Horned Frog fans take in 'GameDay' visit
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Quarterback Andy Dalton was just thankful to have a DVR.
The junior, who helped lead No. 4 TCU to a 55-28 victory over No. 14 Utah on Saturday night, knew he wasn't going to get to see ESPN's "College GameDay" live, much less go anywhere near the set on Saturday morning. But Dalton didn't want to miss all of the Frog fans waving their signs and cheering.
"I've had the TiVo set for a while," said Dalton, as he stood in the campus commons area at TCU on Friday, the day before the game, and took in the scene. "I can't believe they came here. It's exciting to be at TCU and be a part of this. We're getting national recognition. When I came here, I never thought 'GameDay' would come too."
After TCU beat BYU in late October, freshman Beau Tiongson thought there was a chance "GameDay" would show up. As soon as word came down last Sunday, he was busy working on signs and planning an all-night stay to be sure to secure a prime spot. Tiongson even brought out a couch, television and Nintendo 64 from his dorm room so he and his friends could be more comfortable.
"We wanted to see if we could get on TV and have some fun with it," said Tiongson, who skipped a few classes Friday to keep his spot, along with friends Lindsey Bailey and Adam Riddell. "It's an historic event. How could we miss it?"
Tiongson wasn't the only one with that thought. Fort Worth mayor Mike Moncrief dropped by campus Friday afternoon just to get a look at the set and meet the crew.
"This is a huge deal for our city," Moncrief said. "This gives TCU and Fort Worth national exposure. We know what great fans we have here and now the country is seeing it. 'GameDay' is huge. It's a show that so many people plan their Saturdays around. To have them here says so much about this football team and the school."
"GameDay" arrived on campus Wednesday, a little earlier than normal because they'd never been to TCU, to meet with school officials and work out logistics. The stage area, which took up a large part of real estate near the student union and included a view of Frog Fountain, was constructed Thursday. That's when the "GameDay" bus arrived.
Streams of fans took turns snapping photographs in front of the orange bus, which includes a picture of Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Chris Fowler and Desmond Howard. It's something Bobby Stephens sees at every stop. Stephens, a 62-year-old retiree from the U.S. Navy, has driven the bus for seven years. Inside are leather couches and chairs and six televisions with satellite so that the talent and crew can watch games on Saturday if necessary. Jackson figures he puts an average of 23,000 miles a year on the bus, traveling all over the country.
The on-air talent doesn't arrive until Friday morning. Howard, Herbstreit and Fowler go on set at various times for live and taped shots for use on "SportsCenter" and other shows. Friday afternoon, coordinating producer Lee Fitting runs the pre-production meeting, going over the rundown of the show. It's the first chance all of them get to talk about the various college football topics they want to discuss and how the show is going to go.
About 30 minutes into a two-hour meeting, TCU coach Gary Patterson walked in with his wife, Kelsey. He greeted everyone in the room and thanked them for coming. Fowler and Herbstreit peppered Patterson with some questions, utilizing the time to get information they'll use on the show. Patterson was asked about the play of defensive standouts Jerry Hughes and Daryl Washington and how he thinks his team will play in front of a sellout crowd. Patterson talked about how focused his team has been this season and how he can't wait to feel the atmosphere Saturday night.
"We'll be back," Fowler told Patterson before he left. "You just keep doing what you're doing."
Patterson wasn't anywhere near the "GameDay" set on Saturday. But hundreds of Frog fans were up and ready well before the show began. By 9 a.m. Dallas time, fans were still streaming in, hoping to get their sign on television or to simply make noise and show their support.
Just before the show went on the air, Fowler turned to the purple-clad crowd and got them ready.
"This is really, really impressive," said Fowler, who put on a cowboy hat along with the rest of the crew for a little Texas flavor. "The next two hours belong to you guys. It's a chance to show the nation what purple power is all about."
The fans roared and the show began. And there were signs everywhere. Some were simple, yet effective -- "Dalton for Heisman" or "Do you want to SuperFrog that?" and others were elaborate. One sign had a huge photo of Corso with the words: "TCU -- The only defense that can knock the pencil out of Corso's hands." Another was a close-up of Patterson's face and shirt, with the line: "Fear the Murtleneck," a reference to Patterson's frequent fashion choice of a mock turtleneck on the sidelines.
But perhaps the most creative was a large, full-body shot of Patterson with pants that moved up and down. Patterson has a habit of adjusting his britches, and this sign did that for him, drawing plenty of laughs from the crew and TCU fans.
"We just wanted to do something that would stand out and no one else would do," said Steven Greathouse, 31, who made the sign with David Brown. Both work in real estate and are TCU grads. "This has been a lot of fun for us."
PGA Tour golfer J.J. Henry stood near the stage, cheering along with TCU fans.
"This shows how far this program has come," said Henry, who has played in a Ryder Cup.
Even Kelsey Patterson couldn't help but see what all the commotion was about. She dropped her husband off at the team hotel and came over to campus.
"I'll have to tell him about all of these signs," Kelsey Patterson said.
The loudest cheers came as the show ended. Corso, in what has become a weekly tradition, puts on the mascot head of the team he picks in the game that "GameDay" is featuring. On Saturday, he tossed aside a Utah helmet and donned SuperFrog's head, complete with the Horned Frog hand sign.
"Go Frogs," Corso yelled, his sounds muffled by the mascot head.
With that, the show ended. As the on-air talent exited, dozens of fans came up asking for autographs and wanting to take pictures. The crew obliged, smiling repeatedly and chatting with fans.
Herbstreit was the first one out, needing to get on a plane to Pittsburgh to broadcast that night's game with Notre Dame. He left impressed with TCU's fan base.
"I would compare this to Clemson as far as being one of the better crowds we've ever had," Herbstreit said. "We've never been here and you could tell that football means a lot to them. And TCU football means a lot. By us showing up here, I think it validates to them that they have arrived as being a legitimate, BCS-worthy type of team.
"We're very appreciative of that kind of interest. There's nothing more unpredictable and yet inspiring as when you walk up that set on Saturday morning and feel the energy from the crowd. And this was as good as we've had."
Richard Durrett covers college sports for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.
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