ESPN GameDay comes to campus

ESPN GameDay host and analysts, from left, Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit broadcast from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for the 2008 Orange and Blue Debut on Saturday.

Aaron Daye/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, April 12, 2008 at 11:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 12, 2008 at 11:59 p.m.

ESPN College GameDay and coach Urban Meyer's pregame festivities were quite a draw Saturday at the University of Florida's spring football debut.

With ESPN on hand, with UF students battling Florida football players for the right to be called "fastest student," and with fans able to get their photograph taken with Tim Tebow's Heisman Trophy or Florida's 2006 National Championship Trophy, Gators turned out in record number for a UF spring game. In 2005, 58,500 fans turned out to set a record, but Saturday's crowd of 61,000 easily set a new standard, UF said.

Fans started lining up at the stadium at 7 a.m. — 2 hours early — for the opportunity to take pictures with the Heisman and 2006 BCS national championship trophies. Florida's starters held an open autograph-signing session at the same time.

ESPN analyst Lee Corso and the College GameDay crew hosted a two-hour pregame show and play-by-play game coverage from the northwest corner of The Swamp, as opposed to the fan-friendly and interactive setup on the north end zone lawn during GameDay's past trips in Gainesville.

In its new location, GameDay was in no position to play host to throngs of students. In fact, the second hour of the pregame show was taped during contests and presentations on the field, preventing fans from watching the show live or in person.

Corso remained true to his alma mater as he left the stands after the pregame show doing Florida State University's tomahawk chop.

UF sophomore John Bornberg attended the Orange and Blue Debut with his fellow

“Super Gators” Matt Hobbes and Brian Donegan. The trio were awarded the title back in 2006 for wearing orange beanies, blue capes and face paint to football games their freshman year. After each winning game, their tradition was to run a victory lap around the stadium.

The three followed the team to Baton Rouge in October 2007, where College GameDay aired from LSU. Standing three rows back from the show's platform, they led cheers for the Gators amid a crowd of mostly Tiger fans. Hobbes said the setup in Baton Rouge made for a lively and interactive atmosphere for fans, unlike ESPN's setup Saturday at the Orange and Blue game.

Though they did not wear their costumes to Saturday's spring game, Bornberg said he was surprised to find out from a friend that a photo of the three actually appears on the 2008 Gator football poster, which was unveiled Saturday.

Donegan said he and his friends go to the spring game for a taste of football that will tide them over until fall, when the “Super Gators” plan to return in full force.

According to Sgt. Jeff Blundell of the Gainesville Police Department, the Orange and Blue game has become a much bigger event since Meyer arrived. “He brings a lot of participants into the event and involves the community and the university,” Blundell said. “He's done a great job of bringing fans together.”

Jeff Kirkland, of Live Oak, said Saturday was his 15th Orange and Blue game, which he enjoys coming to see the debut of new players. He has seen a noticeable difference in the discipline of the team and the enthusiasm of the players over the last three years, he said.

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