Alumnus Macon Gunter co-hosts “The Greenlight Podcast” with his good friend Chris Long, whom he has known since he was 11 years old. (Contributed photo)
Growing up in Richmond in the mid-1990s, Macon Gunter and his father would fire up his great aunt’s old, beaten-down Cadillac DeVille and head to Charlottesville for University of Virginia football games. The massive gray car, which they affectionately referred to as “The Boat,” wasn’t being driven much anymore, so the trips were a way to keep her running.
They also served another purpose: Gunter’s mother had recently died from breast cancer, and the football games (and later, basketball ones) were something both Gunter and his father looked forward to, and counted on.
“I don’t remember much about my mom’s illness and death,” Gunter said. “But I know there was nothing better than being with my dad on the road to C’ville.”
During the drives, 8-year-old Gunter would lose himself in thought, burying his head in the agate page of the newspaper’s sports section, immersing himself in the statistics of his favorite players.
At the games, Gunter would revel in the sights and sounds of Scott Stadium – Cav Man, the Pep Band, “The Good Old Song.”
On the trips home, he studied game programs as an English citizen might have inspected the Magna Carta 800 years ago.
Gunter would only look up when he wanted to get a better listen to what UVA radio announcer Frank Quayle was saying on the postgame show. Then it was right back to memorizing the Hoos’ depth chart.
Sometimes there would be extremely long stretches of silence, and Gunter’s father would ask him if he was OK.
“I’m not talking. I’m thinking,” Gunter would routinely say in response.
Whether it’s been as a UVA student, a member of the Virginia Sports Radio Network broadcast team, an associate broker at Nest Realty in Charlottesville or, most recently, as a co-host on former UVA football star Chris Long’s “The Green Light Podcast,” the cerebral, think-before-you-speak approach has served Gunter well.
Gunter has been coming to UVA games ever since he was a kid. (Contributed photo)
Gunter doesn’t have many memories about his mother, yet has always felt a deep connection to her. His first name comes from her maiden name, and whenever he flips through an old photo album, he can’t help but notice how much they look alike.
Anne Macon Gunter died in 1994 after a years-long battle.
“Even though I didn’t get to know her as well as I would have liked, I bet I’m like her in more ways than I can count,” Gunter said.
It was Gunter’s father, Brad, who graduated from UVA with a master’s degree in 1963 and a Ph.D. in 1969, both in English, who introduced him to Cavalier sports.
“I would have UVA games on television, and as a little guy he was always interested in whatever I was interested in,” Brad Gunter said, “but he took that interest to a level that just amazed me.”
He wasn’t alone.
When Macon Gunter was in kindergarten, one of his teachers remarked that he was only using orange and blue markers. And on Halloween, there was never any debate about what he would dress up as; it was always Cav Man.
Gunter’s favorite football players were Anthony Poindexter and Thomas Jones – whose jerseys he had tacked to his bedroom wall – along with Charles Way, Tyrone Davis, James Farrior, Tiki Barber, Pete Allen, Wali Rainer, and Patrick Kerney, to name a few.
Among Gunter’s basketball idols were Bryant Stith, Cornel Parker, Jamal Robinson, Harold Deane, Junior Burrough and Chris Williams.
Gunter was also a big fan of the women’s basketball team. “You would have thought Dawn Staley was a close relative the way I followed her career,” Gunter joked.
It was in 1997, three years after his mother’s death, when an 11-year-old Gunter moved from Richmond to Charlottesville.
Gunter remembers “kicking and screaming” because he didn’t want to leave his friends and the only home he had had ever known. He also had to bid adieu to The Boat.
However, the silver lining was being closer to the Hoos – and this was something Gunter would take full advantage of.
Brad Gunter, an English professor at UVA for several years, let out a hearty laugh as he reminisced about some of the interactions his son had with student-athletes, including one with former basketball player Yuri Barnes.
“There’s this great big guy walking on Emmett Street, right there at the tennis courts, and he sees Macon and he says, ‘Hey Stat Man!’” Brad Gunter said. “Macon had been at a basketball camp the year before and I guess it had just stuck with [Barnes] that here was this kid who knew all these statistics about UVA.”
Gunter wears a necklace in honor of his mother, Anne Macon Gunter, who died from breast cancer in 1994 when he was 8. (Contributed photo)
It was on the sixth-grade playground when Gunter met Chris Long, whose father, Howie, had been an NFL star and had become even better known as a television broadcaster.
