It’s 3 a.m. the morning of the Kansas-Missouri game, and I get a call from a friend who asks me if I’d be interested in going to Arrowhead Stadium to watch ESPN’s “College Gameday.”
She failed to mention that it was spitting snow and the temperature was hovering just above the freezing mark in Kansas City.
I hesitated at first, because I had plans to spend what remained of the Thanksgiving holiday with my family, 270 miles away. But it was “College Gameday,” a show that I’ve probably watched every college football Saturday since junior high. I couldn’t pass up a chance to see Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso at work.
I arrived in Kansas City at 5 a.m. My nerves were jittery from all the coffee I had on the trip from Sedalia. As chilly as it was, when I saw Arrowhead Stadium, I felt an adrenaline rush through my body that instantly helped me out of any tiredness.
The sun was still an hour from rising, and fans were already beginning to gather around the Home Depot-decorated gates that enclosed the fan pits behind the Gameday stage.
As frigid as my toes were getting, I began wondering if the trip was worth it. Then, out of the November crisp air, a silver Lincoln pulled up yards away from our small gathering of Mizzou fans.
For some strange reason, everyone in the group stopped and turned to look at who was going to step out of the back of this luxury car.
The average height man, wearing a white dress shirt, black tie and blue jeans, hopped out of the backseat like a teenager going to his first prom. He still had sleep caked in his eyes, but his smile told us all he was ready to entertain and inform.
As Lee Corso approached us, I reached in my pullover pocket for my cell phone, hoping to get a picture. My phone battery only had one bar left and that meant no picture taking, so I simply stepped forward with my friend and shook Corso’s hand.
While shivering from the cold, he said to us, “You guys are crazy to be out here this early in this sort of weather. But, thank you.” He started walking toward his trailer, but stopped, turned, and gave us all a parting thumbs up and toothy smile.
An hour before air time, Mizzou and Kansas fans herded through the gates in unison, all trying to get the best spot up front with the hope of being on camera. Nasty signs were confiscated by security at the entrance. Mizzou fans brought an abundance of signs targeting Mark Mangino’s heft.
A few less crude examples include: “Mangino ate my baby,” “Mangino bleeds Ragu,” and most memorable a sign with Mangino’s head on a certain Austin Powers character’s body that read, “Arby’s, get in my belly!”
Tasteless, yes, but still funny.
As Gameday went live, Mizzou fans were rather unkind to the Kansas cheerleaders when they did their stunts behind Corso and Herbstreit. They would yell crude remarks like ... well, some things are best left unwritten. Kansas fans were pretty passive and reserved compared to Mizzou fans.
The highlight of the show comes at the end of the telecast when Lee Corso makes his game-winner prediction by putting on the mascot head of the winning team. What I had waited for a hundred Saturdays, watching on television, I was now seeing from the crowd’s perspective.
The Gameday crew rolls the mascot head, encased in a black box, down the divider of Kansas and Mizzou fans and takes it up on stage during the last commercial break. They put the box, draped with a black sheet, next to Corso. A crew member even hunkers down behind the show’s desk and holds the box level with the desk, choreographed so the audience at home sees the mascot head at the exact time the crowd does.
Corso picked the Tiger head, which set off an ear-piercing howl all around me. Corso was right.
As much as I’ve hated some of his picks in the past and his love for Notre Dame, from that Saturday morning on, Corso, an ESPN icon, will be forever cool in my book.