ESPN’s College GameDay has been visiting campuses for more than a quarter-century, but Saturday was the first time the revered show had ever been to the University of Minnesota.
It was nice of Mother Nature to pretty much write the script for how the show would play out visually.
The three-hour broadcast from 8-11 a.m. Saturday illustrated the elements – as expected and as it should – after a fresh round of late November snow left Northrop Mall looking like a gorgeous winter wonderland.
Fans rowed a boat in the snow early in the show, before there was a cut to a snow-covered TCF Bank Stadium.
Soon, we were back on Northrop Mall looking at shirtless guys (one of whom had an axe shaved into his chest hair) – and my two young daughters were cackling and yelling at the TV for them to put their shirts back on. And then we saw a snowman with a large thermometer hung from it.
The on-camera talent was bundled up – though host Rece Davis eschewed gloves. If they were uncomfortable, they tried not to show it or talk about it. Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso commended the fans for their “bring it on” mentality when it came to the weather.
Those fans brought signs. So many signs. Among the ones that were most visible in the background of the set: “Fleck the Badgers,” “Badgers are just fat skunks,” “Badgers eat yellow snow,” “GameDay is now Elite,” “If you don’t row you better axe somebody” and the deadpan “Never been this good, don’t know what to write.”
There were a lot more that were somewhere between too obscure and too inappropriate to print – which meant they were perfect for GameDay.
Fans chanted “Row the Boat” and – strangely – “who hates Iowa/we hate Iowa.” At least that’s something about which Minnesota and Wisconsin could agree.
Of course, GameDay is about more than the live shots. Tons of features were worked into the Rivalry Week edition of the show, including a long one on Gophers coach P.J. Fleck and how he has built up the program here.
Fleck later appeared live on the show talking about the Gophers more – and explaining once again the meaning of “Row the Boat.” He was joined by Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders – a Minnesota alum, Gophers fan and good friend of Fleck.
Fleck said in the leadup to Saturday: “I’d like to be able to have the largest crowd GameDay has ever seen somehow, some way.” That sort of thing is hard to quantify, but the throng on TV looked quite impressive and was often lauded by the crew.
The show worked in an obligatory shot of Mall of America and also a slightly more subtle Minnesota touch by coming back from break early in the 9 a.m. hour playing “Juice” by red-hot artist Lizzo.
Oh, yeah, there was plenty of football talk as well. Herbstreit asserted that if the Gophers beat the Badgers and Ohio State, they will make the College Football Playoff.
And former Gophers wide receiver Eric Decker joined as the celebrity guest picker, bursting out of a building on campus to a hero’s welcome. Decker’s Gophers never beat the Badgers, but his optimistic energy seemed to match that of the crowd.
“Minnesota is taking this thing home!” Decker declared after picking the Gophers to win — cheers surpassed only when Corso donned the Goldy Gopher head after also saying Minnesota would win.
Then it was over, leading to the best question of the day: What does one do for 3.5 hours to sustain the buzz of GameDay before the biggest game on campus in more than a half-century?