ESPN's College GameDay rules

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Nov 09, 2007



(Ed. Note: this piece originally ran on Nov. 10, 2007.)
 
ESPN's College GameDay is the best football show in the country.
 
Maybe that's not a Cold, Hard Football Fact. But until there is a way to do a comparative analytic analysis of pregame shows, we'll stick by the statement.
 
On a network that seems more interested these days in celebrity worship than fun, authentic, organic sports reporting, Colllege GameDay stands out as perhaps ESPN's best, most entertaining broadcast week after week.
 
If you're not into college football or not familiar with the show, the basic premise of College GameDay is this: they broadcast outdoors from the site of the biggest college game each weekend, with screaming nuts behind them adding plenty of atmosphere to the proceedings. In some instances the crowd is rocking before sunrise, as was the case in Eugene last Saturday for the big Arizona State-Oregon game. It's an impressive production, as well as an impressive display of multimedia market integration for key sponsors (but that's a story for another day).
 
The program is loaded with great features from around the country, the hosts know their stuff and the raucous crowds that fill the road shows make for a perfect showcase for the college game. (Plenty of interesting signage each week, too, like the Washington State flag that's always flying high over the middle of the crowd, no matter where they're broadcasting. No truth to the rumor, by the way, that CHFF intern and Wazzu student Mark Sandritter is behind the flag's appearance.)
 
And today's show was awesome, one of the best they've ever done. Here are three reasons why.
 
ONE - "The Biggest Little Game in America"
With Rivalry Saturday still a week away, the College GameDay crew took a break from big-time football to visit – get this – the Amherst-Williams game in Williamstown, Mass., a little village out in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.
 
F'in awesome.
 
They could be outside any big arena in the country – and they usually are. Instead, for one week at least, the crew tips their cap to the small-school lifeblood of the game, and visits the "Biggest Little Game in America" and a rivalry that dates back to 1884 – three years earlier than Michigan-Notre Dame, 15 years before Army-Navy.
 
Amherst and Williams are two of those exclusive little liberal arts colleges that dot the New England countryside. But they've been playing football in that part of the country for a long, long time (the game we know today had its origins with "the Boston rules" developed by Harvard). Amherst and Williams are perennial D3 powers in several sports, including football. And one of their rivals in the New England Small College Athletic Conference is Wesleyan, the program that produced the Bill Belichick cadre of coaches. Football is important at these little schools.
 
Their nicknames are pretty neat, two. Amherst is known as the Lord Jeffs, named for founder Baron Jeffrey Amherst. Williams is called the Ephmen, of Ephs, and also named for its founder, Ephraim Williams. Both Amherst and Williams were heroes of the British Army in the French & Indian War.
 
The schools are also among the very best academic institutions in the nation. The average SAT score at Amherst is 1430, at Williams it's 1420, according to ESPN. These are true student-athletes. They also turn out some pretty exclusive alums, like George Steinbrenner and Prince Albert of Monaco.
 
College GameDay treated the Lord Jeffs-Ephmen match-up with all the attention they usually afford to bigtime contests elsewhere in the country. The best feature was a clip of a Williams tradition: when the Ephs beat the Lord Jeffs at home, the whole team marches across town, in uniform, to St. Pierre's Barbershop where they shave their heads, smoke cigars and, said host Chris Fowler, "probably have a few beverages, too."
 
TWO - Farewell, Orange Bowl
College GameDay also did an awesome retrospective on the Orange Bowl, which will host its last major game today, with Miami playing Virginia. The Hurricanes move to Dolphin Stadium next season.
 
The Orange Bowl opened in 1937 and has really been one of the nation's signature arenas, witnessing far more than its fair share of great college and pro football teams, great games and great moments.
 
For great teams, there were all those Miami national title winners, not to mention two Super Bowl champion Dolphins teams, including the undefeated 1972 club.
 
For great games, you have to start with the 13 college football champions and five Super Bowl champions crowned on the Orange Bowl turf, including the N.Y. Jets who beat the Colts there in Super Bowl III. 
 
And for great moments, where do you begin? The was Miami's memorable win over the unstoppable Cornhuskers in the 1984 Orange Bowl, Doug Flutie's Miracle in Miami just 11 months later, not to mention countless other magical moments too numerous to mention here.
 
And talk about an arena with a homefield advantage. The GameDay crew didn't get into this, but it just occurred to us that the Orange Bowl was the site of the longest home streaks ever in both college and pro football.
  • The Hurricanes won a major-college record 58 straight home games at the Orange Bowl from 1985 to 1994.
  • The Dolphins won an NFL record 31 straight home games at the Orange Bowl from 1971 to 1974 (the NFL record books says 27, but does not include Miami's four home playoff wins over those four seasons).
The Hurricanes' record in big games at the Orange Bowl was truly amazing. According to ESPN, Miami was 24-0 at home when ranked No. 1 in the nation, and 6-1 in the Orange Bowl when playing the No. 1 team in the nation. Beating the No. 1 team at home in six of seven opportunities must be a mark unmatched in history.
 
THREE - The GameDay Crew
The College GameDay crew probably has the best chemistry of any broadcast team in sports.
 
Chris Fowler, the host, holds it all together with great command of the broadcast and great knowledge of the sport. Kirk Herbstreit, a former Ohio State quarterback, has turned into one of the most visible and most important analysts in the game, the one whose word carries the most weight around the nation. Lee Corso, a former Florida State quarterback, plays the roll of comedian, but is a treasure trove of historical knowledge and a time-capsule of college football history himself.
 
Herbstreit has an interesting gig.
 
Not only does he host College GameDay on location each Saturday morning, he's the color man during one of the ABC primetime games Saturday night. It makes for something interesting road trips. Last week, he wrapped up the broadcast at the University of Oregon at noon (ET) and flew six hours cross-country to cover the Florida State-Boston College game in Chestnut Hill, Mass. at 8 p.m. He arrived at campus just an hour before kickoff. Today, he leaves Williamstown at noon and heads to Stillwater, Oklahoma to cover the Kansas-Oklahoma State game tonight.
 
Corso, meanwhile, is always full of amazing anecdotes. After the Orange Bowl feature today, the Miami native talked about playing a Florida high school state championship game at the famous arena back in the 1950s – in front of 50,000 fans.
 
Corso went on to play quarterback at Florida State and brought up another anecdote about the time he led the South into the Blue-Gray Game at Montgomery, Alabama. Playing for a who's who of southern coaching legends, he became "the first quarterback in the history of the South to get shut out in the Blue-Gray Game," he said. His team lost that day to a Blue squad led by Purdue's Len Dawson, a future Super Bowl champion and Pro Football Hall of Famer.
 
Great cast. Great features. Great knowledge. Great show, folks.
 
And every now and then you get a moment like this you can only get from live TV: Corso dropping an f-bomb on national television. Awesome stuff.
 
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