Wednesday, September 23, 2015

'College GameDay' a major coup for Cats - as in University of Arizona


Publisher's note - Arizona is my alma mater...

If your school is selected to host ESPN’s “College GameDay”, it’s like somebody scheduled a parade and everybody you know is going to be there.

About two million people climb out of bed every Saturday morning to watch the show and it almost never disappoints. It’s Army-Navy, Kansas-Missouri and in 2001, 2001, 2008 and 2009 it was Texas-Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry.

Eleven hours before Saturday’s Arizona-UCLA kickoff, GameDay will be live on the UA mall.

“It’s cool,” said UA junior nose tackle Sani Fuimaono. “It’s what I used to wake up to watch when I was in high school.”

GameDay goes beyond cool. What’s a good word? Nirvana. It’s got to have a little music to it.

GameDay used to be snooty. It used to be Alabama-Auburn and Nebraska-Notre Dame, and an excessive diet of Wolverines, Volunteers and Buckeyes.

But over the last 15 years, GameDay has become monument to all the people of college football. It has given us Harvard-Penn, Army-Navy, Southern-Grambling and, believe it or not, North Dakota State-Incarnate Word.

The NDSU Bison hosted GameDay twice. That’s one more time than Arizona State, whose lone appearance as a host was in 2005. (The Sun Devils lost to No. 1 USC, 38-28).

“It’s gonna be big,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said Monday. “I’m tickled to death they are here.”

GameDay was once the center of all “East coast bias” in college sports. Its first 24 locations were so far from the Pac-12 that when it finally erected a stage for the November 1998 Oregon-at-UCLA game — its first game at a Pac-12 venue — that the crew looked around Pasadena and realized “hey, this is where they play the Rose Bowl!”

But until Pete Carroll turned USC into a powerhouse, GameDay went 49 consecutive shows, from early 2001 to late 2004 — without a Pac-12 host.

All of that has changed. USC has since been host to 10 GameDay shows; Oregon eight.

Arizona and Stanford have twice been hosts. No other Pac-12 school has had more than one hosting role; Washington State and Cal have none.

“Just to show off our campus and the city of Tucson; it’s all positive,” RichRod said.

ESPN won’t divulge the identity of GameDay’s much-anticipated “guest picker” until Saturday.

In 2009, when Arizona lost 44-41 to Oregon in its Tucson GameDay debut, the guest picker was Olympic swimming gold medalist Amanda Beard. She was underwhelming, to put it politely.

Perhaps this time GameDay will fly Arizona alumnus Bob Baffert in from a California race track. Or maybe Steve Kerr can squeeze in a visit before the Golden State Warriors open training camp. They would fit nicely with the list of guest-picking celebrities that have ranged from Ken Griffey Jr., father of UA receiver Trey Griffey to Alice Cooper and Bubba Watson.

The appeal of GameDay is now part of America’s football fabric. This is Year 23, but ESPN didn’t always have such a willing audience.

When ESPN decided to televise the 100th meeting between Division III football rivals Amherst and Williams, the Lord Jeffs against the Ephs, the Amherst administration of 1985 balked.

They left the decision to football coach Jim Ostendarp, who famously said “we’re in the education business, not the entertainment business.”

You almost expected a poetry reading.

Twenty-two years later, the Ephs and Lord Jeffs met again, a showdown for the 2007 Little Three championship, and when ESPN’s GameDay crew erected a stage three days in advance, the population of Williamstown grew and grew and grew, from 2,500 to almost 14,000.

People camped on every available plot of grass near the Massachusetts-Vermont border.

When the ESPN people flipped the switch early Saturday morning, downtown Williamstown was transformed into a mobile fraternity party. Dozens of people dressed in purple cow costumes (the Eph mascot is a purple cow). Others held signs that said “FEAR THE COW” and “AMWORST MUST GO.”

On Saturday morning at the UA mall, scores of bleary-eyed Wildcat fans will sway behind the GameDay stage. If you’re going to be part of the crowd, jot down these words and put them on a red and blue sign:



The original wildcat mascot arrived on campus October 17, 1915, and was introduced to the student body the following day at assembly in Herring Hall.


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