“I liked having a friend who was pretty damn smart – and it wasn’t to help me with my schoolwork,” Long said. “It was just that he was witty, funny, loved sports and always had something interesting that he was thinking about.”
Gunter said he could sense from the start how much Long valued his loyalty and honesty.
“Growing up, it was wild to hear so many opinions of Chris and his character from people who had never met him,” Gunter said. “The perception was that he had it easy. And while he had some advantages because of the hard work of his parents, the reality is that he worked incredibly hard to excel in several different arenas, and continues to do so while being a kind, genuine, generous person.”
Gunter and Long’s friendship blossomed as students at St. Anne’s-Belfield School, a Charlottesville private school. Almost every weekend, they would play video games in Long’s basement, sometimes organizing large round-robin tournaments with other classmates.
Of course, being teenagers, Gunter and Long also had a mischievous side, with pranks a big part of their playbook. “We were up to no good a healthy bit,” said Gunter, breaking into a sheepish grin. “We kept ourselves entertained.”
Gunter has never had the occasion to talk much about his mother, but he said he could always feel the support of Long, who, to this day, reaches out on Mother’s Day to make sure he’s doing OK. “Even 27 years later, that means the world to me,” Gunter said.
Looking back, Long said knowing the right thing to say – or whether he should even say anything at all – could be tricky. He said the biggest thing he tried to do in support of his friend was listen.
“Macon’s mother sounded like an amazing woman. [She] and Brad did an amazing job, and I know Meredith is such a huge force in his life and always has been,” said Long, referring to Gunter’s stepmother, Meredith Gunter, who recently retired from UVA’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. “I know he’s so lucky to have her as well.”
After graduating from high school, both Gunter and Long attended UVA.
For Gunter, following in his father’s footsteps and studying English was the realization of a childhood dream. “I loved any class that included writing,” he said.
As a fourth-year student, Gunter got the opportunity to expand his college experience by working as a statistician and spotter for football and basketball broadcasts on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. The job entailed serving as an extra set of eyes for former play-by-play man Dave Koehn, providing timely information that only Koehn and his color commentator could hear through their headsets.
Koehn said the term “right-hand man” doesn’t even begin to convey what Gunter’s contributions meant to not only the broadcast, but to him personally.
“If I was off in a game, he would know it and be able to help me navigate it, quietly behind the scenes,” Koehn said. “There just aren’t many people who know what you’re thinking or what you’re implying before you say it. He always knew.”
Gunter, whom Koehn refers to as a “walking encyclopedia,” worked every football game, home and away, and every home and postseason basketball game, plus whatever road games he was able to make it to.
From flying on team planes to being on the field and court before games and practices, to working alongside color commentators Frank Quayle, Cory Alexander, Ted Jeffries, Tony Covington and Jimmy Miller – former Hoos whom he had cheered wildly for or watched highlights of as a kid – Gunter could hardly believe what he was experiencing.
“To borrow a phrase from a friend, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Gunter said. “I was in heaven.”
So much so that even after he graduated in 2009 and began a full-time career in real estate, Gunter continued moonlighting in the role.
One of Gunter’s duties was to usher UVA head coach Tony Bennett from the locker room to the press room after games.
After UVA beat Syracuse University in 2014 to win its first outright ACC regular season title since 1981, Gunter and Bennett sat in a holding room, waiting for Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim to finish up. “I thanked him from the bottom of my heart for what he was doing for UVA,” Gunter said. “He shook his head graciously, as only Tony Bennett can, smiled, and shook my hand.
“That win felt like the beginning of something special.”
But as any UVA fan can tell you, there were also some bitter setbacks. They were ones that occasionally brought Gunter to tears, most notably after the Hoos lost a big second-half lead to Syracuse in the Elite Eight of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
“Chris was texting me at halftime, saying he was booking Final Four flights and hotel rooms. Two hours later, I am crying walking out of the United Center, like any other well-adjusted 30-year-old.”
There was also the loss to the University of Maryland-Baltimore County in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament, becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16-seed.
That’s what made the team’s run to the 2019 NCAA title so special.
It’s frowned upon for media members to cheer during games, but when Mamadi Diakite hit the shot against Purdue University to force overtime in the Elite Eight round, Gunter just couldn’t help himself. He jumped up so quickly from his chair that it folded up and collapsed to the ground. The next thing Gunter knew, a security guard was racing toward him.
“I thought to myself, ‘This is great. I’m going to get kicked out of press row just as overtime is starting in the biggest game I’m ever going to see Virginia play,’” said Gunter, smiling. “But he just walked up, picked up the chair, put it behind me and said, ‘Good luck.’”
In the next game against Auburn University, Gunter just happened to be in the perfect position along the sideline to let Koehn know – after there had been some initial confusion in the arena – that a foul had been called as UVA guard Kyle Guy attempted the go-ahead 3-pointer in the final seconds.
“I think it’s among the greatest sports stories ever told, given what took place the year before,” said Gunter, who sat next to former UVA coach Terry Holland and his wife, Ann, on the joyous plane ride home. “The comebacks in the last three games were breathtaking, but the most underrated part of the run, for me, is that the guys came back from being down 14 to Gardner-Webb [University] in the first round. It could have happened again, but they learned to use adversity the right way, as Tony Bennett would say.”
In September, Gunter decided to step down from his role on UVA broadcasts. Coincidentally, Koehn left UVA to become the radio announcer for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks exactly a month later.
After 13 years of games, Gunter wanted to spend more time with his wife, Kate, and his now-10-month-old daughter, Edie.
While he will continue to attend UVA games in an unofficial capacity, Gunter’s No. 1 priority remains growing his successful real estate business, which began in earnest nearly a dozen years ago and includes helping find homes for new UVA faculty members.
It was three years ago, in his capacity as a real estate agent, that Gunter found Long the property in downtown Charlottesville that is home to the Chris Long Foundation and from where “The Green Light Podcast” records its shows (that also appear as videos on YouTube).
Long, who retired from an 11-year NFL career in 2018, had just finished taping the pilot episode of the podcast – by himself – and wanted Gunter’s opinion.
“Both Chris and the content were good, but the show consisted of Chris talking football for two hours directly into one camera,” Gunter said. “He was being funny, but there was nobody to laugh at his jokes.
“I thought he needed another voice in the room.”
The next thing Gunter knew, he was that voice.
Gunter thought he would just sit in for a show or two until Long brought in someone with experience, but 315 episodes and counting later, he’s still by Long’s side.
The soft-spoken kid who always enjoyed working behind the scenes is suddenly in the last place he thought he’d ever be: center stage.
“I am the unlikely, accidental and reluctant co-host of the Green Light Pod,” Gunter said. “Chris had his pick of gigs in retirement, and he chose to host a podcast with his real estate agent.”
Long maintains that Gunter wanted to step outside his comfort zone more than he knew. But whatever the case, Long said his friend has made the perfect tag-team partner.
“Sometimes he’s hard to read because he’ll just look at you – and he’s thinking,” said Long, with a chuckle. “That’s all well and good until I have to guess whether he likes a segment or ‘Did I just say something stupid on the mic?’ He keeps you honest. To me, that’s the biggest value in a friendship – can a friend be honest with you?
“I do think that when I go to Macon with a question, whether it’s about the show or about life, he’s going to shoot me straight. I’d rather have a friend that gives me [grief] than doesn’t. So I think he checks all the boxes with that job description in life and in podcasting.”
While “The Green Light Podcast” records three shows per week during the NFL season (two during the offseason), it’s much more than a podcast about football. It attracts big-name guests like Charles Barkley, Ken Burns, Matthew McConaughey, Mina Kimes and Mark Cuban, and never shies away from thorny subjects – in or out of sports.
This year, the podcast – whose sponsors include WynnBet, TickPick, Keeps and DirecTV – has more than 3.65 million downloads, an increase of more than 24% from 2020.
“I am of the belief that Chris and any other warm body would produce an entertaining show,” Gunter said. “Where I might bring some value is that I can call him on his nonsense, and he on mine, by virtue of our 25-year friendship.
“I’m the straight man. I’m the counter-puncher. Occasionally, Chris will ask me to steer the ship and get us from point A to point B, but more often than not, I get to sit back and pick my spots.
“My reluctance to talk to tens of thousands of strangers every week has waned, but hasn’t completely gone away. Chris has no filter. I have several. The dynamic works, I guess.”
Long, much as he did in high school, enjoys having a little fun with Gunter. To that end, one of his favorite episodes is the one when he arranged for Gunter to go through NFL Combine drills, such as the 40-yard dash and vertical jump.
