Editor’s note: Saturday on Front Row, we’ll have a gallery of Lee Corso’s headgear picks over the years.
Lee Corso is one of college football’s most knowledgeable, opinionated and entertaining analysts on ESPN’s College GameDay.
He is famous for ending every weekly show with his mascot headgear prediction, choosing who he thinks will win GameDay‘s featured matchup by donning the headpiece of the school’s mascot.
This Saturday in East Lansing, Mich., on GameDay (9 a.m. ET ESPNU, 10 a.m. ESPN), Corso will make his 200th headgear selection.
He will have his choice of Wisconsin’s Bucky Badger or host Michigan State’s Sparty.
With a pencil in hand, Corso’s catchphrase “Not so fast, my friend” is also a staple to the show and is almost always directed to his weekly partners – Chris Fowler, Kirk Herstreit and Desmond Howard.
Corso, who joined ESPN in 1987 and is the only original GameDay on-air personality (he was a contributor in 1987-88 and joined as an analyst in 1989), will celebrate his 25th season with the network this year.
He joined ESPN after 28 years as a coach at the college and professional levels, including 17 seasons as a head coach.
Since his first mascot selection in 1996, Corso’s overall record stands at 137-62 (68 percent).
Over the years, he has selected 45 different schools over 199 picks. His longest win streak: 15 games from Sept. 28, 1999 to Sept. 30, 2000 (spanning two seasons).
This season he sports a 6-1 mark (only loss in Week 5).
Heading into the Wisconsin at Michigan State game, Corso is 2-1 when selecting the Badgers and 1-0 when picking the Spartans.
Front Row asked him a few questions about GameDay, his favorite headgear, and how this tradition got started.
FR: What has it meant to you to be a part of College GameDay for all 25 years?
LC: It has meant so much to me — such a big part of my life after coaching. I love that GameDay has grown so much in the last 25 years, and the fact that it is now an event– not just a show. I love seeing how the cities, colleges and students rally behind College GameDay, and to see the enthusiasm and excitement of the students is great.
FR: Does it surprise you how popular College GameDay has become and what do you think the reason is?
LC: No, not in the least. The secret behind our show is that it is done in front of a live audience — that is the one thing we do compared to the other studio shows at ESPN. It is unbelievable to be on that stage with the crowd behind us.
FR: What has changed the most since you started going on the road?
LC: So much has changed — a longer show, new faces, but the biggest thing is the popularity. The fact that the show has grown so big, and that the fans are so enthusiastic is electrifying. They get up so early in the morning and they flock to the set, or spend the night to get a great spot in the crowd. That is what keeps going and inspires me the most.
FR: What are your top five favorite mascot/headgear to put on?
LC: There have been so many fantastic memories that I cannot pinpoint any specific one.
FR: How did you start using the mascot heads to make your final selection of the show?
LC: I believe it was the Ohio State-Penn State game, a top five matchup, in 1996. Brutus the Buckeye walked by Kirk and I the day before the show. I said to Kirk if you get me that mascot head, I will put it on tomorrow. I won’t have to say anything and they will know who I pick. So that is how it began. The crowd, the truck and ESPN went crazy and I said I think I have something here!
Some football coaches’ thoughts on Corso:
“My dad was the running backs coach on Lee Corso’s staff at Indiana in the 1970s when I was growing up, so I’ve known him a lot of years. He’s one of the most colorful broadcasters I’ve ever seen and he was just as colorful as a coach. Some episodes of The Lee Corso Show, his coach’s show, were outright hilarious. There was also a game when Indiana scored a touchdown against Ohio State and Corso brought the entire football team on the field and he took a picture of them in front of the scoreboard that showed IU leading 6-0. I think they ended up losing 49-6. He was a fireball and he hasn’t changed a bit. He’s been a great ambassador for college football.” — ESPN Monday Night Football analyst and Super Bowl-winning head coach Jon Gruden
“Part of the reason the fans love college football is because of Lee Corso. He brings a great amount of enthusiasm and passion to the game and you can see and hear it every Saturday morning. As a player, coach and an analyst, Lee has given more than half a century of his life to improving young people and his contributions can’t be measure.” – Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino
“It’s an amazing feat and he’s an amazing ambassador for college football. He’s one of the guys that helped pioneer making college football as popular as it is today. He’s one of the true icons of the broadcasting business.”– Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher