GameDay At The Coliseum--A Personal Journey
Oct. 15, 2004
by Robbie Ellison, Sports Information Student Assistant
For the last 11 years, ESPN College GameDay has been the show to watch for the serious fan of college football. The program and its hosts Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso are like a traveling rock band, with devoted throngs following them wherever they go. Wherever GameDay is, that's where the eyes of college football are fixated.
However, there is something missing in the GameDay road show. That's because in 11 years, it has been to the West Coast only twice. And -- until last Saturday -- it had never been to a USC game at the Coliseum.
That's what was on my mind late one Wednesday night last spring in USC professor Jeff Fellenzer's 'Sports, Business and Media in Today's Society' class. Esteemed ESPN reporter Shelley Smith was the guest speaker for the evening. Ten minutes into her talk marked the beginning of my six-month journey of hard work, hope, and experimentation. Smith seemed a little agitated when she spoke about the truth behind the 'East Coast Bias' and talked about how GameDay traditionally snubs the great schools out in the Pac-10. Smith added that someone should make an effort to draw ESPN to the Coliseum. Apparently, last season's AP national championship on top of nine other national titles, five Heisman Trophies, 21 Rose Bowl victories, and two BCS bowl victories in two years--not to mention USC's No. 1 ranking--weren't enough to bring GameDay to USC.
'I have tried telling the GameDay staff about the excitement involved at USC's home games,' Smith said. 'Just to walk through campus to the Coliseum is a thrill.'
So, I spoke with Smith the following day and had a letter to ESPN drafted that night. Then, I created a student petition and a petition for the Presidents of USC's campus organizations to sign. I hoped that would show ESPN that USC would welcome a visit from the GameDay crew.Getting students to sign the petition wasn't as easy as I had anticipated. A close friend of mine, Harlye Maya, offered to help. She was the only one. We went to every fraternity and sorority, every one of our classes and even stopped students on campus asking, pleading for their signatures. Many students simply kept walking. I e-mailed every campus organization president that I could, asking for their organization's support. Most of them never wrote back. I met responsive presidents at Tommy Trojan for their signatures on consecutive days for about three weeks. At the time, I hoped that six months from then, I would be walking past Tommy Trojan on the way to the Coliseum to attend the set of College GameDay.
Maya and I continued our quest until we garnered more than 1,000 student signatures and the signatures of 30 student organization presidents. I still felt like I could do more. A Daily Trojan column about GameDay and my cause certainly helped to create some buzz on campus about the show's possible visit to Troy. It also made my life easier because students that I was soliciting for signatures had heard of the petition and became eager to sign.
Toward the end of 2004 spring practice, I heard that Herbstreit would be at Howard Jones field to do a feature on Pete Carroll. I attended the practice and held my breath as I approached one of college football's top analysts. I told him about my efforts and was pleasantly surprised when he thanked me for doing what I was doing. I was nearly floored when he took out a piece of paper and gave me his office phone number and e-mail address.
Just a few days later, Maya called me with the idea of writing a Student Senate Resolution seeking support for our cause. So, she drafted a resolution and we went before the Student Senate, explaining how ESPN GameDay could benefit our campus. Student Senate voted 12-0 in favor of our resolution.
Nearly six months after I printed out the first petition, I put the finishing touches on the package that I would be sending to Bristol, Conn. Shelley Smith had the notebook, which included the petitions, the resolution, the Daily Trojan article, and cover letter and she had them couriered to the GameDay staff's first meeting.
'They (the GameDay staff) were absolutely stunned when they received the petitions,' Smith said. '(Producer) Mark Gross couldn't believe all the signatures and was amazed that someone went to all that trouble for his show. They really underestimated the fans at USC.'
On the Sunday before the California game, the decision was made to bring GameDay to the Coliseum. Of course, word soon spread like wildfire and we did our best to get the information out, putting up flyers all over campus. There was even a story in the Los Angeles Times about the petition drive.
I attended the set of GameDay on Friday afternoon with Shelley Smith and met Herbstreit, Corso and Fowler just before they filmed their SportsCenter segment. I asked for Herbstreit's prediction on USC-Cal and he said that the team with the ball last would win. (Good call.) I got to meet the entire production staff and I thanked Fowler for his paragraph-long shout-out to me in his www.espn.com column.
The next morning, I arrived at the set at 5:45 a.m. By 7:30 a.m., the place was a zoo, with an estimated 5,000 fans. Just before he went live, Fowler addressed the audience and personally thanked me for my efforts. The best moment of the day (besides Aaron Rodgers' incomplete fourth down pass in the final seconds) came when Corso gave his prediction for the game by donning a Trojan helmet and stabbing a toy bear with a sword and the already rowdy crowd entered into a state of delirium. It was beautiful.
Later, Fowler told me it was the best atmosphere they had seen in the show's 11-year history and that they would definitely be back. He thanked me and again I felt as if I was caught in a dream.
Last weekend's events were the best sports experiences I have ever had as a spectator. While aware of the fact that top-ranked USC hosting No. 7 Cal in a grudge match helped, to know that I contributed to a unifying and extremely successful day for the USC community and Los Angeles is very gratifying. Thank you to the best college football fans on the planet who helped make this day truly one-of-a-kind.
After all, someone had to look out for No. 1!