Bob Sheeran has found himself at a loss for words more often in recent days than perhaps at any time in his life. All because he decided to step away from the microphone on Saturdays.
Sheeran, William and Mary's living, breathing athletic institution, quietly told a tight circle of family and friends that Saturday's game against Richmond would be his last radio broadcast of Tribe football.
Once word trickled out, however, Sheeran has been swamped with phone calls and emails and correspondence from former players, coaches and peers after a 40-plus year relationship with his alma mater.
"I would say it's been humbling," Sheeran said this week. "I can't say I ever expected a response like this. The kind words and thoughts and emails I've received absolutely knocked me off my feet."
Sheeran, 68, is stepping away to do other things. He is eternally grateful to his wife, Anne, for allowing him to indulge in his passion on fall weekends for all these years. He now gets to sit in the stands with her. He wants to connect further with sons Rob and Billy. He intends to dote on his granddaughter, Neva, who just turned one.
"I want to do some pre-game tailgating, and maybe some post-game tailgating," Sheeran said with a chuckle.
Who knows, he may even spend a fall Saturday someplace William and Mary isn't playing.
"I've never really looked at it as work," Sheeran said, "but it requires some effort. I can't come away from it feeling as good as I did and I'm not willing to sell it short."
The numbers are a bit fuzzy, but Sheeran (Class of 1967) has broadcast something north of 460 consecutive Tribe football games. He is the only W&M football analyst with whom longtime play-by-play announcer Jay Colley ever has worked.
"The thing that I've always said about Bob is that he really, really loves William and Mary — William and Mary football," Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock said. "He just has a passion. He's done anything he could to help support the program. He's been consistent about that forever, as long as I've known him."
Sheeran picked up Laycock at Patrick Henry Airport when the former Tribe quarterback and defensive back got the head coach's job in 1980. He was one of the founding fathers of W&M's Quarterback Club. He emcees athletic banquets and auctions and has made himself available for myriad college functions through the years.
It's not an exaggeration to say that Sheeran has been a part of everything that's occurred within William and Mary football for the past 40 years. He served as the school's sports information director from 1971-84 and worked on broadcasts of W&M football and basketball alongside local radio talent such as Dick Lamb and Bob Rathbun and Dickie Fraim.
Sheeran eventually relinquished Tribe basketball broadcasts and remained with football. Colley, himself a W&M broadcasting institution, marvels at his partner's passion for the Tribe and his facility for conveying the game.
"Bob has always been my eyes away from the football," Colley said. "My job is to follow the football and call the action. Bob just has a knack for seeing the entire field. He sees plays, he can predict plays, he calls penalties before the officials do, not because he saw the signal but because he actually saw the penalty."
Tribe football broadcasts with Colley and Sheeran are more like a couple of old friends having a conversation about the game than a slickly polished product.
"We've gotten to the point where we can finish each other's sentences," Colley said. "I can probably count on one hand the number of times we've stepped on each other during a broadcast. That's pretty rare. You and I have done it a few times already in a five-minute phone conversation.
"I trust his analysis so much that I'll be more abrupt in my play-by-play," Colley added. "The second thing about him, and that probably can't be replicated, is his ability to tell stories on-air from throughout the history of the program. And I don't mean from 1984, but 1934. He really is a walking encyclopedia of William and Mary football."
Sheeran is a third-generation William and Mary graduate. His father played football in the 1930s with Walt Zable, who recently passed away and whose name is on the football stadium.
Sheeran's favorite part of his W&M broadcasting career? That's easy.
"The camaraderie with the football players and their families," he said. "I enjoyed helping players find jobs. I got to know the parents. Now, I'm seeing the sons of the fathers that I know and covered. Those are the kinds of things that started adding up for me through the years and I didn't want to get to the point where I wasn't able to give it anything less than my best."
Sheeran has to remind people that he isn't retiring or bolting for a villa in Belize. He will remain front and center in Williamsburg. He is still prominent in local real estate circles. He will still host his morning radio show on WMBG. He simply no longer will be a familiar voice on Tribe football broadcasts.
Sheeran said that he hasn't decided the extent to which he will continue to immerse himself in Tribe football. Much as he loves the program, it's never been about him. Touched as he is by the outpouring of support, he's a little uncomfortable with the attention he's drawn since his decision went public.
Sheeran also doesn't want to be viewed as some eminence grise taking advantage of his tenure to cozy up to coaches and players.
"I still want him to be part of the football program," Laycock said. "I still want him to be around us. I still want him doing the Quarterback Club. I still want him doing anything and everything we do with the football program. I'd still like him to stay involved with it.
"He likes it. He likes the relationships with the coaches. He likes the relationships he builds with the players. It's in his blood. He can't get rid of it. You can stop working, but you don't stop that way. That's part of who he is."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun