TUSCALOOSA - I’ll be honest: I was late to College GameDay. But it was a Saturday and no reasonable person other than an ER doctor or Jon Gruden should be awake at 7 a.m. on the weekend. The ESPN college football pregame show tentpole made its first trip to the University of Alabama in two years for this year’s installation of the LSU-Alabama rivalry this weekend, and it was an experience. This wasn’t the 2011 “Game of the Century,” but the buzz was similar.
“It’s LSU and Alabama, and that's become as much a fixture of GameDay as any game,” College GameDay host Chris Fowler said. “This has been as meaningful a rivalry in the big picture as any in the country.”
A marginal crowd had amassed in front of Bryant-Denny Stadium, in full view of bronzed statues of former Alabama coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant and current Alabama coach Nick Saban, and behind a mass of steel scaffolding and television screens that had been assembled in the days prior. This crowd was dressed, ready, probably drunk, and came with signs that said things like “Les Miles created healthcare.gov” or “TIGERS BLEAUX” or “I spit game like Lou Holtz.” But instead of wading through a crowd that cheered at every image of something red and booed at every mention of the words “LSU,” “Auburn,” or “Tennessee,” I was able to get backstage and watch the entire show from a designated media perch, three feet behind the stationary cameras that were broadcasting the show watched by millions each weekend.
If you’ve ever been to any sort of television show taping, you’ll know that most of what is seen is largely manufactured. The cheering, laughing and other things that should happen organically, are created by a man with a headset waving his arms around, signaling the crowd to react. College GameDay is no different. When Lee Corso put on the head of Alabama’s elephant mascot Big Al, the fans didn’t have to be coaxed into yelling their approval. But hooting and hollering coming in and out of a commercial is not normal behavior, that’s TV magic.