This week, the hosts of Big Sports Saturday, Joel Finkelman and Jimmie Kaska count down the five most irreplaceable sports figures as of May 2017. On Saturday, May 13, the most irreplaceable Wisconsin sports figure (according to Big Sports Saturday) will be revealed. The order of the ranking is almost irrelevant: if any of these five Wisconsin sports figures left their current positions, there would be a huge void to fill. There's also no criteria for this list other than: if the team removed this person, how big of an impact would it be?
#5: Matt Lepay, radio play-by-play voice of the Wisconsin Badgers' football and basketball teams, and television broadcaster for the Milwaukee Brewers
Joel Finkelman: He does a phenomenal job broadcasting, and Badger fans are lucky to have him. He has an absolutely clutch ability to have a perfect call in big moments. Throw in an increasing presence for Brewers games, and suddenly he's able to announce anything at any time.
Jimmie Kaska: I think Matt could jump onto any broadcast, anywhere, and instantly make it better. I remember asking him all the way back in 2004: Matt, I called my first station for six weeks begging for a job, and he joked it wasn’t any different for him. Not only is he incredible at what he does, he’s down-to-earth and doesn’t mind a terrible joke every now and then.
Joel: While we laud over Matt, we should mention quickly our station connection with him. So if you all were wondering if there was bias... well, yeah, there is. You mentioned that he could jump into 'any broadcast' which made me think about something. Lepay has handled football, basketball, and baseball most recently... so is there a sport he couldn't do? Like, maybe Australian football. But I bet he'd get that down pretty quick.
Jimmie: Working with Matt when I was 19 was fantastic, when I worked in Madison the first time. So yes, there's a bit of a work bias here, but I don't think you need to justify placing him on a list like this given his credentials, and his place in the history of UW. Think of all the great calls he's had. Ron Dayne's record. Hell, Montee Ball's record. Every single and-one call in basketball. But, the call that echos in my brain is his call of the Badgers advancing to the Final Four in 2000:
Not only that, he brought it back when they went again a few years ago.
You can't ever bring up the history of Wisconsin Badgers athletics without Matt's voice being a part of it. I can't believe I'm going to say it, but here it comes: the soundtrack to the Badgers' past three decades or so is narrated by Matt Lepay.
Joel: The buzzer beater over Xavier and Ben Brust's half court three over Michigan as well. That being said, one of the most underrated calls he's had recently was the Melvin Gordon 4-0-8 call:
You have to realize he had to know instantly how long that run was, how much his total was, what the past record was, and whether or not that touchdown had enough yards to break it all while putting an exclamation point on a massive moment. Melvin Gordon... 4-0-8. I'm not sure I'll ever as good at anything as Lepay is at nailing a big moment.
Jimmie: Can you imagine a world in which not only are we ranking the most untouchable Wisconsin sports figures, but we break down the biggest calls of the careers of one of them? Oh, that’s what we’re doing. On Gordon's previous touchdown in that game, Matt actually gave out the yardage total of 369 too.
You know how in sports video games, players are given a catch-all “awareness” rating that’s supposed to be a gauge for mental fortitude? Matt’s awareness is a solid 99. When he does make a mistake, he hilariously owns it. Remember Corey Clement, fresh off that hernia, busting loose down field? This is one year after Melvin Gordon made the sprint to the end zone look routine. Matt went all-in on the touchdown call, and then Corey got caught a few yards short of the end zone. “Don’t assume, don’t ever, ever assume.” He was literally giving other broadcasters free advice on the fly, stuff that gets beat into your head whether you gear up to call high school basketball in the dead of winter in Wisconsin or prepare to call a national championship. It’s a pretty rare thing to hear someone critique themselves during a game, on the air, in the call of the play.
Joel: You nailed it with the 'awareness' score. And as much as I hate agreeing with you... you're also right about the self-deprecating humor. I don't know if I'm pulling the curtain of our industry a little too much here, but usually play-by-play guys come with a bit of an ego. Lepay? Not so much. The state of Wisconsin has an impressive list of play-by-play guys who both take the action seriously, but also can throw in the loosey-goosey jokes on their own accord. Lepay does this exceedingly well while successfully avoiding the pitfalls of becoming to 'schticky'. All in all I would say our top 5 list is a pretty impressive list of Wisconsin sports figures, and being in the top five of our mucho importanto blog post is quite the honor. I have no reservations about starting it off with Matt Lepay, and I can't wait to see what our next four days roll out.
Jimmie: I'm with you, and for the record I don't hate agreeing with you, because that's the kind of guy I am. I'm sure Matt can look at his dozens of broadcasting awards and feel like this honor is one he should clear the mantle for. Matt's worthy of being on the list and then some. This was an easy one. None of Wisconsin's play-by-play guys (Matt, Wayne Larrivee, Bob Uecker, Ted Davis, Brian Posick, Jon Arias) have a huge ego, at all.
We've got four more of these to write about! We'll be sticking with the Badgers theme tomorrow.
This is part one of a five-part series. Coming Thursday: part two! On Saturday, Joel and Jimmie reveal their most irreplaceable Wisconsin sports figure as of 2017.
Photo: Wisconsin Badgers / Youtube
Audio: Badger Sports Network