By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. -- If you are one of the millions of fans that watches ESPN's College GameDay religiously to start your Saturday morning, you know that the first three weeks of this year's program have had a SEC feel to it. When it comes to the SEC's relationship with the Worldwide Leader's popular pregame telecast, the history goes back almost two decades.
Rewind to November 11, 1994. The sports television landscape then was much different than the wide scale coverage of the present. College GameDay was in its infancy, an idea yet to explode into the fan phenomenon it is today. It was then that the program first travelled to SEC country, choosing to go live from Birmingham's Legion Field for the 1994 edition of the famed "Iron Bowl."
That particular game, which featured both teams in the top 10, saw Alabama capture a 21-14 victory, ending their in-state rival’s 21-game winning streak. GameDay was there, starting an SEC relationship that continued as the league's march to prominence grew.
A study of the show's visits over the past 18 years illustrates the point further. According to the current conference affiliations, to date, ESPN's flagship college program has featured an SEC team 79 times, including the first three weekends of the 2012 season. The GameDay crew of Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, Lee Corso, David Pollack and Samantha Steele rolls into Knoxville, Tenn., this Saturday for Florida’s and Tennessee’s SEC East battle.
While college athletics continued to evolve during the mid-90s, College GameDay found its niche as the morning hub for the passionate college football fan. With Fowler directing the action on set, the Corso-Herbstreit combination became immensely popular at the time, with the former coach and quarterback sharing insight on the day’s slate of games. That popularity continues today, as Herbstreit serves as the analyst for the day’s primetime matchup in addition to his duties on set.
Corso has become a cult hero, announcing his final pick of the show (usually the matchup the show is in attendance to see) via headgear, wearing everything from vintage helmets to mascot heads to show the crowd his selection. That segment has become an institution, signifying the end of the show and the start of the college football day.
GameDay the show has turned into GameDay the experience, a bucket list item for the most ardent college fans across the country. Being a part of the show, either with a well- placed sign or colorful outfit, is a must if ESPN is in your town. Nowhere is that more evident in the SEC, as virtually every university has had the chance to be a part of College GameDay’s history.
Florida leads the way in most appearances by a school, with the Gators having been a part of the program on 34 occasions. Three other SEC schools are in the top 10 all-time in appearances as Alabama (23), LSU (19) and Tennessee (18) make the list. Saturday’s matchup will mark the eighth time that GameDay has traveled to Knoxville’s Neyland Stadium. The Florida-Tennessee game has been featured a total of seven times on both campuses.
The SEC’s biggest rivalries have served as great backdrops for the ESPN show, as a collection of well-known grudge matches taking center stage throughout the years. Matchups between Florida and LSU, along with the aforementioned Iron Bowl have been popular regular season venues for College GameDay to visit. When it comes to Championship Week, the Georgia Dome and Atlanta have had several opportunities to host the show, including last year when LSU captured the conference hardware.
Even the “new” guys have had their close up with ESPN’s bright lights, with Missouri and Texas A&M having hosted in the past few seasons. Put it all together, and the SEC has forged quite the bond with the roving production, a trend that has continued into the 2012 season.
With Saturday’s presentation of Florida-Tennessee, the conference is a third of the way to its all-time high in GameDay appearances. Back in the 2008 season, nine different league matchups were featured on the ESPN program, culminated by Florida defeating Oklahoma 24-14 in the BCS National Championship Game. The crystal ball win kept the SEC’s title streak alive, a mark that stands at six championships in a row today.
Much like ESPN’s College GameDay, the SEC has grown from a well- founded idea to an unstoppable force in college football. GameDay has been there to chronicle the journey, and the two have made history alongside each other for nearly two decades.
With the popularity of the show and the SEC’s dominance at an all-time high, it is safe to say that while the two aren’t related; their success has gone hand in hand.