Talking Game Day

A TV reporter asked ESPN College Game Day producer Lee Fitting about coming to one of the most famous tailgating spots in the country. He was quickly corrected by Fitting.

“THE most famous!” Fitting said.

And so it is that finally Game Day has made it to the campus of The University of Mississippi.

Fitting said this is not a normal Game Day week. He knew it wouldn’t be and it hasn’t been.

“This week feels different than all the other weeks,” said Fitting, now in his 11th season as producer of the popular show which attracts up to 2 million viewers on college football Saturday mornings.

Chris Fowler said he’s tried to describe the Grove for people before, but he can’t do it.

“Those red and blue cans where people mark off their area,” he said, basically meaning ‘how do you describe that to someone?’

That’s simply one scene among many that is the Grove on any given home football weekend. But this weekend it’s like no other.

That’s because Fitting, Fowler and the rest of the ESPN College Game Day crew are in town for the Ole Miss-Alabama game Saturday. The actual game, at 2:30 p.m., is being televised by CBS.

ESPN is doing most of the buildup, however, with its long-running show that has expanded over the years to even include Friday segments. Saturday morning the show runs from 8 a.m. until 11 a.m. That’s central time.

Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso have actually called games for ESPN at Ole Miss before. But they were normally Battles for the Golden Egg and usually fell on Thanksgiving weekend.

Herbstreit and Fowler agreed those times don’t do justice to what they are expecting out of the Grove this weekend.

Desmond Howard, another of the four-man “desk” crew that sits before the cameras, along with Fowler, Herbstreit, and Corso, has actually played football against the Ole Miss Rebels.

That was noted in a tweet Friday afternoon, and it said Howard scored two touchdowns for Michigan in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, 1991. Ole Miss lost 35-3.

“We gotta keep that quiet...until I leave town,” tweeted Howard in response.

That’s what Game Day brings to a town and campus when its major road production shows up. And the participants also love the stops they make. This time, it’s Oxford.

“What an awesome downtown,” Fitting said. “It’s like something out of Disney World. It blew us away.

“The campus is great. I took a run through campus yesterday,” Fitting continued. “I have two young boys. I’d love for them to come here someday. This place is awesome.”

One of the world’s most recognizable singers and entertainers, Katy Perry, will be the guest picker on the Saturday show from the Grove. Fitting said that worked out nicely to have Perry on stage with the show’s cast.

Fitting said the decision to solidify Perry’s appearance came just about a week ago.

“We kept it on the down low for a while,” he said. “Then it sort of got real earlier this week. She’s playing Dallas tonight and Memphis Sunday. So that falls in the line of travel. She’s been nothing but great to deal with. The contacts here at Ole Miss have been nothing but great to deal with. She’s really fired up to do it.

“We may have had equal superstar status on our show before,” Fitting continued. “But she’s out there. She has 57 and a half million followers on twitter.”

Fitting said the entire Game Day crew is excited about being in Oxford, and that goes for the people who arrived early this week to begin the setup to those involved in every situation.

“Most weeks our crew will leave right after the show and fly home,” Fitting said. “But there’s a huge pack of us tomorrow sticking around, tailgating in the Grove, going to the game, hanging out after the game. This is a big deal for us.”

There have been a few chances this would happen through the years. Ole Miss needed to be 4-0 for it to happen this year.

“It got real about two weeks ago,” Fitting said. “We sweated a little bit when they played Memphis. If they’d lost to Memphis, we were gonna say don’t ever, ever call us again.”

But the Rebels won 24-3 and now Game Day is here.

“We always look for opportunities to be here,” Fitting said. “We were itching to be here. There aren’t many spots that are on the Game Day bucket list. But this is one of them. It’s a thrill to be here, and I really mean that.”

“What better place to celebrate a college football Saturday than in Oxford, Mississippi, with a huge showdown,” Herbstreit said. “We’re thrilled to be here. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like Saturday. We feed off the crowd, and I believe this will be one of the best we’ll have all year.”

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