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A winning team: Colley and the Tribe

  • Three CAA veterans
    Three CAA veterans  From left: Tribe football coach Jimmye Laycock, play-by-play announcer Jay Colley and outgoing CAA commissioner Tom Yeager. Combined, they have 99 years of experience with the conference.  Courtesy Colonial Athletic Association
  • Colley and Sheeran
    Colley and Sheeran  Jay Colley and the late Bob Sheeran '67 spent 28 years together calling Tribe football games.  Photo courtesy Tribe Athletics
  • The new team
    The new team  After Sheeran's passing, Colley was paired with Matt Ridjaneck ’05, who played offensive line for the Tribe and spent three seasons as a sideline reporter.  Photo courtesy Tribe Athletics
  • Vintage Colley
    Vintage Colley  Jay Colley (center) in his early days calling Tribe football. To his left is the late Bob Sheeran '67. To his right is former statistician Don Kelly.  
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A bold, western fashion statement seen one summer’s night in a Rochester, New York, press box changed Jay Colley’s life and how the story of William & Mary athletics is told.

The minor-league baseball Tidewater Tides were playing the Rochester Red Wings. Tides play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun noticed his counterpart’s cowboy boots and posed a question:

“Hey, cowboy, want to do some college games?”

{{youtube:medium:center|ZIZIHxKc6FE, Signature calls by Colley}}

“Where?” Colley replied.

That was 1982, a year in which Colley served as Rathbun’s color commentator on Tribe football. The following year, he took over play-by-play duties, and has hardly let go of the microphone since.

Heading into Saturday’s season opener at Lafayette, Colley has broadcast 376 Tribe football games (he missed three in 2009 due to illness). No one can say for sure where that figure places Colley on the official list of broadcasters with the longest tenure at one place, because there is no official list.

Some names stand out: Johnny Holliday has been the “voice” of University of Maryland athletics since 1979. Bill Hillgrove has called University of Pittsburgh athletics for 46 years. Joel Utley has broadcast Kentucky Wesleyan games for 54 years. Bob Black started at the University of Richmond one year after Colley came to W&M.

“As long as he stays with the green and gold – and I hope that’s a long time – he’ll always be the senior broadcaster in the state,” said Black. “I won’t be able to catch him!”

Surely, there are others. But as Dave Goren, executive director of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame, said, “I bet Jay is in the top 15 to 20.”

Except for a dalliance with the Baltimore Orioles in 1987 – he finished second for their radio play-by-play job – Colley’s eyes have never roamed far from Richmond Road.

Colley’s style

“He’s a great sportscaster; I think the best still working in the state,” said former James Madison University broadcaster Mike Schikman, who covered the Dukes for 29 years. “Jay is so identified with what William & Mary has been for so many years. Just think about how Former W&M broadcaster Bob Rathbunmany people have listened to Jay.”

Rathbun, who moved on to broadcast Atlantic Coast Conference football and basketball, Detroit Tigers baseball and, for the last 20 years, Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Dream basketball, said Colley’s impact on William & Mary has transcended the broadcast booth.

“When someone’s been in one place as long as Jay has, it means he’s bonded with a community in a way that goes beyond the radio,” Rathbun said. “Jay has connected with fans, administrators, players, coaches, people at the College, alumni in a way few others have been able to. Jimmye Laycock is another one in that category.

“That they made Jay an honorary alumni of the school tells you all you need to know about what people there think of him.”

Colley believes that 2002 designation was William & Mary’s way of “saying thanks for staying here.”

“It’s such an honor; it’s an unbelievable institution,” he said. “I’m thankful that my mom and dad were alive at the time. My dad has since passed. My mom is still alive to enjoy that moment.”

Like many in the business, Colley spent childhood nights with his ear glued to the transistor radio tucked under his pillow, feigning sleep when his mom or dad checked on him. From his home in Nashville, Colley dialed in Larry Munson calling Vanderbilt games, John Ward doing the University of Tennessee, Milo Hamilton and the late Ernie Johnson broadcasting the Atlanta Braves on WSB and Skip Caray describing Atlanta Hawks basketball. Then there was the legendary Jack Buck, on the granddaddy of them all— KMOX in St. Louis — regaling listeners with exploits of the Cardinals.

“Those guys had the ability to involve a little humor, a little wit, in their broadcast,” Colley remembered.

