Bob Sheppard is old school.
He’s so old school that when he started playing college football, his jersey didn’t have a number.
He wore a leather helmet.
The offense he ran was the wishbone.
And he played for St. John’s College.
Last Friday night, Sheppard was back at his old school, honored with the first Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the St. John’s Touchdown Club during halftime of the Red Storm’s game against Iona.
Sheppard was presented with a framed original 1930 warm-up football jacket and a patch commemorating his number (4) and name.
The 92-year-old Queens native played quarterback for St. John’s from 1929-31, in a football era completely different from today.
There were no huddles-the quarterback would call the plays from the line. The forward pass, a staple of today’s offensive playbook, was now allowed to be thrown. The kicking game was virtually non-existent.
Still, Sheppard was able to use his arm and legs to lead his team to victory, like the 38-7 drubbing over Vermont in 1931, when he completed five of 12 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown, plus a point after conversion.
As John E. Freese, Sports Editor of The Torch wrote in the Oct. 22, 1930 issue: “That run by Sheppard at the end of the first quarter proves the statement of a prominent local coach who said that deliberation, not speed, makes the great broken-field runner. Bob just loped along with no undue haste and by weaving, cutting and a few well-executed spins, he ripped off the best run of the season.”
Or it was his leadership, when he quarterbacked the 1930 team to a 7-1 season, the program’s best season in eight years, capturing the “Little Three Grid Championship” for the second straight season.
“In Robert L. Shepperd [sic],” wrote Freese in the December 10, 1930 issue, “St. John’s has one of the most versatile and highly talented men that ever graced her revered roll of honor. In social affairs, in scholastic standing and in athletics his name is always to be found among the leaders.”
In addition to his athletic prowess, Sheppard was the Senior Class President in 1932, as well as voted “Most Popular” and in a bit of foreshadowing, “Best Orator.”
But it is another sport, baseball, which has made Sheppard famous. While he may walk down the street unnoticed, the moment he speaks one word, anyone who has attend a game at Yankee Stadium would recognize him immediately as the team’s public address announcer.
After graduating from St. John’s with a degree in speech and studying for his Master’s at Columbia, Sheppard taught at Grover Cleveland High until World War II interrupted his stint there.
He would serve in the Navy and reached the rank of Lieutenant, and upon his return to the States, would begin teaching again, this time at John Adams High School.
He would even return to his alma mater, teaching speech to students for 40 years.
But it was one day, in 1946, that would change the course of Sheppard’s life.
Having been a former football player and hearing that a public address announcer was needed for a game between Dan Topping’s Football Yankees and the Chicago Rockets, Sheppard offered his services.
At the game, a member of the Brooklyn Football Dodgers front office heard the game and offered Sheppard the PA position for the team, a job that he accepted.
One year later, the Yankees heard his booming voice in its clear, concise and correct style, and tried to secure his services, beginning with the 1950 season. But because of his teaching schedule, he would initially turn down the offer.
The persistent Yankee brass finally convinced Sheppard, and on April 17, 1951, he made his first appearance behind the mic.
Sheppard was not the only Yankee on his first day of work, center fielder Mickey Mantle was making his New York debut as well. Fifty-one years later, Sheppard is still there.
In those days, the New York Giants played in the Stadium, and Sheppard was asked if he would those games as well. He is still doing those games to this day.
Dubbed “The Voice of God” by Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, Sheppard has announced over 4,000 baseball games in his career.
He announced the 27 batters that couldn’t muster a hit in Don Larsen’s perfect masterpiece in Game Five of the 1956 World Series.
He called out Jackson’s name before each of Mr. October’s three home runs in Game Six of the ’77 World Series.
He announced Alan Ameche’s touchdown dive in overtime of the 1958 NFL Championship Game between the Giants and Colts, a game widely considered the greatest game in NFL history.
All of this is a part of a man who has received many honors in his career.
And last Friday night, Sheppard was given another honor. Already inducted into the St. John’s Athletic Hall of Fame (Class of 1987), and awarded The President’s Medal, the highest honor St. John’s can bestow, in 1983, this was yet another accolade in an already distinguished career.
A career that continues as strong as it did some 70 years ago, on a worn-out field where a quarterback’s voice was heard.
And is still heard today.
Jason Della Rosa is a senior journalism major who is jealous of the life Bob Sheppard has lived. Send comments to [email protected]