Camp Randall 100: Matt Lepay

Photo collage of images of Wisconsin radio broadcaster Matt Lepay
Photo collage of images of Wisconsin radio broadcaster Matt Lepay

The Camp Randall 100 honors a prestigious group of 100 people who shaped the first century of Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin Athletics will reveal a new honoree every day from May 24 until the Badgers’ 2017 opening game on Sept. 1 against Utah State.


“I try to give myself a few minutes and think, ‘What’s going to happen today?’ It doesn’t matter if it’s Ohio State or Murray State or Utah State. What cool thing might we have a chance to see here today?”

— Matt Lepay on his pre-game routine


BY ANDY BAGGOT | UWBadgers.com Insider

Photo of Matt Lepay, the voice of the Wisconsin Badgers basketball team poses for a photo prior to the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at the Kohl Center on January 15, 2009 in Madison, Wisconsin. Minnesota defeated Wisconsin 78-74 in overtime.(Photo by David Stluka)
Matt Lepay

Matt Lepay has a routine he likes to follow before he begins his seasonal weekend shift at Camp Randall Stadium.

He arrives three hours or so early, when the 100-year-old facility is all but empty.

He drives a route that eventually puts him on Monroe Street, on the south end of the fabled layout, where clots of red-clad Wisconsin football fans are starting to stir and charcoal smoke wafts throughout.

He makes his way to the north end of Camp Randall, where he walks inside, takes a cheeky photo of an empty stadium for his 21,100 Twitter followers and pauses for a moment wondering what the day will hold.

Lepay debuted as the full-time featured radio play-by-play voice of the Badgers in 1994. He’s called 153 home games in 23 seasons and experienced far more good times (206 wins) than bad (88 losses).

It never gets old.

“I really like the drive to the stadium,” he said. “What I do most of the time is drive around the south end zone side and get a taste of everything that’s going on.

“You can smell whatever is on the grill and I try to take that in. I try to give myself that much. I’m thinking it’s a pretty good little party they’ve got going here.”

Lepay has seen Big Ten Conference titles clinched, top-ranked giants fall, great athletes shine and iconic records set.

“You never know what’s going to happen each time you go to a game,” he said.

“I try to give myself a few minutes and think, ‘What’s going to happen today?’ It doesn’t matter if it’s Ohio State or Murray State or Utah State. What cool thing might we have a chance to see here today?”


Matt Lepay’s favorite moments at Camp Randall are the ones you’d expect, with one exception.

There’s the day, in November of 1999, when tailback Ron Dayne set the NCAA career rushing record during a 41-3 thumping of Iowa that clinched a second consecutive Big Ten title for the Badgers and a Heisman Trophy for Dayne.

Listen to the call:

 

There’s the night, in October of 2003, when an unlikely savior, backup quarterback Matt Schabert, threw a 79-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Lee Evans in the fourth quarter that produced a dramatic 17-10 win over third-ranked Ohio State.

Listen to the call:

 

There’s the night, in October of 2010, when wide receiver David Gilreath returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a TD and spurred a 31-18 triumph over top-rated Ohio State.

Listen to the call:

 

Lepay used the same word to describe those outings.

“Magic,” he said.

The outlier for Lepay was in September of 2009, the season opener vs. Northern Illinois. On the first play from scrimmage, junior quarterback Scott Tolzien launched an 80-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Isaac Anderson that set the tone for a 28-20 victory.

“I have a pretty good list of guys I’d consider my favorites,” Lepay said of UW football players past and present. “I always really liked Scott.”


“It was just so off the charts somebody rushing for 400 yards in a college football game. That blew me away as an individual performance. It blew me away.”

— Matt Lepay on Melvin Gordon’s game against Nebraska
in 2014 that set a NCAA single-game rushing record


The game at Camp Randall that resonates with Lepay occurred Nov. 15, 2014, the day Wisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon dazzled the college football world.

“It was just so off the charts somebody rushing for 400 yards in a college football game,” Lepay said. “That blew me away as an individual performance. It blew me away.”

Gordon carried 25 times for a Football Bowl Subdivision single-game record 408 yards and four touchdowns, triggering a 59-24 romp over Nebraska. He didn’t play in the fourth quarter due to the runaway nature of the contest.

“That’s a pretty good month and he had it in three hours — three quarters — on a Saturday in November,” Lepay said of Gordon.

Lepay recounted a preseason practice in 2011 when he saw Gordon, a prized freshman from Kenosha, Wisconsin, having a rough go. Then-UW running backs coach Thomas Hammock was constantly barking at the rookie, who was later seen receiving sideline counsel from Dayne.

“You jump cut from that August practice to an incredible day,” Lepay said of Gordon, who set the UW single-season rushing record of 2,587 yards and finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting. “You thought he could be pretty good. Who could ever think that somebody would rush for 400 yards in a game?”

Lepay recalled shivering from the cold — it was 26 degrees at kickoff and later began to snow — when the Badgers prepared to run an unforgettable play from the Nebraska 26.

“He was approaching 400,” he said of Gordon. “The ball was wherever it was and I’m doing the math. I’m scribbling, chicken scratching. If he goes all the way he’s going to have 408 yards.”

Gordon went all the way, prompting a distinctive, typically memorable call from Lepay.

“Second-and-10 from the Nebraska 26-yard line.

“Here comes Melvin from the 25 to the 20, 15, 10, 5, TOUCHDOWN WISCONSIN!”

“Record-breaking run, Melvin Gordon. FOUR. OH. EIGHT.”

Listen to the call:

 

“Four-oh-eight, I blurted it out,” Lepay said. “It was kind of lucky on my part that I at least thought, ‘Okay, if he goes all the way on this next carry he’ll have 408 rushing yards.

“It was such a crazy, phenomenal performance.”

The Cornhuskers came into the day allowing opponents an average of 124 rushing yards per game, but Gordon peeled off runs of 42, 62, 39, 44, 43, 68 and 26.

“It was almost like he was running against air after a while,” Lepay said.

But it was not that easy.

“He had some things go wrong for him early in the game,” Lepay said. “It’s pretty easy to forget about that.”

True enough, Gordon fumbled twice and said recently that then-UW running backs coach Thomas Brown wanted to bench him. According to Gordon, teammate Austin Traylor talked Brown out of it.

“Then it turns into that,” Lepay said. “I can’t think of a better individual performance. It just illustrates that you never really know what you’re going to see.”

Lepay said it’s a shame the record only held up for a week. Samaje Perine of Oklahoma played four quarters and rushed for 427 yards vs. Kansas the following Saturday.

But Lepay will never forget the electric nature of Gordon crossing the goal line and breaking the record of 406 yards set by TCU’s LaDainian Tomlinson vs. UTEP in 1999.

Listen to the call:

 

“All of a sudden it didn’t feel so cold,” Lepay said. “By the third stride you knew he was gone.

“I probably could have described it better or taken in down a notch, but I jumped out of my chair. This guy’s just rushed for 400 yards. That’s incredible.”

Thin Photo collage of images of Wisconsin radio broadcaster Matt Lepay with the Camp Randall 100 logo