Fournette and LSU. I look at the walks that I had with Chris Creighton around the Rynearson Stadium field, the sit down conversations I've had with coordinators, the friendships I've created, and the people that I've gotten to know who I now call friends. It's more about that for me than it has been the games and the specific plays and the incredible catches and the game by a Sheffield with a catch by a Deloret, or the toughness of a Bonet and some of the really good players. It's been enjoyable and at times memorable. The winless season. That was challenging and yet still rewarding because of the toughness of some of the players. And you look back at some big moments of Lincoln Dupree with an interception, return for a score or whatever it may be, and playing at big venues as we've mentioned before. We were down at the Swamp against Florida. And even though it was a loss, just to have those kids play in those types of atmospheres. I meant an awful lot, I know, to the football program but also to me. And then, you look at some of the other things that Eastern has done. The GameAbove, for example. Keith Stone has been an incredible inspiration and the rallying behind it. George Gervin's support. Charlie Batch's support. You have guys coming up into the booth. Max Crosby has done that in the past. Rodney Slater. All these men who have been impacted by Eastern Michigan football. And even though I didn't play the game on the field for Eastern, I represented Eastern Michigan probably every single football Saturday and feel like, "You know what? We accomplished some things together. Didn't get the bowl win want. Didn't win the MAC championship that we wanted." But damn it, you could see it change, and you could see how much more respect people have for the program. And those are the things I remember more than game specifics.
Greg Steiner: In broadcasting, you don't often get to pick your broadcast partner. And you've been lucky enough to be with Rob Rubick pretty much the entire time. There was a short stint where he took off to Grand Valley and then came back. But having your best friend really be beside you throughout this process, how has Rubes helped you become a better broadcaster and maybe become more knowledgeable about football?
Matt Shepard: Yeah, football for sure. Without trying to get too sentimental because I don't want to break down at all, but, geez, he's probably taught me to be a better friend than anything else. So, what I love most about Rubes is he's really direct, you know, exactly where he stands. You know that because you're a good friend of his as well. And what he does is he shoots it straight, and you better be ready. If you bring up something, you better be ready for him to look at both sides of that proverbial coin. So, he has taught me to be a better friend and a better husband and, at times, a better father. The thing that I will probably miss more than anything is the car rides to Toledo, the car rides to Northern Illinois, the car rides to Central and Western are some of my fondest memories in all of broadcasting. It's a bond. It's a friendship. It's a love for who a person is. He's also helped me in broadcasting because I listened intently to what he has to say. His football knowledge and his vision is as good, if not better, than anybody else on national TV. Rob Rubick knows football as well as any top announcer on Fox, ESPN, ABC. He can talk the game and broadcast the game as well as any of them. There's no doubt in my mind because he's done it, and he's done it for the NFL, and he's done it for Eastern Michigan. He's carved out an incredible niche in Detroit, but he's as good as anybody as there is. So, that's helped me. But really, more than anything, the joy, the love of calling game is something that he's always helped me with. And it's something I use in every sport I call. But even in here with the Tigers. The passion that he has for Eastern football is in me and allows me to do my job better.
Greg Steiner: About a few minutes here with Matt Shepard as we look at his time at Eastern Michigan. You were lucky enough to take over for a legend in John Fountain. He held the seat before you for 44 years. You held it for 21 years. And now, passing the baton over to Tom Helmer. What does it say about WEMU and their ability to--really Eastern as well--to make it a family atmosphere that people have wanted to stay around? And how important is a station like WEMU?
Matt Shepard: Well, I would tell you, I saw John Fountain down in Lakeland earlier this year, and we talked about the tradition that Eastern has and it started with them. And it's been such an honor doing it after him, because that's a tough act to follow. There's no doubt about that. And it makes it easier for me knowing what a great guy Tom Helmer is and what a good game that he calls. So, all that is easy. What it says is that WEMU has had great leadership, just like Eastern Michigan athletics and Eastern Michigan football. The leadership starts, obviously, at the top, but then you feel it when you have somebody who lets you do your job, who supports the things that you do, who trusts your judgment, as does Eastern football and the SAD department, all those things. Those are all connected. It's not just one separate entity. It's not just the radio station. It's not just the SAD office. It's not the broadcasting department that you run. And it's not just the coaching staff or the athletics, whether it be. Chris Creighton or Scott Wetherbee. They are all in unison when I talk about this. And when they trust you with information, they trust your judgment on how you're going to call the game and how you're going to represent all three of those entities, and I think that's the most important thing. When you are on the road with Eastern Michigan, you are representing WEMU, EMU football, and the university itself, and I've always taken that very, very seriously. So, I think what it says about it is it says it's a place you want to be because of the foundation they've built. And I think it's a trickle-down effect to all of us. And I've been lucky to have those people in my broadcasting life, and I hope it will continue moving forward.
Greg Steiner: Shep, I know I speak for everyone here at the athletic department. I mean, we think the world of you. We're going to miss the heck out of having you in the press box every Saturday and those road trips. You've made me a better SAD, a better broadcaster, and a better person via our friendship. And I can't thank you enough for that. And it's not goodbye. It's just maybe so long for now, right?
Matt Shepard: [00:12:48] Yeah. Look, I'm not a person who likes change. You know that about me. So, on Saturday and Thursdays or whenever Eastern plays, I'm going to be jealous. I'm going to be really jealous. I mean, even when I call it Tigers baseball, I keep an eye on how Eastern is doing. So, I'm going to be really jealous because I will wish I was there. But, you know, I think, in the long run, this is what's best for me and my family for right now. And I hope I get the opportunity--look, I still have all my Eastern stuff, okay? It's still there in my closet. I just looked at it last night. You know, I get emotional, I think about it, and I get emotional when I think about the great family and friends I have there. So, I will miss all you guys. But one of the greatest honors I've ever received is to be named an honorary captain for Eastern Michigan football on a game coming up. And I can't wait for that day.
Greg Steiner: Can't wait for that. And then maybe, one day, be club Hall of Famer, too.
Matt Shepard: That's for people probably with a little bit bigger impact. But I appreciate the sentiment.
Greg Steiner: Matt Shepard, we can't thank you enough for your time and your impact on this program. Man, I love you, and we're always here for you, Lisa, the kids, and whatever you need. You're always an Eagle at heart.
Matt Shepard: Yeah, Greg, I love you, too, man. I love Alex. And I love your wife, Kathy. She's a wonderful person. She works hard. And those are the things that are tough for me, to be honest with you. So, with a heavy heart, I say thank you, but I hope to see you soon.
Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support. Make your donation to WEMU today to keep your community NPR station thriving.