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“Not So Fast”: The Oral History of ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’

Thirty years ago, ESPN’s college football pregame show broadcast from a college campus for the first time. How pregaming with students and leaning into its hosts’ personalities helped ESPN become the dominant voice of the sport.

Art by Brent Schoonover

Fifteen minutes before showtime, Lee Corso walked onto a stage in Columbus, Ohio. Corso is 88 years old. Standing in front of a few thousand Ohio State students, he looked like a vaudeville comic who’d just stepped out of a time machine.

Corso has been on College GameDay longer than Johnny Carson was on The Tonight Show. Before 2 million viewers tune in to see him on TV, Corso likes to tend to the audience off camera. He and his co-analyst, Kirk Herbstreit, perform a double act.

In Columbus, Herbstreit handed Corso an Ohio State helmet that sat in front of GameDay’s desk. Corso held it up before the crowd. He flashed an angelic smile.

“Yeah!” the crowd yelled.

Next, Herbstreit handed Corso a helmet from Penn State, the Buckeyes’ opponent that day. Corso frowned.

“Boo!” the crowd yelled.

Corso took the Ohio State helmet from Herbstreit again. This time, he lifted it above his head, Lion King style. “Yeahhh!” yelled the crowd, warming to the bit. Corso grabbed the Penn State helmet. He spiked it onto the stage, disgusted. The crowd, now louder: “Yeahhh!”

Finally, Corso held the Ohio State helmet right in front of his face and kissed it. He kissed it for as long as you can kiss something and still call it platonic. Corso smiled like a comic at the end of a set as the students chanted, “Lee! Lee! Lee!”

Fourteen years ago, Corso had a stroke when he walked out to his driveway to get the morning paper. “I’ll never forget it,” he told me. “The doctor came to me and said, ‘Lee Corso, you’ll never be the same. So you have to adjust and be what you can be.’ That got me through. Because I knew that I’d never be the same.”

Corso still ends GameDay’s closing picks segment with another piece of stagecraft: donning the head of his chosen team’s mascot. He still says “Yo!” (a greeting he heard growing up in Chicago) and “sweetheart” (he doesn’t remember where he got this). But Corso can’t pounce on his fellow announcers like he once did. “In his heyday, his wit and his one-liners—that was the magic to GameDay,” said Herbstreit.

As he approaches 90, Corso has become sports TV’s answer to Regis Philbin. He gratefully accepted guffaws and rolled eyes as long as viewers kept coming back. Finally, and somewhat improbably, he achieved a grandeur by sticking around. “He’s a part of the fabric of college football because he’s done this for so many years,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban, “and people look forward to it. Who’s he going to pick?”

Corso insists he isn’t self-conscious about viewers seeing a different performer than they saw before his stroke. “If they can’t accept it,” he said, “they can’t accept it.”

After his opening bit, Corso took a seat at the GameDay desk to get ready for a three-hour broadcast. He quietly read his lines off of note cards in front of him, trying to get comfortable with the words. The helmet kiss turned out to be a classic Corso misdirection play. When the red light came on, he declared that Penn State might beat the Buckeyes. The crowd chanted, “Bull-shit!” As I stood a few feet behind the cameras, Herbstreit looked at me with raised eyebrows as if to say, Do you see what he does?

On November 13, 1993, College GameDay broadcast its first show from a college campus before Notre Dame hosted Florida State. Besides the odd trip to a bowl game, GameDay had been stuck in a Bristol, Connecticut, studio since 1987. That remote broadcast can be seen as its true birth date.

The show that has emerged over the past 30 years is unique in several ways. There are two major forms of sports TV: games (action, cheering crowds) and studio shows (information, a touch of madness). GameDay brought these forms together. “GameDay is almost like a game,” said producer Jim Gaiero.

ESPN’s decision to send GameDay to campuses each week allowed the show to attach itself umbilically to college football. GameDay absorbed energy from games that might be televised by other networks. (Ohio State–Penn State was on Fox.) Eventually, the show grew to become a kind of coproducer of such games—and part of ESPN’s strategy to take over the sport. “It didn’t matter where games were on,” said former ESPN president John Skipper. “ESPN sort of took them all for their own.”

As you can see during the final weekend before the College Football Playoff teams are chosen, college football is a sport driven by public relations. If GameDay was “comin’ to your city,” as the show’s theme song had it, your team was important. That meant the opinions voiced on the show, even when they were wrong or ill-conceived, carried a kind of weight.

“When people have said we are the NBA, that makes me feel great,” said Inside the NBA’s Charles Barkley, a six-time GameDay guest picker. “But I feel the exact same way about their show. They are college football.”

Because of the show’s success, and its distance from the Bristol mothership, the GameDay crew has become a tight, semiautonomous group within ESPN. “They’re their own kind of country, so to speak—favored-nation status,” said SportsCenter’s Scott Van Pelt.

In Columbus, as the theme song played, Corso and Herbstreit and Pat McAfee and Rece Davis and Desmond Howard held each other’s hands at the desk. Like teammates before a big game, they chanted, “One, two, three, win!” In a nearby production truck, Gaiero and the crew held hands and chanted the same thing.

It’s tempting to rewind 30 years and see going on the road as GameDay’s singular brilliant idea. But in reporting this oral history, I was more interested in how GameDay’s announcers gave the show a piece of their identities. It could be a feeling of warmth, a demand for quality, an instinct straight out of old-fashioned TV. When combined with the cheering crowds, this created GameDay.

Corso’s contribution was very simple. He worked the crowd. He smooched helmets. He carried on as an unembarrassed showman. He thought it was a mistake for GameDay to think of itself as a college football show. “I said this one time, and I’d say it again,” he told me. “We’re in the entertainment business—and football is our vehicle.”

Part 1. The Entertainment Business

If Corso knew entertaining was a crucial part of College GameDay, it was because it was a crucial part of how he coached college football. When he was head coach at Indiana and Louisville, Corso was also a budding TV star. “I’m not bragging,” he said. “I used to have a television show that was great.”

At Indiana, Corso’s coach’s show ran on a local CBS affiliate on Sundays opposite Meet the Press. In 1975, after his Hoosiers lost six straight games, Corso found a coffin at the station that was left over from a kids’ show. Like Dracula, he rose out of it to proclaim, “We ain’t dead yet!” Corso would bring the same charmingly desperate, touchingly local vision of TV to College GameDay, right down to the props.

Corso seemed destined for a career in showbiz. When he played quarterback and defensive back at Florida State, he roomed with teammate Burt Reynolds. As a head coach, he was the junior partner to more famous—and more successful—basketball coaches, Bob Knight and Denny Crum. “I never had any good jobs,” Corso said. “I had to do something.”

So Corso (career record: 73-85-6) sought attention like a pre-social media version of Coach Prime. In 1971, at Louisville, he held a scrimmage in the yard of the Kentucky State Reformatory. When Indiana had a rare sellout, Corso invited a man in bib overalls who had the worst seat in the stadium to address the team at halftime. After we talked in Columbus, Corso asked me more than once, “Did you get some good stuff?”

Corso’s stunts found a home on his weekly coach’s show, a desultory form of TV in almost any other hands. At Indiana, Corso was known for not having a reporter cohost asking him questions; he didn’t need one. In the 1980s, when Corso was coaching the USFL’s Orlando Renegades, an audience member from England asked why he’d gone for it on fourth down instead of kicking a field goal. Like a daytime talk-show host, Corso told the man he couldn’t possibly know anything about American football and that he should sit down.

Corso winced when reporters cast him as a clown. He insisted that every bit had a purpose, whether it was to fire up his players or draw attention to teams in desperate need of it. “One of the fallacies in our society is that it associates intensity with strength and humor with weakness,” he once said. “Humorists aren’t as respected as the serious editorial writer.”

In 1987, when College GameDay first aired on ESPN, its cast consisted of host Tim Brando, Corso, and the noted wiseacre Beano Cook. By the time Craig James joined the show in 1992, Corso had become GameDay’s elder statesman and first star. In its early years, GameDay was marooned on the ESPN campus and had low ratings. It was the Indiana and Louisville of studio shows. Lee Corso knew just what to do.

Kirk Herbstreit (GameDay analyst): When you watch a stand-up comic, you almost feel like he has the audience in his hand and he can take them wherever he wants to take them. I feel like Lee, when he was in his prime, was like that. Every word he would say, they would ooh and ahh and boo and yay.

Lee Corso (analyst): The whole show I do that. I do it on purpose.

Herbstreit: If we’re in Tuscaloosa, he’s needling the crowd and poking at them and they’re booing him. Then, at the end, he picks Alabama and they carry him off on their shoulders like he’s the winning coach. That was how every week was.

John Skipper (former ESPN president): Lee Corso was a modestly successful college football coach who transcended what he did there to become this beloved, Mel Brooks–like nutty uncle.

Craig James (former analyst): He’s a big, old ham. Lee just was and is the kind of person that draws people to him. Some people thought he was an idiot. Other people thought he was a genius. And that may have alternated between weekends.

Herbstreit: It was Michigan and Arkansas in the Citrus Bowl. Chris comes to me, and I give this minute-long answer on what I think of the matchup. I can just feel Lee looking at me like, What the hell are you doing? He goes, “Michigan and Arkansas—it’s pickup trucks against the Cadillacs. I’m going with the pickup trucks.” That was his analysis. I was like, Why am I going through all this and he just says, “pickup trucks and Cadillacs?”

