Kirk Herbstreit Talks to Bleacher Report About GameDay, Lee Corso and More
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His day begins before the sun comes up and ends well after midnight. In between, it is controlled chaos, regularly starting in one time zone and ending in another. There are crowds, signs (some brilliantly done, others a Sharpie train wreck), live animals, gunshots, car rides, plane rides and, of course, football.
A typical Kirk Herbstreit Saturday is far from routine, but ESPN’s college football utility man is comfortable in the bedlam—and the roles—he embraces.
“If you would have told me in college that I would be doing this for a living, I would have been just floored,” Herbstreit said. “It’s tiring, it’s taxing, but I love every second of it.”
Each week he is at a different destination, and oftentimes he is at two. He co-pilots the televised tailgate that is College GameDay, breaking down the day’s action in front of thousands of energetic tailgaters as they rise. Later on that evening, he is in the booth, co-piloting ABC’s prime-time telecast with Brent Musburger.
Sometimes this booth is a quick jaunt from the GameDay set; other times it’s more than 1,000 miles away.
In the case of Week 5, Herbstreit spent his Thursday in Columbus. He sat down with Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer prior to his team’s game against Wisconsin. Herbstreit went to practice, watched film and continued to prep for the week ahead.
On Friday morning, he was off to Athens, the site of the GameDay telecast before the LSU-Georgia game. More cameras, more recording, more film analysis and more preparation. He slept—the most valuable commodity come fall—and was up at 6 a.m. ET for a full Saturday.
After another rousing edition of GameDay—one that included his longtime partner in crime, Lee Corso, putting on the LSU Tigers headgear backward to close out the telecast—Herbstreit exited the set, hopped in a car, boarded a plane and was back in Columbus in a matter of hours.
This double-location duty is a reality roughly six times throughout the year, according to Herbstreit. And while the coordination for such midday moves may seem like a scramble, ESPN has it down to a science.
“I literally come right off the set of College GameDay and there’s a car waiting,” Herbstreit said. “A lot of times there is a police escort to help get me out of there as fast as they can. ESPN flies me to wherever I’m going, and there’s a car waiting for me when I land. They make it seamless how I go from one spot to the other.”
Throughout his time on the road and in the air to various campuses, one thing stays constant: Herbstreit is always connected, staying abreast of the latest football results and happenings throughout the day.
When GameDay is at the same location of the prime-time telecast, this is much easier to accomplish. If grounded—as he will be in Week 6 for Ohio State-Northwestern in Evanston, Ill.—Herbstreit will spend his Saturday afternoons on the now infamous Home Depot bus, consuming games between gigs on the five flat screens this magnificent mobile football palace has to offer.
When he is on the move, this can be more of a challenge. It’s his job to do so, of course, but it’s more than that. It’s his passion.
“I’m a junkie with it,” Herbstreit admitted. “The one thing that gets me through the lack of sleep is watching games. I love watching the games. I don’t care if it’s on Wi-Fi or refreshing Gamecast on my phone. I will do whatever I can to stay up with it in real time. And then, once I land from the plane, I am sprinting to get to the hotel as fast as I can so I can catch up.”
Buried between these police escorts, miles moved, minibars, Wi-Fi passwords and lobby gallops, there is a balance. And he’s not alone in his efforts to keep it.
Much of the work that goes into getting Herbstreit to and from various locations involves the diligent work of the people you don’t see on a weekly basis—the ones behind the camera who put on the weekly spectacle. They ensure that Herbstreit gets from Point A to Point B.
Both on and off camera, Herbstreit has also had the privilege to watch, learn from and work with college football and television legend Lee Corso.
Corso, of course, has become college football’s unofficial mascot. His weekly ritual of picking a team by putting on the mascot’s headgear (and so much more) marks the beginning of yet another day of games.
Herbstreit, 44, has had a front-row seat for it all over the past 18 years, sitting beside the man he calls Yoda because of the immense knowledge he has obtained over time. The relationship and obvious connection the two have on television, however, is only the beginning.
“You can tell by the way I talk to him that he’s an analyst, but really he’s become almost a family member,” said Herbstreit, a father of four. “I picked his brain about being a father, and I really value that. We’ve built a tremendous rapport off camera.”
On camera, there is also plenty of interaction, and Herbstreit isn’t just a bystander like the rest of us. Oftentimes he is involved in Corso’s magical antics whether he likes or not.
When the GameDay crew traveled to South Carolina last season, Herbstreit was warned about Corso’s final “prop” for that particular visit. This was unusual, although they felt it was necessary in this instance.
“I purposely try not to know what he’s up to so then I am genuinely surprised by what he’s doing,” Herbstreit said. “However, when we were in South Carolina, I was told that this rooster he was bringing out could attack and was dangerous, and our staff kept telling me to be careful. ‘This thing has spurs!’ It ended up being very tame and I looked like an idiot. “
Well, you be the judge.
Beyond roosters, puppies and other live animals that have gotten on set, Herbstreit has sat inches away from other non-headgear items, like prop guns that Corso fired to make his pick.
“You have no idea how loud these guns are,” Herbstreit explained. “They are stick-of-dynamite loud, not just M-80 loud. In fact, I’d rather hold an M-80 in my hand than have one of those guns go off in my ear.”
The noise is never-ending, the chaos is weekly, the hours are hard to comprehend, and the 24-hour stretch can be insane.
Yet even without knowing what his mentor will greet him with next, where he’ll be the following weekend, how many hotel stops it might include, or how many planes it may take to get there, Herbstreit is a football junkie living out his dream.
“I am so lucky to do something that I love," Herbstreit says.
Adam Kramer is a lead writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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