Like any sports fan, I grew up on ESPN’s College Gameday. I count it as my favorite television show. Last Sunday when the network announced that the show would be broadcast from the campus of the University of South Carolina I knew I needed to go. Even with work commitments later on that Saturday, I told myself right then and there that I would be making the 2.5 hour trip from Myrtle Beach to Columbia, South Carolina, for the best program in sports.
Yesterday I woke up bright and early at 3 a.m. By the time 4 a.m. rolled around, Sidney and I were on the road to Columbia. We arrived on the South Carolina campus at around 6:30 a.m. and walked to an area called “The Horseshoe” where the broadcast of College Gameday was going to take place. With it still dark out we walked past a large fountain and buildings before we converged on the Horseshoe. It was then that I saw true beauty: The College Gameday set.
Although not as many as I expected, there was still a good showing of South Carolina students staking out spots around the set. The set consisted of the elevated main portion in the middle where the cast conducts most of the broadcast. Then on each side of the main area was a smaller set complimented with a large screen that would feature the live feed of the broadcast once it started.
At the Horseshoe you could stand in several different spots, as areas were formed with Home Depot padding. Of course the most prominent place to be was the pit, the area right behind the stage. After realizing that the pit was open to the general public, Sidney and I went over to enter it. Initially I was denied entrance because I had a camera. Thanks to Sidney, she hid my camera and her purse (which was also prohibited) in her coat and we made it through on our second attempt. We found a standing spot about halfway up in the pit and the waiting game for the 9 a.m. broadcast started.
At around 8:15 a.m. a spunky female DJ took the auxiliary stage right next to where we were standing and started spinning beats to get the crowd pumped up. At about the same time, Chris Fowler (host of Gameday) came on stage in a t-shirt and shorts to check out the crowd. Anticipation started to build. David Pollack, a contributing member of the Gameday cast, came on stage to give a Sportscenter report. The former Georgia Bulldog was booed heavily. The show producer informed us that they would start taking some shots to use throughout the day. With cameras flying over our heads everyone got loud and proudly displayed their signs with hopes of getting on TV.
Ahhh yes, the signs. Throughout the whole morning it would be a constant struggle for the security team to remove inappropriate messages. Taking a team approach, a security guard would push through the crowd while receiving directions via radio on where the questionable sign was located. Upon finding the student with the boneheaded piece of poster board the security personnel would make no apologies about confiscating it. I saw one security guard angrily bulldoze through the crowd and bang the hard hat of a student (Home Depot is the show sponsor and they distribute orange hard hats) from behind to get his attention before ripping the sign from his hand.
As the show was minutes away from starting the cast started to come on stage. Chris Fowler (now in a suit), Lee Corso, and Desmond Howard came on relatively at the same time. Corso worked the crowd a little bit as he raised both the South Carolina and Missouri helmets before kissing the Gamecocks one. Kirk Herbstreit walked onto the stage a few minutes after everyone else. The producer gave us some instructions for the big opening shots of the show and then just like that it was lights, camera, action!
By the time College Gameday started, it was packed all around us. As it was live television, the show went on pretty much in the exact same way in-person as it would if you were watching it on TV. During the commercial breaks the DJ would play music and do her best to keep the crowd energized. Her effort wasn’t enough for everyone. Students who partied a little too hard in the wee hours of the morning started to leave their prime spots in the pit and go home. There was a period where they were dropping like flies. This allowed Sidney and I to make our way to the front. With the show at the 90 minute halfway mark, we were pretty close to the stage. By 11 a.m. we were second row. Sidney would become front row at about 11:30 a.m.
Thankfully we made it super close in time for guest-picker Kenny Chesney to perform live (whose song “Don’t Blink” is the inspiration for the title of this blog). Only one problem: He was on the auxiliary stage exact opposite to us. With the South Carolina and Missouri spirit squads filling the space that would have allowed us to see Kenny, we got a poor view of his “American Kids” performance. It really was the only disappointing part of the morning.
As I mentioned, by the final hour of the show we had positioned ourselves in prime territory. Not only were we a stone’s throw away from the stage but we were also getting on camera. By the time the most popular College Gameday segment came on, the show ending prediction portion, I was right in line of the camera’s fire. When the camera shot of Kenny Chensey and Lee Corso would go live, there was me waving and smiling. When Corso gave his show ending, exclamation mark South Carolina-Missouri prediction and the camera zoomed out to show him, Chesney, and Herbstreit, you could see me videoing the madness with my phone. With the crowd fired up by Corso’s erroneous thought that the Gamecocks would beat the Tigers (Missouri would win 21-20) the broadcast officially ended and the big screens went dark. Chris Fowler then turned around to face the masses and thanked us all for coming out.
ESPN College Gameday was an amazing experience for me! I loved the atmosphere and I loved watching the production side of what goes into creating the best show in sports. This was a bucket list item for myself and I am so happy that Sidney agreed to accompany me during it. My love for College Gameday is even more intensified now and I can’t wait to watch it next week. Don’t Blink.
– Besides passing out hard hats throughout the show, staffers also handed out t-shirts.
– I tweeted out a photo of a sign that read “We Want Washington State.” It was picked up by WSU fans and the photo went viral on fan sites of the school.
– Speaking of Washington State, I took a photo with the man who waved the Cougar flag during the broadcast. It is a College Gameday tradition for the flag to be at every site each week.
– We left for Columbia at 4 a.m. and made it back to Myrtle Beach just before 4 p.m. I worked the Coastal Carolina game later that evening.
-Following the South Carolina Yik-Yak peak on this particular day was a lot of fun.
– The best video segment of the show was the one that chronicled life for the wives of the SEC football coaches.
– For the most part, everyone around me was really cool.
– The Missouri cheer squad members were really gracious and took lots of photos for South Carolina students in the first couple of rows.
– Sidney and I were in an up close shot with about 10 other people that was supposed to welcome viewers back when the show returned from commercial break but it was killed by the show’s producers.