Chris “The Bear” Fallica (former researcher and game-picker): In Phoenix, Kirk and I were sitting in this restaurant off the hotel lobby. We were in gym shorts and T-shirts. We literally had just gotten up. In walks Corso, who always liked to go for a nice morning walk. He looks at me and he looks at Kirk. Then he looks at me again. Completely out of the blue, he goes, “Just look at you, Fallica. You’re like a big bear. All you do is eat, shit, and take a nap.” It stuck.

Rece Davis (host): When I was growing up watching college football, it was Chris Schenkel, Ara Parseghian, Keith Jackson, and Frank Broyles, who were awesome and fun but they were straight down the middle. College football really hadn’t had a showman in that role until LC.

Chris Fowler (former host): He was the coach with the biggest megaphone in the sport at that time. And Lee wasn’t afraid to step out and question a coach’s decision or question the way he was running his program. Those guys were bothered a lot by it in those early years.

Gary Barnett (former Northwestern and Colorado head coach): He was a coach who had some success. But at the same time, he was a guy that had gone through a lot of struggles, too—had some tough years. If you’re sitting there at Michigan or Ohio State, you probably can’t relate to Lee Corso. But if you’re the rest of us who’ve had ups and downs, you can relate to Lee.

Frank Beamer (former Virginia Tech head coach): When he came to Tech, lightning hit his car.

Dan Overleese (former director): That was the first show of 2000, Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech. This thunderstorm had rolled in. The game crew had mounted one of those cameras on top of the stadium, and it showed the parking lot and a car getting hit by lightning. We had no idea it was Lee’s car, and he didn’t either, till he drove it down the road. He got about two miles down the road and everything failed.

Fallica: Then he had the funny line: “I’m never picking against Virginia Tech again!”

Pat McAfee (analyst): The first time I think he found out about my existence was at South Dakota State [in 2019], when I had a sleeveless hoodie on and I was talking like I was one of the Jackrabbits because Adam Vinatieri couldn’t represent. As I was doing my thing at the end making my pick, I saw him out of the corner of my eye looking at me a couple of times. I felt if anybody on the set would know what I was doing, it would be him.

Charles Barkley (guest picker): He reminds me of Hubie Brown. A football lifer.

Steve Bornstein (former ESPN president): Everybody was pretty young back in those days. We wanted Lee to be the grown-up.

Mark Shapiro (former ESPN executive): Despite the fact that we had two superstar talents in Fowler and Herbstreit, the bulk of the audience was coming to see the Corso show. In all the focus groups we did, he stood out more than the rest.

Corso: The ultimate was the time when I said a bad word on television. I screwed up really bad.

Mike Ruhlman (stage manager): It was Houston-SMU [in 2011]. Coach likes to do the old okey-doke where he tells you how great one of the teams is and all the reasons that that team should win. Then in the end he goes the other direction.

Fowler: He was doing that with SMU that day. But it just wasn’t working. The director wasn’t in sync. Lee would say something and they wouldn’t take the shot.

Ruhlman: He just says, “Ah, fuck it!”

Fallica: I look up and I start mouthing to Kirk, “Did he just…?” Kirk’s eyes are wide open and he’s giving me a nod. I’m like, Oh my God.

Drew Gallagher (former coordinating producer): I’ve watched that clip hundreds of times. There’s so many things I love about it. The way that Coach throws the megaphone. The expression on Chris Fowler’s face. The way Kirk pushes his chair back from the desk. The siren that’s going off in the background.

Corso: I got a call from Disney.

Herbstreit: He had to apologize.

Corso: So I got on and I said I was sorry—and I smiled.

Herbstreit: They made him redo it.

Tim Brando (former host): This is the one line I’ll never forget him delivering to me. In ’87, we did our first show. We went up to Bornstein’s office. As we’re walking out of the office, Lee leans over to me and says, “Timmy, you know what my goal is? You know what my real goal is?” I said, “What?” He says, “I’m going to be the Dick Vitale of college football.”

Part 2. The Commissioner

Here are a few problems with football pregame shows: The hosts don’t talk like people who watch football. They act like human laugh tracks. The shows are stilted and strange and feel like an exercise in time-killing. Perhaps the biggest thing Chris Fowler brought to GameDay was his insistence that it wouldn’t sound like your father’s pregame show. Fowler was GameDay’s host and its quality-control officer.

There’s a long history of ESPN hosts like Chris Berman (NFL Primetime) and Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann (SportsCenter) who molded studio shows in their own identities. In 1990, when Fowler became host of GameDay at age 28, he had plenty of ideas.

One was that GameDay’s announcers should sound like, and in practice actually be, people that watched lots of college football. They should get fired up about teams outside the Top 25; Fowler was the kind of host who savored a note about the Lou Groza Award. GameDay’s announcers should also do their own thinking. If a researcher gave Fowler a stat that had appeared in USA Today, he asked for a new stat that viewers wouldn’t already know.

Fowler pushed to make every moment of GameDay meaningful when he was on the air. If the show started to feel too wacky—having taken Corso’s mandate to entertain too far—Fowler punched his “talk back” button and told producers they needed more football. If the students in the crowd were quiet or hungover, Fowler would fire them up. You can see Fowler’s influence on the modern show, which is always trying to balance its two best assets: information and atmospherics.

The hosts of pregame shows are usually pass-first point guards. Fowler thought college football was about opinions, and that a GameDay host ought to come armed with his own. Once, Fowler tossed a laptop off the stage to protest the Bowl Championship Series computer rankings. Fowler challenged Herbstreit when he offered up milquetoast answers—answers you still hear on other pregame shows.

Fowler got to ESPN in 1986, a year after he graduated from the University of Colorado. He reported stories for the magazine show Scholastic Sports America. Two years after Tim Brando brought GameDay on the air as host, he moved back to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, which annoyed ESPN management. Brando was replaced as host by Bob Carpenter.

Fowler’s stint began by happy circumstance. In November 1989, Carpenter missed an episode to be present for the birth of his daughter. Fowler was summoned to sit in the chair for a week. Beginning the next fall, he would host GameDay for 25 years.

ESPN

Fowler: I get the call very late in the week. I remember Beano Cook, the cantankerous, old, gravel-voiced guy who was part of the show, sitting there in a production meeting. “Oh, Fowler, look at you over there. Look at you, this young kid. You’ve got to be shitting your pants right now. You’re not going to get any sleep tonight.” I’m thinking, Thank you, Beano. That was a hell of a tough love pep talk.

Bob Carpenter (former host): I took that one weekend off, and then Chris Fowler did that show for, what, the next 25 years. We laugh about that, that I’m the Wally Pipp of GameDay.

Bornstein: I looked at Chris and saw the latter-day Jim Lampley. Here’s somebody that looked like he had just walked out of a university with his degree. If you told me he was 28, I would’ve thought he was younger. Today, he still looks about 30, so good for him.

Fowler: When I became host in 1990, it was a job that nobody wanted. I promise. I was a very inexperienced guy. I hadn’t done a lot of studio stuff on live television. There wasn’t a lot of competition to get that job, because the show wasn’t very important. It had no profile in the college football landscape.

Corso: We called him the Commissioner. He ran College GameDay.

Herbstreit: He was the conscience of the show. He didn’t have the title of director and producer. But College GameDay, in those years, it was his baby. He and the executive producer would be very combative. Lee would kind of elbow me, and we were like two little kids watching these two adults arguing about the direction of a topic or the direction of a segment. He would always win those arguments.

Fowler: Kirk is overstating that a lot. It wasn’t my baby. It took a lot of people to raise the baby and a lot of people had voices and opinions. I mean, the meetings did get pretty contentious. But that’s not that different from a lot of things, whether you’re creating a song in a band or you’re making a movie or any kind of TV show. You have strong-willed people that have opinions. I did not win all those battles. That’s just complete bullshit. I felt good about the opportunity to express my opinion and also liked being challenged on it. It came down to the wire sometimes, some of those conversations. But it just mattered what got on the screen and what we delivered to the customer.

Scott Van Pelt (SportsCenter anchor): Fowler had command of the content in just an astounding way. As a host, it’s tricky because the audience demands you know as much as them. Which is not possible, but they demand it anyway.

Desmond Howard (analyst): You would think he’s looking into a teleprompter, reading everything. But he has index cards with bullet points jotted down on them that he may glance at every five or seven seconds—maybe. So much is up here in his head. It blew my mind.

Bruce Kaufman (former producer): His father was a theater professor. What I pulled out of that is preparation and knowing your lines. If he told me the roll cue was going to be “Bill Walsh at Stanford,” then that was the roll cue, and I would wait for him to say, “Bill Walsh at Stanford.”

Fowler: The fans of a lot of teams were going to watch the show. And if you felt your team was being neglected, you had the right to be mad. You were going to lose interest. So we tried to get as many games as possible in the show. We just wanted to show we knew they were out there.

Bob Eaton (former ESPN executive): He understood that the show had to be telling people things that they didn’t get elsewhere.

Fallica: We’re talking the fall of 1996 now. Internet, email—it was just coming to fruition. I was looking in a lot of books. I was tracking down old college football polls. I was standing at a fax machine downloading college football teams’ press releases for about two, three hours a day.

Stu Barbara (former producer): I think [Fowler] was very important in the development of Kirk. Because he was a TV rookie.

Herbstreit: He never wanted to take the easy road on a segment. He always looked at ways to challenge me as an analyst on a topic where maybe I didn’t really want to upset anybody. He would come at you in—I don’t want to say a combative way. But he would make the hair on the back of your neck stand up a little bit. Because for the sake of the segment, he was willing to be what I would consider borderline uncomfortable or rude.

