Every college football fan wonders what its like to be in the nationally broadcasted College GameDay. This week, Spartan fans and the few brave Buckeyes to make the venture to East Lansing got to go behind the scenes of ESPN’s weekly college football show. Die-hard fans of the show camped out at the stage as early as 8:00 pm the night before to get the game winning spot in the front row. Before the sun rose, football fans began to line up and cheer for their team while putting the finishing touches on their crafty signs. When the gates opened at 7:00 am on Saturday, September 29, the line, stretched far down Michigan State’s beautiful West Circle, began to cheer in anticipation for this once in lifetime opportunity to be the backdrop of ESPN’s nationally broadcasted show.
Security had a tough job Saturday morning as they inspected every football enthusiast from head to paper as their inspection included reading the hundreds of signs composed by fans. Any signs with vulgarity, personal ads, or political ads were not allowed inside the gate, as well as pencils, markers, or dry-erase boards to keep it that way. While the line was buzzing with excitement, inside the gates was a different story. Two hours before the show began, the atmosphere was surprisingly dead as the wait caught up to those who camped out and the early risers. Songs, reading each other’s signs, and the occasional “go green go white” cheer filled up the time.
As the 9 am airtime rolled closer, TV crew told the audience their expectations and the responsibilities of being on College GameDay. The most important rule they gave fans was to never let the energy die. Of course, when watching the program on TV, it looks as if that is the case, however this level of cheering is only surfaced when a camera is around. The producers would let audience members know when each camera would be filming and remind fans to be enthused on camera, however it was easy to tell when a specific camera was on because those in view would all erupt, yet those right out side of the range would be still and silent. At points in the day, it felt more like being an actor and an extra for a movie instead of a live entertainment show.
Finally the men of the hour began to present themselves as Kirk Herbstreit walked on stage. With a majority of those in attendance being Spartan fans and Kirk’s alma mater being OSU, he did not receive the most welcoming entrance as expected. The next to make an appearance on stage was Chris Fowler and then Desmond Howard, who attended and played football for the University of Michigan. Again being another rival in East Lansing, Desmond was also not very appreciated by the fan base, yet he handled it very well and laughed it off with a smile on his face. However, the crowd’s dislike of Desmond was relentless. Every time the camera gave Desmond a close up, the crowd gathered, including the Ohio State fans, would boo for the amount of time he was on screen. It was amazing that he could keep his focus on what he was saying and not let the unappreciative crowd break his concentration.
Fortunately, the crowd was not filled up completely with hatred. When Samantha Steele presented herself, the fans were clearly very excited to see her. As much as everyone misses Erin Andrews, who left the show this season, fans have accepted the fact that Samantha is now filling the big role but were all curious to see how she would do in this week’s live telecast. Already in week 5 of her new reporting job, Samantha looked very professional and experienced as she faced minor critiques about not handling the role as well as her predecessor.
The clock struck 10 am and the ESNPU segment ended, and on came Lee Corso. It was evident that he was the crowd favorite of the show by the tremendous amount of screaming and cheering as he made his way onto the stage. Well into his 25th year of being on College GameDay, Corso’s tradition of wearing his pick of the game’s headwear has become a highly anticipated part of the show. He smiled and waved to the crowd, then proceeded to pull out an MSU and an OSU helmet. Knowing how to handle a crowd, Lee kissed the MSU helmet and the crowd went wild. The audience wondered what he would do next as he picked up the OSU helmet. Lee looked at the helmet and threw it on the ground. The crowd went wild again and hoped his final pick would have the same result.
The ESPN show began and the atmosphere was booming. Cheerleaders were in the front of the crowd and their smiling could be seen in the background of the main stage, as well as the beautiful and historic Beaumont Tower right on campus. Soon the band even showed up to play a few of their pump up songs for those in attendance and it wouldn’t be a Spartan event without the potent Sparty being there to support is team and fans. At first it was expected that audience members would watch the show from the back, yet when the show started, it was realized that it was being broadcasted onto TV monitors spread throughout the area. For this reason, fans could tell which camera was airing and do their best to make their way into frame. Sign holders also enjoyed this because they would have their sign down until they saw a chance to get their sign in a camera view. It was funny to see a ton of signs in a section to all go up at once. Another amazing feature discovered from the monitors was the amount of digital imaging the network used. Those watching the show on TV consistently see real looking signs of video footage or banners with stats. However, being in the live audience, you don’t see those images put there, giving the shot a completely different look than on TV.
As the crew bounced between the two stages, it was intriguing to see what went on between takes. Live audience members got to see the hosts of the show laugh with each other and talk until it was time for the next segment. As the show continued the anticipation to see Lee’s pick grew higher and higher.
When watching at home, it was always a mystery how Lee could stash a giant mascot behind the desk without the crowd in the background seeing it. Visiting the set on Saturday this question was answered when a man from the crew came and sat behind the desk holding a big, blacked out garbage bag. Surprisingly, he was still sitting there when the camera again began to shoot the final moments of College GameDay in East Lansing. The already disliked Desmond stated that he picks Ohio State to top the Spartans in the upcoming battle and is again booed by the Michigan State fans in the crowd. Finally, as the moment everyone was waiting for, the audience grows quite and reaches for their cameras, and Lee begins to talk. He says, “I have a special place in my heart for Brutus. It was the first mascot head I ever put on 15 years ago, I can’t go against that” and the crowd begins to grow upset. Yet he cuts them off saying, “But wait a minute! I pick Michigan State to go to the Rose Bowl! And only a fool could go against that pick.” From this, the now hopeful crowd cheers and awaits the presentation of the Spartan head, yet the cheers are cut off when Lee continues his statement. “Well here goes a fool,” he says as the man behind the desk pulls out the object in the trash bag and hands the Ohio State head to Lee. The audience again shows the same disapproval as the year before when Lee picked Wisconsin to beat Michigan State and they didn’t let Lee forget the mistake he made last year when the Spartans actually proved him wrong with a Hail Mary to win the game. In all his time at College GameDay, Lee Corso has never picked Michigan State to win and fans have never seen him sport the famous Sparty head. Amongst the boos and the disappointed Spartan fans, the crowd began to disperse in preparation for the upcoming battle and high hopes that Lee would again be mistaken.
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