As of Wednesday morning, ESPN’s College GameDay crew knew who Lee Corso will pick to win Saturday’s Iowa-Iowa State and didn’t know who the GameDay guest picker will be.
Even if he had both answers, GameDay producer Jim Gaiero said he would never tell us. Those two secrets are always payoffs near the end of the three hours of GameDay.
While we wait to see which of the two teams’ mascot heads Corso will don to indicate his show-ending prediction for the contest, the GameDay people are working fast and furiously to put on a production.
On Wednesday, reporter Gene Wojciechowski was working on a feature about the history of the Cy-Hawk Trophy. ESPN’s crew will begin to build the show’s set Thursday, outside Iowa State’s Reiman Gardens on the south side of Jack Trice Stadium.
“We have fun with it,” Gaiero said Wednesday by phone. “The show lives by a mandate from Lee Corso: It’s entertainment, sweetheart.”
Some weeks, the best location for GameDay is pretty clear. Last week the show was in Austin, Texas, as a lead-in to that night’s LSU-Texas game. That was a gimmee. This week’s site wasn’t determined until last Saturday.
“It depended on last week’s results,” Gaiero said. “There was a very good chance if Syracuse had beaten Maryland, we’d have gone to Syracuse for Clemson-Syracuse. Then Maryland thumped Syracuse. There weren’t many outstanding games this week, no top-10 matchups. We knew then that barring Iowa losing to Rutgers, the Cy-Hawk game was right there.
“Once we made the decision, we got the ball rolling.”
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That meant changing the flights of GameDay director Rodney Perez and an operations crew from Syracuse to Ames, then having Perez quickly determine Ames’ best spot for aesthetics and logistics.
“Rodney gets a vision to see where the best scene will be. Last year we went to Washington State and he put the show in sort of a valley that made it look like a natural amphitheater.”
Planning the show’s content starts on Sunday. “We look at all the games that week, the features, the larger elements, and get the ball rolling,” said Gaiero.
“How do we make sure the crowd is as engaged and is as big as possible? How do we make the energy come through on television for three full hours?”
For ESPN and 49 states, Iowa-Iowa State obviously isn’t an Ohio State-Michigan or Alabama-Auburn.
“A lot of the country doesn’t know about this game or really appreciate it,” Gaiero said. “Our job is to showcase this rivalry, the players, coaches, communities.
“I think one of my favorite shows was last year in Pullman, Washington, because the community was so wonderful and we explained why College GameDay came to Pullman, the importance of the flag (every week, someone shows up in the GameDay crowd waving a Washington State flag), the community.”
Gaiero didn’t hesitate when asked why he thought Hawkeyes-Cyclones would be a good game for his show.
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“Sometimes,” he said, “it hasn’t been the greatest game. This week, it’s a great game, the best game out there.
“The Iowa program is sometimes overlooked despite being as good as it is. And what Matt Campbell has brought to Iowa State is phenomenal, instilling a culture.
“I produced a bowl game when Matt was at Toledo. We were at a coaches’ meeting, and I thought ‘This dude gets it.’ I could see why people would play for him.”
Another thing that doesn’t hurt: “Iowa State is one of 11 Power Five schools that hasn’t hosted GameDay yet.”
Ohio State has hosted GameDay 18 times, Alabama 13, Michigan 12. Fans there still love it, but a novelty, it isn’t. Gaiero enjoyed being told this thing will be nutso in Ames.
“It’s one of the most fun shows on television, not only sports,” he said. “Part of the reason is we’re willing to take chances, to laugh at ourselves, and to have fun. Sometimes we’re too serious in sports. We can have fun.
“If we can make people think, laugh, and sometimes cry — make them a little emotional — we’ve achieved our goal.”
Also, Gaiero said, “I think when we’re done with the show we’ll have explained why this game in Iowa matters to the viewers.
“We’re jacked up about it.”
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