Fowler: I wasn’t trying to be rude or obnoxious. I certainly wasn’t trying to make anybody’s hair stand up on the back of their neck. No, I think that’s what a host does. You have to sit there and imagine what the person at home is thinking. If somebody says something safe or predictable or that you’re hearing everywhere else all week long, you’ve got to be better than that. GameDay has to be better than that.

Herbstreit: I would be upset when we went to break. But he knew what he was doing for the show. Chris had that vision of being willing to take the show there and get uncomfortable and talk about things that weren’t always easy to talk about.

Bornstein: He was a driven guy. I would use that word more than ambitious. He just wanted to be the best. He cared and he gave a shit.

James: I guarantee he still does this to this day. He’ll talk to himself. You’ll see him over there in the corner. He’s rehearsing his open.

Gallagher: It was my first year, 2014, and we were in Fargo. We went out to dinner Friday night. We’re walking back down the main street, past our production office, and I look in the big, plate-glass window. In the back of the production office, there’s Chris Fowler, with the light on, poring over his notes. This is Friday at 10:00 the night before the show. I was like, “Ah, I get it. That’s what it takes. That’s how you do it.”

Part 3. 50,000 Bucks

In hindsight, the Notre Dame–Florida State game on November 13, 1993, was the perfect opportunity for GameDay’s first campus road trip. The game had the no. 1 and no. 2 teams in the country. It had Charlie Ward. But sending GameDay to South Bend, Indiana, to siphon off some of the game’s buzz wasn’t a masterstroke by ESPN executives. It was more like a great idea they let themselves get talked into.

ESPN always specialized in creating shoulder programming for big games that aired on other networks. If ESPN was too small to buy the broadcast rights to the Super Bowl or World Series, it could out-pregame its competitors. But sending such a show to an actual game site was expensive, logistically complex, and reserved for special occasions. College GameDay left Bristol only for bowl games.

Fowler and others pushed for a regular-season road trip because they had a hunch that a college campus on a Saturday morning could offer a more interesting backdrop to a studio show than a parking lot outside an NFL stadium. Fowler also wanted to give GameDay another reason to exist. In 1993, GameDay was a one-hour show that followed a block of hunting and fishing programming. GameDay shared a name with Chris Berman’s NFL pregame show. It was a blip.

For GameDay’s first campus remote, Fowler, Corso, and James set up inside the Joyce Center, Notre Dame’s basketball arena. A group of curious fans stood behind red velvet ropes, in front and to the sides of the hosts, invisible to the camera. If a viewer squinted very, very hard, and if they could hear the announcers, they might have realized that ESPN had backed into one of the best ideas in the recent history of sports TV.

Eaton: Very honestly, there was probably a question, if we hadn’t done anything, of how much longer the show would’ve continued. The ratings were not great.

Norm Hitzges (game picker): I don’t think anybody dreamed of what a monster it would become. I think everybody thought it was going to be a nice show.

Eaton: Chris really wanted to get out of the studio.

Fowler: Are you kidding? We were lobbying nonstop. We had taken the show on the road for bowl games. But to do it on a campus in the regular season was something new. And we had a real feeling this would work in this sport more than any other sport.

Bornstein: They used to come to me and say, “We want to take it on the road.” Every time I took it on the road, it cost me an incremental $50,000. At ESPN today, that seems like a no-brainer. But back in the ’80s, we were on the precipice of going out of business on almost a daily basis.

Eaton: The fiscal year was October 1 to September 30. So it was pretty early in the year to be blowing an extra $50,000 on something we weren’t sure was going to work.

Steve Anderson (former ESPN executive): The question was, what were you really going to get out of this other than maybe some PR?

John Walsh (former ESPN executive): Personally, I was against it because I knew what live television cost. It was like, “My God, what are we going to do about the budget?”

Fowler: At least those guys admit that they all didn’t think it was a great idea, that it was going to change the course of the show. Because that isn’t true. It took a lot of convincing.

Bornstein: I finally just said yes to get them out of my office.

Fowler: It took a game as monstrous as the regular-season finale of Florida State and Notre Dame.

Lou Holtz (former Notre Dame head coach): We were both undefeated. We were no. 1 and no. 2 in the country. It was late in the year. It would determine a lot about the national championship.

Corso: We didn’t have any hotel rooms. Florida State and Notre Dame was a big game, and we couldn’t get any place to stay.

James: We stayed at somebody’s house on campus. Fowler was on the third floor. They had this big, mean cat, and Fowler was blockading the door to his room so he wouldn’t have a cat attack.

Paul Finebaum (ESPN host and former GameDay contributor): I was at the Notre Dame game that day. I walked by there. It really wasn’t much. I don’t think we really gave much thought to it.

Fowler: Those fans were so hyped up for the matchup itself. They didn’t care that much about a pregame show. Obviously, that flipped around a lot in later decades.

Chris Lincoln (former director): We were indoors, in the basketball arena. We also had a camera basically pacing outside among the tailgaters.

Fowler: We wore lavalier microphones on our ties—not ideal for blocking out the noise in the very echo-y room. And it was not clean technically. How could it be? It was the first of its kind.

Bornstein: Back then, you could make mistakes and it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Today, ESPN tries something and makes a mistake, it’s subject to a lot of criticism. I had the luxury of people not paying that much attention.

Holtz: I didn’t even know they were going to be there pregame. But after the game, I visited with Bobby [Bowden]. I had so much respect for him. Then somebody from GameDay said, “Would you come be on our show postgame?”

ESPN

Fowler: Corso jumps up, gives him his chair, and tries to hand him his microphone. It was pretty raw live television. And Lou was more than happy to take a victory lap. What’s better than a coach jumping up on stage to celebrate a big win spontaneously? The crowd went crazy.

James: The crowd, the excitement—the three of us knew, we all knew, this is happening.

Corso: Once we went on the road, that was it. It was no question it was going to explode.

Eaton: Then came the discussions about, “OK, what do we do in the future?” When I had to do my budget for the next fiscal year, as I recall, I asked them for enough to do four remotes. We managed to find the money to do six. That was a big fight. But, eventually, Steve agreed to do that.

Bornstein: That would basically just be them browbeating me to give them more resources to do what they wanted to do. That show would be nothing if it wasn’t on the road. It wouldn’t be part of the cultural currency of college football if we didn’t put it on the road. I’ll go to my grave remembering that incremental 50,000 bucks.

Part 4. Sometimes, the Camera Really Likes You

In Corso and Fowler, ESPN had plucked two GameDay stars from virtual obscurity. In 1996, the network found another: Kirk Herbstreit, a 27-year-old former Ohio State quarterback. “Started out as just a little news guy out of Columbus, Ohio, that wanted a shot,” McAfee said in GameDay’s Columbus production office. “He sent in his little audition tape, didn’t think he’d get it. And now, all of a sudden, three decades later, he’s the face of college football.”

Herbie—as he became universally known—got his shot when James left ESPN for a job at CBS. James had butted heads with Corso in a style that predicted debate TV. “We used to pick games on Thursday nights,” said James. “And, man, he and I were competitive.”

When Herbstreit got called in for a GameDay audition, he’d performed just a year’s worth of ESPN assignments, including doing color commentary for Arena League games. He surprised executives by getting the job, beating out former Northwestern running back Mike Adamle.

On the GameDay desk, Herbstreit became, as former president John Skipper put it, the “dreamy former quarterback”—a smiling figure familiar from morning shows across TV. Within a few years, he imprinted his personality on GameDay just as Corso and Fowler had.

Fowler wanted GameDay to be a national show about a regional sport. Herbstreit was the ideal analyst for the task. He seemed like he watched every game and had every coach’s number—he became an example of what we’d now call a Football Guy. If Corso taught him the value of lines like “pickup trucks against Cadillacs,” Herbstreit nudged the show back in the direction of expertise.

The way Herbstreit treated Corso was important to GameDay, too. Herbstreit’s father, Jim, was a former Ohio State assistant coach. Even if they had a tricky relationship, as Herbstreit wrote years later, he grew up with a straightforward view of power dynamics. “They were the coach, I was the player,” he told me.

From his first appearance on GameDay, Herbstreit looked at Corso less as a pundit to do battle with than as a wise man to dote on. For the next 27 years, viewers watched Corso and Herbie speak to each other, even confess their love for each other, in a way that’s almost unknown on sports TV. This—not debate—became the voice of GameDay. These days, when Corso is doing a segment, the crew in the truck makes sure he’s in a two-shot with Herbie.

Herbstreit: I never aspired to be a broadcaster. I never thought, “Boy, this is my dream.” I just kind of stumbled into it, really. When I got out of school, a Columbus radio station hired me. I just thought I was going to be a sports talk show host. Then I got into some local TV. I put a tape together and sent it to ESPN, not thinking I’d even get a response.

Howard Katz (former ESPN executive): Al Jaffe, who was the vice president of talent at ESPN, walked in my office one day with a very raw tape from a kid who had just graduated from Ohio State. Sometimes, the camera really likes you. The camera just really liked Kirk Herbstreit.

Herbstreit: I worked the Arena League. In the middle of the season, [GameDay] brought me in for my audition. They brought in Chris Fowler and Lee Corso. I was just in awe of those guys from watching them. Now here I am on set with them.

Corso: He was sweating. He was sweating so bad that I put my arm around him. I thought he was going to drown.

Fowler: Corso and I were kind of glancing at each other like, “This guy is a puddle. But he’s also making sense. He’s making great points.” At the end of the audition, you really had a feeling like, “I’m not sure I know a lot about this guy, but he’s got it. If we could just mop his face down once in a while, he’s going to be a star.”