That isn’t necessarily Colley’s style, or at least not a priority, thanks to his mentor, Monte Hale. He owned several radio stations in Murfreesboro and broadcast Middle Tennessee State athletics and baseball’s Nashville Sounds.

“He’d tell me, ‘Your first responsibility is the ball, the play by play,’” Colley said. “He’d say, ‘Tell the story of the game. If you have time to put in a little of your personality, or if there’s time to do some of what these other play-by-play guys do, fine. But follow the ball.’”

What stands out most about his broadcasts, Colley admitted, is his unbridled enthusiasm.

“Jay always looksFormer JMU broadcaster Mike Schikman with Colley and sounds like he’s having fun – whether it’s when we’re together at games and media events or on the air,” Richmond’s Black said. “He understands this is entertainment for his fans and listeners, and he comes across that way. And even though I don’t hear him much because we’re on the air at the same time, I do know and love his ‘Touchdown green and gold!’ call – except when he uses it against the Spiders.”

Colley said that call, one of the two for which he is known, was never rehearsed.

“I was just so excited that it had happened,” he said. “I didn’t do that every time we scored until 15 years ago. Then people told me they liked it. The next one was ‘Mister official, move those chains.’ Nothing is original. I don’t remember where I first heard that, and I’m sure I tweaked it a bit.

“My style is very much high energy. I’d like to think I play it down the middle, so to speak, but I’ve had people say, ‘Boy, I can turn on the game, and I know whether we’re winning or losing before you even say the score.’ So maybe I wear my heart on my sleeve too much.”

It would have been impossible for him to be more emotional about Tribe football than his partner in the booth, the late Bob Sheeran ’67. The two worked together for 28 years.

“We had immediate chemistry,” Colley said. “It was hard not to have chemistry with Bob. His personality was something that dragged you in.

“After the first game, certainly the first year, I don’t think we ever stepped on each other’s voices, which is hard to believe as many hours as we were on the air together. We just seemed to know when the other person was done and it was time to fill in.”

Sheeran was replaced by Matt Ridjaneck ’05, who played offensive line for the Tribe and spent three seasons as a sideline reporter.

“Bob had an immense knowledge of Tribe football history, which no one could ever duplicate,” Colley said. “Matt brings a different – and unique – perspective. I would hope it has been relatively seamless. If you’ve been tuning in the last few years, hopefully you’ve said, ‘Oh, those guys get along pretty well, they present a good product. They know what’s going on.’”

Off the charts

By the time the season is a game or two old, Colley has memorized the numbers of the Tribe players. But there are 11 or 12 other teams to keep track of.

“I’m a bit infamous around the league for my charts,” he said sheepishly.

Colley’s week begins on Monday when he goes to practice, questions Laycock about injuries and caps off the day with the Quarterback Club meeting. On Tuesday, he and Laycock tape the coach’s show.

On Thursday night, he’ll sit and watch both the featured NFL game and the featured college game. While those are playing, Colley spends almost four hours drawing up his charts – opposing names, numbers, height, weight, year in school, honors, perhaps a bit of trivia about a player’s life that he’ll have time to throw in during the broadcast. On Friday road trips, he spends his travel time reviewing his handiwork.

“I was brought up in the school that you need twice as much information as the hours of the broadcast,” he said. “For a three-hour game you should have six hours of info. By the way, you probably only use an hour of that. I have always been a believer that if it’s in front of me and accessible, I don’t need to memorize it. Because of that, my charts become paramount.”

Near misses

When you’ve been part of something for as long as Colley has been part of Tribe Athletics, it ceases to be a job and becomes more of a family reunion.

A frequent family reunion.Jay with Richmond's Bob Black

Colley has structured his life to miss as few of those as possible.

He and wife, Cindy, were married on a 1988 weekend the Tribe football team was off.

She went into labor with their second child, Ben, on a Thursday in 1993. Colley normally interviews Laycock on the Friday before a game. This time, he stopped at Laycock’s office on his way to the hospital and conducted the interview. The baby was born that night and, Colley recalled proudly, “I certainly made the game on Saturday.”

“I really admire the relationships he’s built with his coaches and colleagues at William & Mary,” Black said. “I hope Tribe fans appreciate his loyalty and dedication to William & Mary as the ‘voice of the Tribe.’”