“Did you see the numbers he had? He ran a 6.1 [second] 40 and jumped 12 inches!” Long deadpanned.
But Gunter, despite his introverted personality, has found ways to give it right back to Long, doing so in a style that Long said reminds him of late comedian Norm Macdonald.
“If you don’t watch the videos, you’re only getting half the joke,” Long said, “because his facial expressions, coupled with his delivery, are why he’s so funny to me.”
Gunter hasn’t backed down from guests, either.
In an episode with ESPN personality and University of Maryland alumnus Scott Van Pelt that touched on the UVA-Maryland rivalry, Van Pelt asked Gunter what he didn’t like about Maryland.
“I didn’t know where to start because there are now decades of unpleasant memories I have to draw from,” Gunter said. “But I just boiled it down to not liking the people and the place, and he just hung onto that and wouldn’t let go and took shots at me throughout the rest of our show.”
It continued well after the show, with Van Pelt bringing up his disdain for Gunter, in a somewhat playful way, on two separate segments of Van Pelt’s “Bad Beats.”
“Hearing my name on ‘SportsCenter’ is not something I ever thought would happen, and it was pretty cool, regardless of the context,” said Gunter, smiling. “It was all born out of talking smack about Maryland.”
Koehn can’t help but chuckle at the irony of the low-key Gunter, one of his very best friends, becoming something of a celebrity. Recently, Koehn was speaking with old acquaintances and mentioned in passing that he used to work with Gunter.
“They were like, ‘You know Macon!’” said Koehn, laughing.
Gunter is uncomfortable with the idea that he is anything resembling a star. He said he brings a “healthy dose of self-doubt and insecurity” with him every time he steps foot in the recording studio.
“It’s a sense of not being good enough or interesting enough or entertaining enough,” Gunter said. “What keeps me coming back is the challenge of doing something I didn’t think I could do, the once-in-a-lifetime nature of the gig, the rush of adrenaline that comes with the cameras and microphones and bright lights.
“I think it’s useful to step outside one’s comfort zone every 17 years or so, and I am encouraged by how well the show has been received. It’s exciting to be able to build something from the ground up, especially alongside one of my best friends.”
That said, Gunter is adamant that no matter how successful the podcast becomes, real estate will always be his top priority.
“There is nothing else I’d rather be doing than working in real estate,” Gunter said. “There are interesting clients who often become friends. There is remarkable architecture, both new and old. There is the beautiful countryside we are lucky enough to call home. And there is the putting together of a puzzle, be it a search or a marketing campaign or a negotiation, that I find to be fascinating.
“I love going to work on behalf of buyers and sellers who are navigating notable milestones in their lives, ones that they remember forever.
Gunter was first given a Saint Christopher medal from his father as a child. The story of Saint Christopher – which involves a child asking to be carried across a river – speaks to him, and is why he wears a Saint Christopher medal bearing his mother’s initials around his neck.
“Wherever I go, she is with me,” Gunter said.
Gunter’s daughter’s middle name is Anne (after his mother), and his wife wears the same engagement and wedding ring that his mother once did.
These types of things help Gunter stay connected to a woman he wishes he had gotten to spend more time with.
Of course, Gunter knows how fortunate he has been to have had a loving father and stepmother. He said both have played enormous roles in his life. Meredith Gunter, who embraced Wahoo fandom after joining the family, took Macon to several ACC basketball tournaments over the years.
Following the basketball team’s title in 2019, Macon Gunter presented his father with a championship-themed vanity license plate, which reads, “Thanks Dad.” No doubt, the plate would have looked great on the back of The Boat, but with the vehicle having been out of the family for many years now, Brad Gunter proudly displays it in his living room.
To father and son, that chapter of UVA hoops still seems like a dream, something they are quite sure they witnessed, but something they still haven’t been able to fully process.
As confetti fell from the ceiling following the win over Texas Tech, Gunter found himself – just like when he was a kid memorizing stats in The Boat – immersed in his own thoughts. Only this time, he began to cry tears of joy.
“I couldn’t help but think about that shy, little kid who lived and died with every single Virginia game,” Gunter said, “and all that time spent with my dad, all those drives from Richmond to C’ville and back home, and how, ‘Wow, I didn’t score a point or pull down a rebound, and yet I can’t imagine how this could mean any more to me.’”