Corso: He was basically himself, and that was the thing that got him the job. That was the thing I liked about him immediately.

Herbstreit: When they called me months later and told me I got it, I about fell over. I couldn’t believe it. From what I’ve been told by some of the people that made the decision, they saw something with Lee and I that made them really go out on a limb.

Shapiro: Kirk Herbstreit went right from Tiger Beat to College GameDay.

Steve Sarkisian (Texas head coach): Kirk was doing GameDay back when I was playing. During my senior year [as a quarterback at BYU], I got invited to the Home Depot College Football Awards Show. I remember meeting Kirk and thinking, “Man, this guy’s just a couple of years older than me.”

Jay Crawford (Cleveland news anchor and friend of Herbstreit’s): It was fun to watch him change gears and go from his group of friends, a bunch of 25-year-olds having a great time on a Saturday night, to another setting with a bunch of corporate suits. He has that ability to read the room and craft all of his comments and interactions to whatever group he’s with.

Mark Gross (ESPN executive): I had a conversation with him at some point early on. I said, “If you want to be the voice of college football, you can’t say no to anything. If SportsCenter calls you on Wednesday about a story, you got to come on.” He’s like, “I’m in.” At that point, I knew he was going to be the guy. And he would never say no. I don’t even know if he says no now.

Chip Kelly (UCLA head coach): Some people are knowledgeable and they always want to let you know they’re knowledgeable. There’s a humility to Kirk. I’m on a text thread with him and Bear. He’s asking questions on a Tuesday about something that happened in an ACC game. “Hey, did you see this play that Wake Forest ran?” Very rarely when I talk to him are we talking about the team I coach. We’re talking about the game in general.

Chad Hanna (lead EVS operator): I remember some of our earlier techs. He would ask them, “How do you think that was? Did it go OK? Was that good?”

Overleese: When the headgear became so popular for Lee, Kirk and I were talking one time. He was like, “I need a deal like that. I need a shtick.” I just said, “I don’t think you do.”

Herbstreit: I’m not just going to sit there and be like, “OK, what’s my comment?” I wanted to learn TV. Around ’05 or ’06, I started to become a little more opinionated, a little more involved, take a little more ownership. It takes a decade or so until you feel like, “Hey, my opinion matters. I’m allowed to talk in meetings. They value what I think about the show.”

David Pollack (former host): I was doing a show called Fox’s ACC Gridiron LIVE. You haven’t seen it? My mama didn’t watch it, so I know nobody else watched it. I’ll never forget that I got a message from Kirk Herbstreit. He was like, “Dude, I can tell you got a passion for football. Have you thought about doing more of this?” Kirk’s the one who introduced me to folks at ESPN. Kirk does that for a lot of people, by the way.

McAfee: For some reason, which I’m very grateful for, he has taken a liking to me and my guys, and he has basically been the driving force behind me coming to GameDay. Yeah, I love that guy. I am very, very appreciative of him. And his baby blue eyes and his baby face are only getting better as the years go on, which is a glorious thing.

Peyton Manning (guest picker): With all he has on his plate, even now doing Thursday Night on Amazon, it’s like GameDay is absolutely nonnegotiable.

Corso: I told him from the very beginning, “You can do all the games. But don’t give up GameDay, where your face is showing.”

Fowler: A lot of GameDay’s early juice was built around Craig James and Lee Corso going at each other—and stating opinions loudly.

Fallica: Kirk was aware of what he did not want to be. And he did not want to be the guy who was up there to argue with Lee.

Herbstreit: I had a guy who was a feature producer and who had been on the show for a long time. I remember we were in New Orleans, and he pulled me aside and said, “You had a good first year. But you’re really not going to make it if you don’t change course with how you’re working with Corso.” I didn’t really know what he meant. He said, “Him and Craig, the reason they became stars is because they were very challenging to one another.” In my head, I was like, “I’m probably not going to keep this job.” I don’t have the ability to verbally smack Lee Corso across the face. I just spoke kind of deferentially: “You’re the coach, I’m the player.”

Corso: Like my son.

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Part 5. Crossing the Rubicon

Early Saturday morning in Columbus, the GameDay cast was tucked into a production office in the St. John Arena, near Ohio Stadium. Rece Davis, his hair and pocket square just so, wondered if the Aflac trivia question should be about the unexpected Midwest fall sunshine. Insider Pete Thamel asked for a status update on the breakfast buffet. If you walked out of the office and opened an exterior door, you would find thousands of Ohio State fans waving signs and singing along to songs like “Livin’ on a Prayer.” It was like being in the bowels of a civic arena before a rock concert.

During the late 1990s, GameDay pulled off a neat trick: It became a pregame show that got thousands of college students to turn up each week to stare at the backs of the hosts’ heads. GameDay took over Saturday mornings on ESPN, growing to 90 minutes in 2001 and then to three hours in 2013.

Part of this growth could be chalked up to the way the show had become a semiofficial arm of college football. It was partly due to the arrival of a new presenting sponsor, Home Depot, which paid production costs. GameDay also had good timing; it came of age when the Bowl Championship Series was nationalizing college football, driving fans and media members nuts, and giving the announcers a weekly argument to referee.

As it supersized itself, GameDay added more bits, more analysts, and more game picks for the gambling curious. A show that once had an exclusively male permanent cast hired reporters like Jill Arrington and Erin Andrews and Maria Taylor, who went on to big careers elsewhere. Like with any surprise hit, the question the show’s announcers and crew found themselves asking was, What exactly have we created here?

Fallica: When I started in ’96, the show didn’t even go up until the noon game. We were not on the road every week. It didn’t have a full-time sponsor. It was at a little bit of a crossroads, like, “If we’re going to do this, how do we make it bigger and better?”

Shapiro: When I was promoted to run programming, one of my very first moves was to say, “We’re going on the road every single week.” My CFO came back and said, “Mark, you understand that’s going to add another $2, $3 million?” I said, “Great. If you build it, they will come.”

Fowler: When you can show people in the Deep South what a game day was like in Eugene, Oregon, or at Penn State—they hadn’t seen that before. Then you show people up North, “Hey, this is how insane they are in Baton Rouge before the game you’re going to watch tonight.” I think that was eye-opening for a lot of people. I think it was educational.

Greg McElroy (ESPN analyst): It made you feel you were tailgating on campus with a bunch of people you’d never met at a place you’ve never been to.

Jill Arrington (former reporter): I remember the first game I did was in Baton Rouge. They put me in the middle of the crowd, which I don’t think they’d ever done before. I had this tiny little platform that was maybe 4 feet by 5, and I was elevated 2 feet high. There were so many fans surrounding me that we lost the signal. When they came to me live, I was just moving my mouth, and you couldn’t hear anything. That was my big debut. Then they realized, “OK, Jill needs a bigger platform.”

Fallica: In ’96 at LSU, somebody actually threw a golf ball on the set after Lee picked Alabama to beat LSU. It bounced right on the set in between Kirk and Coach. A couple of years later, there was an incident up at Michigan State where someone threw a frozen beer can on the set that just missed Kirk and Coach again and exploded all over the place.

Eaton: We had to put a screen up behind them so nobody would throw anything. That was, I guess, a measure of its popularity.

Herbstreit: When I first started on the show, it would be, “OK, we’re going to talk about Michigan–Michigan State. Kirk, what are your thoughts on where you might want to go with your comment?” Then you’d get on the show, and it would just feel weird. You knew what everybody was going to say. Somewhere along the way, we decided, “Let’s just not talk about what we’re going to talk about. We’ll just trust that we’re going to have an idea, and we’ll react naturally.”

Finebaum: The key to that show is that everyone understands their role. It’s like a rock band. Everybody knows who the lead singer is on a particular song and who’s doing backup and who’s playing bass.

Joe Iuliano (director): The camera operators are exceptional in that they will find the most unique fans. But I think the other secret to their success is their eye on all the signs. The signs for years have always been a major part of the show.

Bobby Mersed (the first fan to bring a sign to GameDay): September 17, 1994. UCLA at Nebraska. The third road show ever. I found a big, old piece of cardboard. I made a sign that said, “Hi, Kay and Art in Fairfax, Virginia” [Cornhusker fans he’d met at a road game]. I went down to Memorial Stadium here in Lincoln. There were people there—I’d say less than maybe 50. I just stuck out like a sore thumb. I held up my sign until the campus cops came over and told me that ESPN sent them there to tell me to put down my sign.

Fallica: I can remember being in Miami right when the Elián González story was going on. I remember seeing a sign behind the set: “Even Elián says, ‘Go Canes.’” I’m like, We’ve crossed the Rubicon here, and these signs are officially a thing.

Gross: The only drama was: Where are we going every week? And not everybody agreed with where we ended up.

Eaton: The programming side of ESPN said, “Well, we should only be going to ESPN and ABC games.” I and the other people involved with College GameDay—Barry Sacks, particularly—said, “No, we got to go to the best game of the day in order for the show to be credible.”

Barkley: When you go to GameDay, you know it’s a big game. They don’t ever go to shit games.

Bornstein: The rights holders, both pro and college, were concerned about illegal gambling. But they really didn’t care that much. So we always tried to serve that audience. I think we served it more directly on College GameDay than anywhere else.

Fallica: Chris Fowler and myself and Corso as well, we weren’t naive. We knew people were betting on games. We knew that we had a service we could provide. Maybe we wouldn’t say, “Hey, they’re laying 17.5.” But we’d be like, “This could be a lot closer than the experts think.” When everything got legalized, to [where I could] literally have a board with the spread, it really did open up a whole new world for the show. And for me, obviously.

