By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Anthony Rodriguez was there in 2008. He was in the middle of the hundreds of Oklahoma fans who showed up in the early morning hours of Saturday, Nov. 22, to take in ESPN’s College GameDay on the Oklahoma campus.
“It was electric, being it was my first time,” Rodriguez said. “All I could think is, ‘Dang, I wish I would have made a sign.’ It was packed more than I expected and I knew we were at a very huge game.”
No. 2 Texas Tech was in town.
OU won 65-21.
It was the last time the traveling road show known as GameDay appeared in Norman. It has taken, perhaps, the two most storied programs in the history of the college game to bring it back. No. 5 Notre Dame meets No. 8 OU at 7 p.m. Saturday at Owen Field.
“We are excited about having them here again,” said Pete Moris, who runs athletic media relations for the Sooners. “It will be a great day for college football … Games like this are what college football are all about. Having that date circled on your calendar, hotels sold out for months. It’s great for the community, it’s great for the fans, great for the university and football program.”
In its 26th year, College GameDay has grown from a simple studio into the foundation of ESPN’s college football coverage. Produced at a different campus site each week, it packs in fans by the thousands hours and hours before kickoff.
“The best part for me was actually seeing everything happen live and in person,” said Kyle Salomon, who was also at the 2008 game. “I have watched College GameDay since I was a little kid, so to see it in person and how everything works was pretty cool.”
GameDay first went on the road on Nov. 13, 1993, to South Bend, Ind., for a matchup between No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Notre Dame. GameDay has been on site for 27 Oklahoma games since 1995, including last season’s 55-17 win over Texas at the Cotton Bowl. Saturday will mark GameDay’s seventh Norman appearance. Only Florida (34) and Ohio State (30) have been featured more times than OU. The Sooners are 5-1 in their six previous appearances.
For the football program and the university, it’s a win-win situation.
“President Boren and the entire University of Oklahoma are excited about this opportunity to showcase our beautiful campus and the OU brand for a national television audience,” OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said. “We’re certainly proud that athletics shares in the broader institutional mission of the University of Oklahoma. ESPN will be utilizing a picturesque broadcast location on the South Oval of campus with the Bizzell Library serving as an iconic backdrop for their set.”
The trucks carrying the GameDay baggage arrived in the middle of the night. By the time University of Oklahoma students began making their way to early classes Thursday, the 70-member crew already had already began constructing the GameDay set. That includes an 11-foot, 9-inch high by 19-foot, 8-inch-wide jumbotron.
“The key thing was finding a location that everybody was comfortable with,” Moris said. “One that was a great location but also workable for the logistics of the GameDay crew. One that really captures the campus. I think we found a spot that everybody loves with the South Oval. It’s going to be a great scene.”
The set should be less than 100 feet from the stadium.
Moris learned that GameDay was coming to OU right after the Sooners defeated Kansas last Saturday. And while Oklahoma officials had been told the week before that its game with the Irish was one of the contests GameDay was targeting, they knew before the season began that this week could be a special one.
“The fact that the University of Oklahoma has been represented so frequently on College GameDay speaks to consistent success and competitiveness that our program has enjoyed under the leadership of Coach (Bob) Stoops,” Castiglione said. “No doubt, the rich history and tradition of a program that has captured seven national championships has played a role in our high number of selections to participate in College GameDay. It’s truly an exciting time for any student who is already on campus, or who may be considering the University of Oklahoma. There is only one Oklahoma.”
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