College Game Day vs. Michigan (9-1-18)

Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign – ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’ Comes to Notre Dame

More than a thousand football fans traveled to the Hesburgh Library Mall early Saturday morning.
They came via their own two feet, strollers, Hoverboards, Red Flyer wagons, scooters, skateboards, wheelchairs or Chevy Suburbans – to welcome ESPN’s popular “College GameDay” crew to the University of Notre Dame for its ninth visit to South Bend.
The former studio program first took its show on the road 25 years ago — in 1993 to Notre Dame on the day Lou Holtz’s second-ranked Irish upset number-one rated Florida State 31-24.
Since then “College GameDay,” now featuring hosts Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, Desmond Howard and David Pollack, has become “must-see TV” for college football fans on Saturday mornings and a bucket list attraction for many fanatics as it crisscrosses the country in a huge orange bus 15 times a season. Notre Dame has been part of “GameDay” 29 times, including seven times in matchups against the Wolverines.
Notre Dame students, and a few Michigan stalwarts, began arriving at 6:30 a.m. for the live three-hour show, which airs at 9 a.m. They came to stake out their tiny piece of turf in the coveted pit area behind the set so their homemade signs, a “GameDay” staple, could attract the attention of one of the 15 cameras used by the production staff.
That staging area can hold up to 600 people, but by the time the show finished at noon the lively and raucous crowd stretched all the way back to the reflecting pool in front of the Hesburgh Library. An overhead camera shot looked like a crumpled Irish flag with a mix of orange from the Home Depot hard hats and green from a variety of Notre Dame T-shirts.
The mass of humanity, which seemed to grow and gain energy as the morning went on, included more than a few celebrities – a University of Michigan stormtrooper, Wonder Woman, SpongeBob SquarePants, Freddie Mercury, T-Rex, a variety of leprechauns, a dozen or so young men in nuns’ habits, the crew from the four military planes participating in tonight’s flyover and former Notre Dame standouts DeShone Kizer, now a member of the Green Bay Packers, and Matthias Farley, who now plays for the Indianapolis Colts. Kizer and Farley sat in the Coke-emblazoned bleachers near the show’s second of three staging areas, the demonstration field, just a few seats away from a human-sized Notre Dame squirrel.
The 83-year-old Corso, always a crowd favorite, sported a green tie and riled up the crowd before airtime by waving the set’s gold helmet. He then set off a chorus of boos by lifting the Michigan helmet high above his head. But he redeemed himself with the Irish faithful in the opening segment by noting Michigan would have to overcome an “unbelievable atmosphere” during a night game at Notre Dame Stadium.
As the show opened, cameras caught a shot of 25-30 residents of St. Ed’s Hall leaping into the reflecting pool in their Speedos.
The crowd, unfazed by the early morning hour, whooped and hollered and held signs high on the stage manager’s cue.
Some of the more entertaining signs read:
“Harbaugh Thinks Hannah Storm is a Category 5 Hurricane.”
“This is a sign from God.”
“I’d rather be naked than wear khakis.”
“Rudy was off-sides.”
“I left my pregnant wife at home.”
“I swiped left at Michigan.”
“Catholics vs. Khakis.”
“Even Oprah has fewer giveaways than Shea Patterson.”
“Beat the Pleat.”
“Bless me Father for I have sinned – I fell in love with a Michigan grad.”
The largely Notre Dame crowd booed loudly the first time Howard, a former Heisman Trophy winner whose diving catch on fourth-and-one for a 25-yard touchdown against the seventh-rated Irish clinched a 24-14 Michigan win in 1991, offered his thoughts on the upcoming contest.
About 45 minutes into the show, “GameDay” correspondent Maria Taylor interviewed Irish head coach Brian Kelly to the cheers of the Notre Dame fans assembled. They were then joined by Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw as ESPN ran highlights from the 2018 NCAA Women’s Final Four. McGraw flashed her NCAA championship ring to the roar of the crowd.
Along with the signs, the crowd waved a variety of flags, including a Canadian flag in maize and blue and ones representing Clemson, Toledo, Stanford, West Virginia and Nebraska. Washington State’s Ol’ Crimson flag also made its 207th consecutive appearance in a “GameDay” crowd.
Fiddler’s Hearth, a restaurant in downtown South Bend, delivered its Irish fare to the hosts in the last hour with a bagpiper in tow.
Perhaps the biggest cheers came in the last segment of the show when country singer Luke Bryan, who performed at Chicago’s Wrigley Field later Saturday, emerged from his white suburban and strolled to the stage as this week’s celebrity guest picker with the Notre Dame Band of the Fighting Irish playing the “Victory March.”
And, of course, the crowd’s sense of anticipation grew for the show’s traditional close – when Corso dons the helmet of the team he thinks will win. The former Indiana and Louisville head coach disappeared from the stage for a few moments and returned dressed as the Hunchback of Notre Dame. But he sent the multitudes away happy as he predicted an Irish victory and danced the jig with the Notre Dame leprechaun.
It was just another Saturday morning of high jinks with the “College GameDay” crew in South Bend.
Karen Croake Heisler is an adjunct professor in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame. She is a former collegiate athletics media relations professional.