Pollack: In 2006, I broke my neck [while playing linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals]. I was in a neck brace, maybe even a halo at the time. It was the year Georgia was fighting to go to the national championship. Kirk Herbstreit, that blowhard on television, said, “You have to win your conference to play for a national championship.” I was on my couch in my halo yelling at the TV screen. The next day, I called my agent and said, “Hey, if I can’t play football, I think I can do the commentating thing. I’m loud, I’m obnoxious, I’m opinionated. I check all the boxes.”

Howard: Some guys come in and try to boast about their résumé on the field. But they don’t have the same résumé on television. I looked at Herbstreit, Fowler, and Corso as the A team of college football. My whole approach was, I don’t want to mess up their chemistry. I just want to try to fit in.

Maria Taylor (former reporter): I actually went into [executive] John Wildhack’s office when he was still working at ESPN and I said, “I would love it if one day you guys believed that I would be capable of hosting a show like College GameDay.” I actually gave him that as an example when we were trying to map out my career.

Anderson: What happens with success on a show is we go from an hour show to a two-hour show to a three-hour show.

Gross: Ad sales wanted to extend it and, candidly, thought they could sell the show.

Eaton: We started trying to come up with really innovative features.

Jim Gaiero (producer): Before, we’d just do a feature on Joe Blow: “He’s good.” You’d do two and a half minutes. Then it became: “Joe Blow, his father died in a plane wreck.” The features became meatier, longer—real, true storytelling.

Steve Cyphers (former reporter): For a while, if you saw me, you ran and hid because all I did was sorrow and death. I wasn’t a guy to break down football. I did stories about the human condition.

Jen Lada (reporter): We’re trying to make you care about somebody or some team that you ordinarily wouldn’t because their colors dictate you shouldn’t.

Kelly: I’m not watching GameDay to get any insight on an opponent or a blocking scheme or anything like that. I think it’s the stories that are intriguing, where they go to campus for a couple of days and spend some time with a player that overcame adversity or a kid that had something going on in his life. You’ve just got to sit back and marvel at that because it’s real life.

Herbstreit: The industry changed drastically around us. If you really watch our show, we’ll disagree. It’s not like we’re all nodding our heads and agreeing. But there’s a way to disagree, I feel like, that’s real. It doesn’t have to be standing on top of the desk shouting down the guy that you disagree with.

Barkley: We got a lot of actors on television. These guys, they are who you think they are.

McAfee: When you’re in the NFL, every single NFL building has it on every single Saturday because we’re normally traveling, or we have a walk-through or something going on. That’s how we stay updated on all the teams. That’s how we know who’s playing who. That’s how many bets are made when one of our teams are playing against each other.

Gallagher: The GameDay crew are the unsung heroes of the show. To take this traveling circus around the country, set it up, manage the whole show, break it down, and drive across the country week after week after week is unbelievable.

Lindsey Lloyd (managing producer): I like to think I’m the air traffic controller, orchestrator—whichever word you want to use.

Lada: Lindsey Lloyd will never toot her own horn. But she is instrumental in every single segment of College GameDay. People just see us and they think somebody snapped their fingers and the set popped up.

Lloyd: At the University of Texas, we were right there at the stadium. You could see downtown in the background. They had construction that was going on downtown, and there was one of those giant cranes. The crane arm was facing in the direction that it was very much in the backdrop. We said, “I know it’s a big ask, but could you have that turned so it’s more dead-on and it’s not showing as much?” People got on it, called the city, had it adjusted.

Marisa Dowling (research producer): When people ask me what I do, I say it’s very much like being on a team. We’re in a season. We’re all working together toward one common goal.

Brooke Robinson (associate director): I don’t think people from the outside may understand the amount of preparation that goes in on those Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays to make sure everything on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday happens. I mean, on the flight home, you’re researching the next location.

Matt Garrett (coordinating producer): When I was moved over to GameDay, I talked to Kirk. One of the first things he said to me was, “In no way am I trying to say that this isn’t true for every show, because I’m sure it is, but this show really matters to the people who work on it. This is part of who we are. We’re not just working on the show. We are living the show.”

Last Saturday, when GameDay was in Ann Arbor, Pete Thamel delivered his scoops inside Michigan Stadium rather than at a spot near the GameDay set, where he would have been surrounded by Wolverines fans. Rece Davis explained that Thamel, who filed reports on the sign-stealing scandal that led to a three-game suspension for head coach Jim Harbaugh, had gotten threats from “lunatic fringe.” GameDay became a hit because it was a show that seemed to understand, even honor, the unruly passions of college football fans. But those passions made every GameDay utterance, every scoop or playoff opinion, subject to close inspection on message boards and social media. No college football fan has ever forgotten something an announcer said on GameDay.

In 1997, Fowler and his castmates reported that Michigan’s Charles Woodson had become a serious candidate to win the Heisman Trophy over Tennessee’s Peyton Manning. When Woodson won, Fowler got enraged letters and phone calls from Volunteers fans who thought ESPN had helped engineer the upset. Fowler, in a line he later apologized for, called the worst parts of the blowback a “trailer park frenzy,” which upped the ante even further. This was what it was like to be an announcer on GameDay.

Fowler: They were as mad as you could possibly imagine. There were threatening letters and notes. We went to Knoxville with a former college buddy of mine who happened to be involved in the FBI, helping out with security. It was pretty touch-and-go there for a couple years, but I think people eventually saw that I had massive respect for Tennessee.

Fallica: By the way, Chris voted for Peyton to win the Heisman.

Overleese: We actually did a show [in Knoxville in 1999] at the basketball arena. There were ramps and stairs behind us that basically created a buffer between him and the Tennessee fans. We intentionally put that buffer between him and the fans to keep him safe.

Manning: There were lots of conspiracy theories going on back then with ESPN and ABC and the Heisman Trophy voting. But I like Chris. Chris has always been good to me.

Fallica: I would help Chris sort through his mail. A Tennessee fan actually sent him a box of shit—animal shit. Which was a real nice gesture.

Fowler: I was shaking it. “Hmm, this is very suspicious. Here, Chris, why don’t you open this?”

Pollack: I just experienced that at the national championship with Nick Saban. I never thought twice about it. Me and Nick walked off the set and just said, “See you later, dude.” Then all of a sudden, you see the memes and people putting music to it and eye lasers.

Jess Sims (reporter): We don’t know where we’re going each week until the Saturday, sometimes the Sunday, before. I cannot wear the colors of either team. When it was Notre Dame–Duke, I couldn’t wear blue, gold, or another shade of blue. Then Notre Dame was like, “We’re going to wear green uniforms this week.” I’m like, “Awesome, you can check that off the list.” I wore a bright-red suit.

Davis: You know intellectually that you can’t take every little piece of criticism to heart, whether it’s personal or whether it’s “You hate my team.” But when you’re wired the way I am, well, you think the best way to reach people is if they like you. So the challenge for me sometimes is to know when it’s OK for somebody to be mad, and they’ll get over it.

Van Pelt: I always laughed at the people that got mad. “Oh, you’re in bed with the SEC.” I’d say, “It’s an orgy. Are you paying attention? We’re in bed with every conference in America, man.”

Corso doesn’t remember exactly why he wanted to put on the head of a mascot. Or why Herbstreit’s future wife, Allison, a former Ohio State cheerleader, was sent to procure one before GameDay’s October 5, 1996, episode in Columbus. The idea was straight out of local TV. For the performer who once played Dracula, the next logical role was Brutus Buckeye.

In 1996, there were no “breakout” clips on social media for the show to engineer. But Corso’s thinking wasn’t that different. He thought donning a mascot head might create a moment, something that would make viewers pay attention. It turned out to be the perfect kind of moment for GameDay, because viewers would have to watch the whole show to see it.

Corso: We were out on a Friday afternoon, and we were sitting around, Chris and Kirk and I. Brutus walked by.

Fowler: Before that, it’s hard to imagine, but Corso would put on a baseball cap, like some recruit who has chosen a school. Or put on a helmet. But no one put on mascot heads.

Corso: I said, “If I could put that on my head, it would really be different.” So I asked Kirk to get it.

Herbstreit: We called Judy [Bunting], who was the coach of the cheerleading squad, who Allison had a relationship with. She said no the first time we asked, and she was adamant. It was something that they take so, so seriously: You cannot have the Brutus head. So I went back to Ally again. It went all the way to the athletic director. Eventually, they cleared it, and they brought the mascot head to him.

Fowler: The Buckeye head is—can we say it, Ohio State fans?—kind of ridiculous. It’s a nut. His head is a nut. To put that on, I think it kind of intrigued Lee.

Corso: I didn’t say very much. I just put the headgear on and then gave it the Queen Elizabeth [wave].

Fowler: The second that he put that on his head and picked Ohio State, and they went ballistic in Columbus, that was one of the aha lightbulb moments in the long history of the show.

Van Pelt: Here’s an elderly man that 25,000 people are either going to love or wish something horrendous to happen to based on what Muppet head he puts on. On the surface, it sounds preposterous. But you and I are both chuckling because we both know what it is.

Gaiero: If you’ve got a great celebrity there who’s all in with Corso and loves the moment, it’s just TV gold. College GameDay basketball tried it with Jay Williams’s shirt. Didn’t work. Nothing on sports TV is like that.

Mack Brown (North Carolina head coach and former Texas head coach): He’s so competitive. He picked us in the [2006] national championship game against USC. He told me before the game, “Hey, my neck’s on the line, man!” I thought, Yeah. Mine too, Coach.

