Students turn out in force for ESPN’s first ‘College GameDay’ in Evanston since 1995


Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

ESPN analyst Lee Corso predicts Ohio State as tonight’s victor by donning the head of Brutus Buckeye. The call garnered loud boos from the NU crowd.

Joseph Diebold, Campus Editor

Moments after 8 a.m. today, viewers across the country heard ESPN host Chris Fowler open the first broadcast of “College GameDay” from Northwestern in 18 years.

“These hardcores have waited their whole lives for a game like this, a program that in decades past was laughed at, picked on, put down, pushed around,” Fowler said. “It’s revenge of the nerds these days.”

ESPN’s college football preview show, which airs every Saturday from the location of a top game, set up this week on the Lakefill, ahead of the Wildcats’ matchup against Ohio State at 7 p.m. The show’s visit marked its first time in Evanston since NU faced Iowa in 1995, although it also broadcast from Wrigley Field in 2010 when the Cats took on Illinois.

With signs ranging from irreverent (“Kanye named his baby after us”) to academic (“Urban Meyer cites Wikipedia”) to slightly vulgar (“our endowment is bigger than yours”), students packed the pit behind the show’s set well before the sun rose over Lake Michigan.

At the end of the show, ESPN analyst Lee Corso predicted Ohio State as tonight’s victor by donning the head of Brutus Buckeye, garnering loud boos from the NU crowd. Brent Musburger (Medill ’62) was featured as the show’s guest picker, coming out in a custom purple No. 5 jersey. Musburger did not make a selection for the game because he will be the play-by-play analyst for the ABC broadcast.

A who’s who of NU names visited the “GameDay” set. University President Morton Schapiro and athletic director Jim Phillips chatted with guests. Football coach Pat Fitzgerald was interviewed on the show and Mike Greenberg (Medill ’89) and Mike Wilbon (Medill ’80) offered their picks at the end of the broadcast. Both alumni predicted one-point NU victories.

Although scattered rain and thunderstorms were forecast throughout the morning, the weather cooperated, keeping everyone in attendance dry — except NU’s men’s swimming and diving team, which took a dip in Lake Michigan. The last time the show visited Evanston, a blizzard forced the broadcast to air from Welsh-Ryan Arena.

At a news conference Friday, “GameDay” producer Lee Fitting said tonight’s game had been a potential destination for months. The decision was finalized last week after Ohio State knocked off Wisconsin, guaranteeing a matchup of undefeated teams.

“It’s not always the best game of the week,” Fitting said. “Most people think it’s the best game, but I like to categorize it as the best story of the week. And this happened to be the best story and the best game, sort of kill two birds with one stone.”

Fowler said at the news conference that unlike in 2010, when the Wrigley game was featured, this morning’s show was all about NU.

“This is just regular old ‘GameDay,’ no novelty, just a place we haven’t been in most of the students’ lifetime, but that makes it great,” he said. “That energizes us when it’s been a long time since we’ve been at a place.”

— Joseph Diebold