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With one of the Ozarks’ most-beloved sports figures still on the mend after his life-threatening battle with West Nile virus, Steve Savard is thrilled for the opportunity to help keep the microphone warm for Art Hains.
Savard will call Missouri State football play-by-play on Bears’ road games this season, beginning with Friday night’s season opener at Kansas. Hains is set to return for the home games, which is a cause for celebration in its own right.
Having a talent like Savard to pinch hit is also a winning move while giving one Missouri Sports Hall of Famer an opportunity to help out another.
“It’s a no-brainer for me to help out while Art’s still recovering, and have a little fun in the process,” Savard said earlier this week, as he prepared for his first football broadcast in eight seasons.
Savard, the play-by-play voice for the St. Louis Rams from 2000-2015, moved to Springfield two years ago as the evening news anchor at KOLR10. He saw the best (Greatest Show on Turf) and the worst (Stan Kroenke moving the team) of the Rams era in his hometown.
After calling some 350 NFL games, Savard looks forward to his first college broadcast.
“I get to scratch a little bit of my play-by-play itch,” Savard said. “I’ve missed it. This would be my eighth football season out of the booth. I’m looking forward to it. I might need a series or two to knock off a little bit of the rust.”
Former SMS football recruit is now a Bears broadcaster
Savard said it’s ironic how several dots have connected since 1982, when he was a senior at Parkway North High School on a recruiting visit to then-Southwest Missouri State. A major snowstorm shut down I-44 and he had to spend a couple of extra days on campus.
“I got stuck ‘stuck.’ Imagine an 18-year-old high schooler stuck on a college campus for three days,” Savard said with a chuckle. “It wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me.
“I was looking forward to playing here, but things didn’t work out at the 11th hour,” he added. “Everything works out for a reason and Northwest Missouri State was a great choice for me.”
Visit to Joplin spurred Savard to pursue broadcasting
Savard was a standout linebacker at Northwest Missouri State and was invited to training camp for the Dallas Cowboys in 1986 and 1987. In those days, NFL rosters were limited to 45 players and there were no practice squads.
One of the final roster cuts in 1986, the Cowboys signed him up to return the next summer. Hopes were high, but he suffered a career-ending neck injury during the preseason. After briefly considering careers in sports writing and law enforcement, he soon after launched a career in sports media that was spurred by a visit to his brother, a weather anchor at KODE-TV in Joplin.
“The sports anchor at KODE gave the score of the Royals game backwards, saying they lost to the Brewers 2-4,” Savard said. “When the show was over, we went into my brother’s office and he said, ‘If you don’t try to make it in this business, you’re out of your mind.’ Hearing a score backwards in my family was like a mortal sin.
“That was the push I needed. I went to the Broadcast Center in St. Louis to get something on tape. My first job was in Billings, Montana, in 1989.”
Making his way back to St. Louis and ‘The Greatest Show on Turf’
He eventually found his way back to St. Louis in 1994, at KMOV-TV. He was the sports anchor for 19 years before becoming the evening news anchor in 2013. He served as host of the Rams’ pre-game and halftime shows, along with co-hosting the Dick Vermeil radio show, for two seasons prior to becoming the play-by-play voice.
Savard said being a part of the Rams’ glory years was like having an all-access pass to a rock-and-roll band.
“It was a blessing. It was unbelievable,” he said. “ You walked into a stadium and there was so much buzz and excitement about the Rams. Not just in St. Louis, but even on the road. We would pull into the team hotel on a Saturday and there would be three or four hundred fans lined up outside the hotel for autographs.
“Win, lose or draw on Sundays in those days, the Rams were must-see football. You never knew what was coming, but you knew it was going to be an exciting three hours on Sunday.”
Hall of Famers Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and so many more stars made St. Louis a football town, despite what happened a decade later. Savard said those players were special in ways beyond touchdowns and tackles.
“The thing about that team, it wasn’t just the fact it was so talented and dynamic, it was a great group of guys in that locker room. Great people,” Savard said.
Springfield a good fit for the Missouri Sports Hall of Famer
That group included defensive standout Grant Wistrom, who now lives in Springfield not far from Savard. It’s another dot that makes his landing in Springfield seem right — plus his surprise connection with his boss at KOLR.
After being one of 100 people let go by the corporate ownership group of KMOV in the fall of 2020, Savard was looking for his next challenge. When he came to interview at KOLR in 2021, he and general manager Mike Spruill found an unlikely personal connection.
“He and I played college football against each other for two years and didn’t know it until we met,” Savard said of Spruill. “He was an offensive lineman at Missouri Western while I played linebacker at Northwest.”
Moving to a medium market after so many years didn’t bother Savard.
“It just felt like a good fit. More than two years later I don’t have any regrets,” Savard, 59, said of his lead anchor duties on KOLR at 5, 6 and 10 p.m. He also has brought a viewer-friendly on-air conversational style while interacting with veteran sports anchor Dan Lucy.
“It’s been an easy transition and I thought it would be,” Savard said, noting that he and wife Jennifer have five — and soon to be six — young granddaughters. “We’re three hours from St. Louis. Having a job geographically desirable was what I was looking for. This fit the bill for several different reasons and that was one of them.”
Ready to be ’emotionally involved’ in a game again
Now things are even better as he gets to call some football again. He’s attended a few Bears’ practices and a recent scrimmage to familiarize himself with the personnel and has his homemade charts — just as Hains puts together — ready to go for the opener.
“I really enjoy it and the thing that I will enjoy the most is being emotionally involved in a game again,” he said. “You can be a fan and you can watch this team or that team play, but you’re not really involved like you were as a player. The closest thing I’ve ever had emotionally in the game of football to being a player was to be a broadcaster. I’m looking forward to having some skin in the game.”
How to listen
Missouri State and Kansas kick off the season at 7 p.m. Sept. 1 at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kansas. Steve Savard and Corey Riggs have the call on the Bears’ Radio Network (101.3 FM in Springfield, 1430 AM, 92.1 FM in Ava, 1420 AM Jefferson City/California, and 1340 AM Poplar Bluff), on The Varsity App and RadioSpringfield.com online.