Van Pelt: He milked it. He was a performer. He embraced the role that “I am Zeus, I have the thunderbolt, and it’s coming at 11:58.”

Herbstreit: Even when he picked against them, they never really took it personally. It was more like he was a relative, like an uncle or grandfather to them.

Corso: Little did I know that I’d make a living putting something on my head. That was 27 years ago. Can you believe it?

Gaiero: There’s an understanding at ESPN that GameDay will go heavy. That’s why they moved the [noon] kick to 12:02 or 12:03. I had a couple of producers get mad at me. I’m like, “There’s an 88-year-old man who’s putting on headgear. I’m not telling him to speed up. By the way, you’re getting the best lead-in to your game that you’ll ever get.”

On October 2, 2004, when GameDay was at a Tennessee-Auburn game in Knoxville, Fowler turned to his right and introduced a guest. It was Charles Barkley, an Auburn alum in a Tigers jersey. Within minutes, Barkley told Corso, “Not so fast, my friend!”

Enlisting celebrity guest pickers was a way for GameDay to add a little luster to the donning of the headgear. See the Rock’s appearance in Boulder, Colorado, this September. Or the time Keegan-Michael Key, playing James Franklin, fooled Penn State fans into thinking their coach abandoned the team for a TV hit in Times Square. GameDay maintains a list of guest picker white whales: Barack Obama, Tiger Woods, Dolly Parton. But Barkley, who returned five times, offered a proof of concept.

Barkley: They’re like, “Would you do this?” I’m like, “Hell yeah. I ain’t got nothing else to do.”

Fowler: He was an Auburn guy at Tennessee. We thought, This has a chance to be some good theater. You know he’s going to pick Auburn, and it’s going to get the crowd riled up. It’s going to come right through the screen.

Fallica: He came on and played the heel, and he was great. And Auburn came out and absolutely annihilated Tennessee in Knoxville.

Barkley: I’m not going to lie. I’m a gambling guy. I’m studying football all the time. It wasn’t a heavy lift at all.

ESPN

Ruhlman: Bill Murray was the guest picker in [2013]. We get to the end of the show, and Corso is picking Florida State. He’s dressed up like Chief Osceola, and he’s got that spear. Bill Murray gets up, and he tackles him—literally picks him up WWE style and slams him to the ground. Afterward, somebody’s like, “You know he had a stroke and he’s like 70 years old?” Bill’s like, “Wait, what? I had no idea.”

Finebaum: I walked back to the GameDay bus, and there was Bill Murray. I mean, movies in the ’80s and ’90s, Saturday Night Live—nobody was bigger. He said, “Paul, Bill Murray.” Then he said, “I got a question for you. How did you get on this show?” By the way, it wasn’t a compliment.

James Franklin (Penn State head coach): We were playing Iowa [in 2017]. We got a bunch of nasty messages saying, “Well, how come Coach Franklin is in New York City away from the team when he’s got such a huge game today?” Literally, people were watching and thought I had flown to New York to do College GameDay.

Fowler: The first trip to Ole Miss in the Grove was my favorite GameDay ever in terms of pure enjoyment.

Ruhlman: Katy Perry had a bunch of corn dogs, and she wanted to throw them. We didn’t really want them to go everywhere. So as she’s making her picks, she’s throwing corn dogs to me and acting like she’s trying to hit the camera.

Fowler: Lee Corso put on the Big Al elephant head. Katy Perry reached over and ripped the elephant head off of Lee and just shook him. The look on his face, sitting there in his little bow tie and a Colonel Sanders seersucker suit, was priceless. He was shocked.

Lane Kiffin (Ole Miss head coach and three-time guest picker): Herbstreit gave me advice one time. He’s like, “Say something funny more than the exact reasons why a team should win. Pick the team because you like the airport in that area.”

Kenny Chesney (three-time guest picker): Oh, I put a lot of prep into picking the games. I pay a lot of attention to who’s really good and even what the lines are and the over/unders. Kirk and a lot of the GameDay crew, they know how many people are hurt. I don’t read up on that stuff.

Manning: You do your homework and call a couple of your college football insider guys that you trust and try to get some expertise. Because they show the pickers’ records every week. It’s one thing to have a bad day. It’s another thing when they show that bad day every single Saturday.

Barkley: You have to lie sometimes because you know your team’s not going to win. You know damn well they’re not going to win the game, but you still got to pick them.

Lloyd: The guest picker is one of my babies, from the start to the end of each week. When Matthew McConaughey was on his way to the site, I got a phone call from him. He said, “This is probably something you’ve never, ever dealt with before.” He’d lost some weight and didn’t have another notch in his belt. We’ve got a lot of engineers on-site. We were prepared as soon as he got out of the vehicle. We took his belt. We popped another hole in it. He was good to go.

ESPN

In the early 2000s, college football coaches realized that GameDay had acquired an enormous amount of power inside the sport. Nick Saban, Pete Carroll, and Mack Brown welcomed the show to campus, knowing they’d be paid back for the intrusion. GameDay got the access; the coaches got advertisements for their programs that they could show off to recruits, donors, and fans.

That mutually dependent relationship had a funny side effect. Coaches became recurring characters on GameDay, like the team mascot dancing behind the set. Coaches sat for on-set interviews a few hours before the game. Or, like Ole Miss’s Lane Kiffin, they did remote interviews from the stadium. Coaches like Kiffin keep coming back, no matter what anyone might have said about them.

Herbstreit: The year it changed was ’99, when we went to Virginia Tech. Frank Beamer was trying to build a program, from a regional program to a national program. He had a national player in Michael Vick. People in California, in Florida—they didn’t know what a Hokie was. They didn’t know where Blacksburg was. Well, Beamer looked at GameDay as a 48-hour infomercial on his campus.

Beamer: That’s the way I looked at it. Anytime you can get your brand on national TV and show what you’re all about, you can’t buy that kind of advertisement.

Nick Saban (Alabama head coach): We are sort of in the entertainment business, even though people wouldn’t like for you to say that because it’s college athletics.

McElroy: There was a real big, old-school faction of coaches that always viewed the media as the enemy. GameDay always felt like a friend. It never felt like traditional, hard-hitting journalism. There was some of that, of course. But it always felt like a place where the game would be celebrated, the university would be celebrated.

Finebaum: They always show up. And I think they show up because—little-known secret—by Saturday morning, there’s not a whole lot left to do.

Saban: There’s 10,000 things going on in your mind about the game [when you’re doing an on-set interview]. And then all of a sudden, you want to sit and act like you’re not nervous, you’re not anxious, you’re not thinking about all the things that could go wrong in the game, and you’re going to be a normal person for 10 minutes.

Brown: If I’m not in a meeting, I’m in my room watching GameDay.

Kiffin: It’d be really empty without it. It would be like—I don’t know—football without uniforms or something.

Gross: Funny story about Urban Meyer. He was the head coach at Utah. He called me and said, “What has to happen for you guys to come here?” I’m like, “Well, this has to happen.” He’s like, “You call me on Sunday. Not the [sports information director]. You call me to let me know if you’re coming or not coming.” It was decided we were going to go. On Friday, Urban had recruits lined up, taking tours through the truck and through the set.

Finebaum: It was in Athens [in 2013]. At the meeting on Friday, Chris Fowler said, “Let’s talk about Lane Kiffin [then the head coach at USC].” I started imagining in my mind what I could say. The moment arises. There were thousands of people behind me. I said, “Lane Kiffin is the Miley Cyrus of college football.” By the way, that’s a line I had already written out overnight. I didn’t just think of it at the spur of the moment. I said, “I’ll tell you one thing: If he loses tonight, USC probably ought to fire him.”

Kiffin: I did not see it live. But I know our president and AD who were in the same hotel upstairs saw it. So that wasn’t real helpful.

Finebaum: A couple of minutes later, the show ended. Nobody talked to me. Gene Wojciechowski just motioned to get in the car. I think he waited until we got out of the Athens city limits before he said, “What is wrong with you?” I get on a plane, fly to Birmingham. My wife said, “What is wrong with you?” I get home, finally go to sleep, and I’m convinced I’m done. I’m off GameDay. I wake up about 6:30 in the morning. I flip on the kitchen TV to ESPN and it says, “Breaking news: Lane Kiffin fired at Southern Cal.” All of sudden, there I was, calling him the Miley Cyrus of college football. I was asked to be back the next week, and I didn’t miss another week. I’m convinced they wanted to get me off the show. But after that, it would’ve just looked too bad.

Pollack: I remember it. I remember it got a reaction just like everything else would. But I didn’t necessarily care for it that much.

Finebaum: Two weeks later, GameDay was in Seattle, Washington. Kiffin breaks his silence.

Sarkisian (former Washington head coach): He came up to Seattle to stay with me for a couple of days. We were getting ready to play Oregon that weekend. I remember him saying, “Hey, I’m going to do GameDay on Saturday.” I said, “Is that really a good idea?”

Kiffin: I didn’t have very much else to do.

Finebaum: He did a really good job. I’m not sure whether he was trying to get a coaching job or get a job on GameDay, but I think it worked. I walk over to him. I’m not sure whether he’s going to say hello or take a swing. I say, “Lane, I’m Paul Finebaum.” He said, “I know who you are.” What’s amazing is we became fast friends.

Kiffin: Desmond Howard already told me he was nervous. So I went the other way with him.

Finebaum: He sent me a text the next day with his favorite Miley Cyrus song. I think it was “Wrecking Ball.”

ESPN has had its eye on Nick Saban for more than just an interview. The network sees him as a natural cast member. Ten years ago, as sportswriter John Talty reported in a recent book, ESPN tried to speed up the process and pry Saban out of college football.

Finebaum: This was 2013. I had just been hired by ESPN. It wasn’t long afterward that Nick Khan called and said he was going to be in Tuscaloosa. Nick Khan, the biggest agent in sports broadcasting in modern history, who is now head of WWE. We’re driving, and he informs me that he’s going to see Saban. Saban had just won the national championship. But you could kind of maybe sense that he was looking elsewhere.

Skipper: Every now and then, we would get somebody in the know who’d say, “Nick’s thinking about retiring.” He was about as good as any coach when he came on College GameDay. He was willing to say things. Absolutely, we always thought he would be great on the show.

Finebaum: A couple of months later, we’re in Pasadena for the national championship game. This is the year Alabama had lost to Auburn in the famous Kick Six. I’m supposedly having lunch with Khan, at the restaurant at the Langham hotel in Pasadena. There’s this long line of people in front of me. It’s like the opening scene in The Godfather, when everybody’s going to pay respects to Don Corleone. Finally, I get my 20 or 30 minutes with Nick, and he says to me, “I might have to cut this short. I got another conversation about to happen here.” I see John Wildhack, the vice president of ESPN, show up. I see Skipper, the president, show up. And here comes Saban. I vaporize into the air.

Saban: Man, 2013 is so long ago. I can’t remember anything. [Laughs.] Oh, man. I’m not so sure that it would be correct to say that I considered. I may have listened. But I never considered getting out of coaching.

Part 6. Sweetheart, You Need to Help Me Out

In May 2009, Corso was spending the offseason playing himself. As the guest speaker for a Midwest trade group that was giving out “awards in construction excellence,” Corso dispensed advice to Notre Dame’s football program and came to the defense of the Bowl Championship Series.

Back home in Orlando two days later, Corso found he was unable to recite the Lord’s Prayer. After he got his morning paper, he couldn’t speak at all. Corso was taken to a hospital, then flown by helicopter to another, where doctors determined he experienced a minor stroke. “I felt my tongue weighed 80 pounds,” he later told the Orlando Sentinel.

A few days later, in a statement released by ESPN, Corso was typically pithy about his condition. He’d been dealt a “‘not so fast, my friend’ in [his] game of life,” he said. He vowed to return to GameDay that fall.

Corso: The thing that upset me most is I made my living talking, and I couldn’t talk anymore. I went for about a month when I couldn’t even talk. And that was in May.

Gross: God, I remember Norby [Williamson, an ESPN executive] called me into his office. He told me Lee had a stroke. At the time, both of my parents were alive. That was one of the few times I knew somebody whose life was threatened. When I heard “stroke,” I was like, “Is he alive?” I wasn’t sure he was alive. I didn’t know until I talked to him.

Howard: I remember being in my driveway when I heard about it. It broke my heart. Everyone’s on pins and needles, trying to see if he’s going to be OK. And what’s the severity of the damage?

Fallica: It was well above my salary grade at the time. But there were certainly conversations had among decision-makers at ESPN and production management within the show: “If Lee can’t do this, what are we going to do?”

Corso: I made an oath to myself that I was going to be on College GameDay that year. I said, “Somehow, God, you got to give me praise and wisdom and faith that you’ll let me talk again.”

Gross: That was his sole focus: “I need to be on the show.” Everybody here was reiterating to him, “You’re going to be on the show when you’re ready to be on the show. We’re not putting you out. We’ll structure it to make it work for you.”

Skipper: He was prepared to let the viewers see him struggling, which I always admired.

Brando: He was extraordinarily confident. But to maintain that confidence, I think he needed that red light. He wanted it. He savored it.

Howard: I believe that College GameDay is his oxygen. It’s his baby. He lives for College GameDay.

Fowler: He told me the speech therapy was the hardest thing he’d ever gone through in his life. And the clock was ticking. The season was approaching fast. He would get incrementally better, but he would know, This is not good enough.

Herbstreit: Essentially, it’s like taking a pitcher who throws 98 miles per hour, has Tommy John surgery, and he comes back—and now he only throws 88, and he still wants to pitch in the majors.

Corso: I can’t be what I was before. I might be able to make it if I realize that.

Fowler: You knew it was going to be very challenging. If he had trouble expressing things in a quiet room on a Friday, what about doing it on a noisy set Saturday morning, live and unscripted, with tens of thousands of people screaming?

Ruhlman: Whenever Coach gets too excited, that’s when the words start getting difficult for him. Which is unfortunate, because when he’s excited is when the best energy comes out.

Corso: I was afraid I was going to make a fool of myself. That’s when Kirk helped me so much. When I screw up sometimes, he always knows the names of guys and makes me feel good. I felt confident that if Kirk was with me, that I could do it now no matter what.

Herbstreit: I just want to be there to assist, to help out, but not in a way that makes him feel like I’m trying to help him out.

Corso: I call him “sweetheart.” That’s the signal that I don’t know what the hell’s going on. “Sweetheart, you need to help me out.”

Ruhlman: You’ll see Kirk just reach his hand out and put his hand on Coach’s hand. Kind of help him calm down and get through the words he’s trying to say.

Fallica: Coach was a father figure to Kirk. Now you’re looking at the post-stroke era, where Kirk is there to take care of him and get him through tough spots.

Van Pelt: Lee was the dad. And now Herbie kind of is. Corso was there to help Herbstreit become a star. Now Herbstreit’s there to make sure that the star that is Corso is not diminished by anything and not besmirched by anybody.

Taylor: I think, in a lot of ways, they needed each other. The way Coach makes Kirk seem even softer than he is, warmer and fuzzier, because he’s there with someone who could be everyone’s grandfather.

Pollack: Coach, I don’t care what he says. I don’t care what he does. I don’t care if he just stands up there and smiles. That’s enough for me.

Part 7. Realignment

By 2014, Corso, Fowler, and Herbstreit had worked together on GameDay for 18 years, an eternity on TV. That fall, Fowler joined Herbstreit to call ESPN’s Saturday night prime-time game, along with the national championship game. From his first night in the booth, Fowler knew it would be tough to do justice to both jobs. After pulling double duty for a season, Fowler gave up GameDay after a quarter century.

Rece Davis, his replacement, was a dues-paying ESPN success story. He started doing updates for ESPN2 in 1995. For the next two decades, he joined the SportsCenter rotation and donned a judge’s robe for Final Verdict segments on College Football Final. Like Fowler, he came to GameDay with opinions, always delivered with a certain finesse. Whether he’s holding a Friday scrum with local reporters or passing out doughnuts to fans before the show, Davis is GameDay’s ambassador.

Game picker “Stanford” Steve Coughlin noted that Davis can steer the show through segments like he’s playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. There are few anchors who give off more delight after finding a nugget buried in the history books. Last month, Davis regaled viewers with a Henderson State vs. Ouachita Baptist anecdote—that happened to be about illicitly filming an opponent!—after discovering it during a summer research session. That’s a Rece Davis kind of note.

Davis: My contract was coming up, and I wanted as big a role as possible in the sport, whatever that meant. Chris was doing the Saturday prime-time game and also doing GameDay. That left me in a position of, “Well, where do I go?” My agent at the time, Nick Khan, laid out how he thought it was going to go and said, “Be patient here.” Executives at ESPN encouraged me to be patient. I don’t want this to sound like the executives promised me GameDay if I would settle down. And I didn’t go yelling and screaming at anybody or anything like that. But they let me know I was valued and that they felt like there was an important role for me in the sport.

Fowler: Calling games was what I wanted to do since I was 10 years old. GameDay was this beautiful, incredible accident. It was an amazing detour. I wouldn’t be sitting here if it weren’t for that show.

Davis: I didn’t feel any pressure from the performance standpoint. I’m a pretty confident guy in that regard. But you know this from watching any TV show in the world: You change the cast, and people are like, “Wait a minute, what’s that guy doing there? I liked the other person.”

Van Pelt: Maybe it’s just the Southern charm. But Rece has the ability to be critical in a way that is—“gentle” is not the right word. But I don’t ever feel like he’s bashing people.

McAfee: What makes Rece Davis awesome? Well, the way he pronounces his w-h’s is certainly one of them. I’ve asked him why he says that. And it’s because he’s one of the most prestigious gentlemen I’ve ever interacted with.

Taylor: He would probably be considered the teacher’s pet of GameDay. We would have our meeting on Friday morning, and Rece was the one being the studious person, taking all the notes, and really preparing for the show. I would watch what he would do. Because Rece is who I wanted to be.

Seth Markman (ESPN executive): He’s one of the only [hosts], if not the only host, I’ve ever worked with that goes back and watches every single show and sends notes to all of us on the show. Pages of notes that I get each week. And he’s not afraid to say, “Kirk needed to be stronger on this comment,” or “Desmond needed to go here.”

Mark May (former ESPN analyst): I thought he would end up leaving sports and going to Good Morning America or hosting a game show. Because he could do that easily.

Holtz: Final Verdict was his idea. He ruled wrongly sometimes, and that really upset me. I remember one time I threw over the podium that I had there. Even though I didn’t agree with him as a judge, his ability to act like a judge amazed me.

Dowling: One thing I always appreciate about him is that he asks questions. Oftentimes, when I’ve dug into the 100-year history of Alabama or Notre Dame, it’s because Rece asked me. He’ll only ask me for things he can’t do.

Pollack: When you say something stupid or when you say something that’s a little bit different, Rece is going to come back to you and try to save you. Rece is going to try to throw me a raft. He’s like, “Pollack, are you sure you want to say that? Are you sure you want to put your name on that?” And you’re like, “Eh, all right.” Rece’s big thing is, “Is it worth it? Is that something you want to say?”

“Stanford” Steve Coughlin (game picker): There’s the script that we think we have. Then the show starts, and Rece takes the keys.

After Corso kissed a helmet on the GameDay stage in Columbus, Pat McAfee made his entrance on the set. He was wearing a long coat, a large belt buckle, and boots. To one of the crew members onstage, McAfee said, “Sir, if you could make my teeth look whiter …”

Corso can sometimes resemble a WWE personality. McAfee has actually been one. On the air, GameDay often begins with McAfee working the crowd—in this case, leading a chant of “O-H-I-O.” Mid-show, the crew moved from its set outside Ohio Stadium to a desk inside the stadium, near the end zone. Walking behind McAfee and the GameDay cast with an escort of police officers is like participating in an embassy evacuation. People shouted his name. A couple of clever Buckeyes fans tried to sneak in with the group. Inside the stadium, McAfee instructed a fan in the stands who wanted a picture to turn around so he could take a selfie with McAfee in the background.

ESPN

Corso, Fowler, and Herbstreit came to GameDay as relative unknowns. McAfee, who played eight seasons in the NFL, arrived last year with overlapping careers in podcasting and wrestling, and as of this fall, he has a daily show on the ESPN mothership, where he conducts a weekly chat with Nick Saban. (After an Athletic poll gave him a low GameDay approval rating, McAfee tweeted that he was still deciding whether he wanted to be on the show long term.) By this season’s third episode, McAfee had invented the show’s newest bit: a field-goal-kicking contest featuring a fan. The prize money is his own.

McAfee: There’s only a few shows in the history of sports that you get an offer to join and it’s like a must-do. Obviously, Shaq, Chuck, Kenny, and Ernie have one of the greatest shows of all time. If for some reason I was ever to stumble into the basketball world and they asked me to be a part of that show in any capacity, you have to say yes to it. And in the football world, it’s College GameDay. It’s an institution.

Gaiero: I hate to say it: We were just an old show. He just made us younger. He made us hipper.

Saban: He’s totally a different personality than the other guys, which makes it a great fit, in my opinion. I always say I don’t want everybody [to be] the same on my staff.

Markman: I think the one thing Pat wanted to know was that he wasn’t going to get a bunch of producers telling him what to do. He’s got a little bit of a feeling of, ‘Keep the suits over here and let me do my thing.’ We knew that going in, and we agreed. “We trust you. You’re funnier than we are. Do your thing.”

Pete Thamel (reporter): I was doing a noon SportsCenter hit. He comes over and introduces himself. I’m like, “I need to look up these stats on passing offense or whatever. Can I come back to you when I’m done?” He slaps me on the shoulder. He goes, “Dude, you got this, man. Relax. Be a human. You’re the authority. People want your information.” He started calling me “the authority” from that point on.

Van Pelt: He’s not sitting there if Herbie doesn’t want him to be.

Herbstreit: A lot of what we do is impromptu. Especially last year with Pat. I mean, who knows where the show’s going?

McAfee: I think he understood that I probably wasn’t going to change. I don’t really have the talent to change or the skill to change. He was one of the biggest motivators in [saying], like, Hey, whatever you want to do, just do. Rece Davis as well. Whatever you want to do, do. Don’t be scared of anything. We can handle whatever. Just go. Herbie’s been a big voice in that.

Markman: As good as he is, I think he’s at times just wasted sitting in a studio. If we put him on Sunday NFL Countdown and sat him in a studio with a bunch of guys, he’d be fine. But he wouldn’t be this.

Garrett: I think he would tell you, “You can’t take the crowd for granted. They are an incredibly important part of the show, and we need to make sure we are treating them well or doing right by them.”

McAfee: It’s a very tight-knit group. I’m a pretty loud human. I don’t lack a lot of confidence. So I always wanted to get to the point though where everybody there respected me, and I thought if everybody respected me, then they would at least try to like me as a person. And that was a big part of it last year.

Like college football, GameDay finds itself in a transition period. Though the show added McAfee and other cast members, David Pollack and reporter Gene Wojciechowski departed ESPN during this summer’s company-wide layoffs. Lee Fitting, who had produced the show and then became ESPN’s executive in charge of pro and college football production, left the company suddenly before the start of the season.

Part of GameDay’s success was due to the fact that it had no full-fledged Saturday morning competitor for most of its history. Four years ago, Fox launched its own pregame show, Big Noon Kickoff, which set up shop in Columbus, not far from the GameDay set. Fox also hired away GameDay standbys Chris Fallica and Tom Rinaldi. This week, the two shows had a feud via press release about who got the bigger audience before the Michigan–Ohio State game.

The round of college football realignment GameDay finds itself covering was engineered at least partly by ESPN itself. The show got jeered when it aired a segment about historic regional rivalries that were being nuked. But ESPN’s more immediate concern is that the TV business is being realigned too. Shows like GameDay that made money during the high period of the cable bundle have the most to lose.

Franklin: Whether it’s television or whether it’s on their phones, all that matters to me—and I would think all that matters to ESPN and people who study these things—is: Are they watching?

Coughlin: I go back to Week 1. It’s Desmond and I going out at 7:30 Eastern to tape a SportsCenter segment. We’re in Charlotte. We go out, and the DJ’s pumping music, the place is packed, and I’m like, Oh, shit. I got to do a TV segment here. That was jumping into the fire.

Finebaum: College GameDay is literally part of the tapestry of college football. I know that because of being on the show one year and then being off the show the next year. The next year you’re on a show that no one has ever heard about and nobody cares about, and all they do is talk about College GameDay.

Skipper: It was working when I got there, and I didn’t break it. That’s my greatest accomplishment with GameDay.

Manning: When you have that continuity, you have those same guys that are going to be there every single Saturday, that makes a difference. That resonates with people.

Barkley: Let’s be serious. Most of the time, people just want shits and giggles. You could actually talk about bad crap all the time. But people don’t tune in to sports to hear bad stuff all the time. They just want to watch the game and enjoy it.

Fowler: Listen, man. I was wrong about a lot of things. If you’d been there in 1994 and tried to imagine what the show would become, you’d have looked delusional.

Sarkisian: Two years ago, when we played the Red River Showdown against OU, GameDay was there that day. It was the first quarter, and we’re in a TV timeout. I looked over, and I saw Coach Corso 10, 15 yards down the sidelines. I went down and shook his hand. I grew up watching him. You want to go up and give the guy a hug because I’ve been watching him do this for 25 years.

Before the kickoff in Columbus, Corso got ready for one final bit of stagecraft. He sat at the GameDay desk inside Ohio Stadium, the stripes of a Brutus Buckeye shirt just visible underneath his winter coat. For more than 15 minutes before his big reveal, Alan McDonald, one of GameDay’s runners, hid behind the desk, clutching a black garbage bag that contained the mascot head. On the air, Corso told Herbstreit, “Thank you for being with me all this time. I love you for it.” Then he picked Ohio State to beat Penn State, completing a three-plus-hour emotional zigzag.

That morning, Corso appeared on GameDay only three times. “We’re just protecting him,” Gaiero said. Last season, Corso missed five episodes after falling ill at Clemson in October.

After the show went off the air, Corso took off the Buckeye head. He raised his arms while GameDay’s staff lifted the shirt over his head, and he closed his eyes while they wiped the makeup off his face. He took a spot on the sidelines, shoved his hands in his pockets, and watched the game.

Corso: At Clemson, I couldn’t even stand up. I was bleeding from the inside. They took me to the hospital. Funny thing about that. They wheeled me into the recovery room and this guy said, “You’re here because you shouldn’t have said bad things about Clemson.” I swear, from that day, I’m never going to say a bad thing about Clemson.

Lada: I think it breaks Coach’s heart a little bit every time he’s not there. I know—and I think everyone knows, from watching the show all these years—how much college football defines him, how much he has contributed to the growth of the sport.

Gaiero: It made me fearful of the day that, God forbid, we’re on the road and he’s on the road and something happens at night or in the morning and he doesn’t show up. Sometimes, I have morbid thoughts like that. What’s that next show going to be? Because nobody can replace him.

Fallica: I do think it gave people—the producer and the coordinating producer and the college football decision-makers—kind of a little bit of a blueprint for the future, as to what could the show be like without Lee. Because, ultimately, that day is going to come, and that decision’s going to have to be made, and that path is going to have to be forged.

Sarkisian: I get it. Change is inevitable to some degree. But watching College GameDay and not having Coach Corso on there, not having him do his pick, it seemed different. It seemed odd.

McAfee: Sometimes I wish I could get the sense of joy that he has whenever he has an entire crowd cheering for him, knowing that in about 15 seconds, he’s going to have them all booing him on an absolute drop of a dime. It’s an incredible skill.

Terry Tallen (former Indiana Hoosiers team captain): He called me one day when Regis Philbin retired. In that energetic voice, he said, “Terry! Terry! Guess what?” I said, “What, Coach?” He said, “I’m the oldest guy on TV!”

Markman: There are certain people that have meant so much to this place—Dickie V, Coach Corso, Hubie Brown—that they deserve to tell us when they’re done.

Herbstreit: If Lee is feeling well, he’ll be on College GameDay putting on his headgear. That’s how we all view it.

Corso: Hey, it’s like stealing. Shhh. By the word, I’m the most expensive guy at the company.

These interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.

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