Thanksgiving Weekend 2013 had no shortage of compelling sports storylines, maybe none moreso than Saturday’s Iron Bowl where host No. 4 Auburn beat No. 1 Alabama in thrilling fashion.
Here, ESPN stage manager Mike Ruhlman explains how the College GameDay set got constructed on-field amid a chaotic postgame scene:
As the small group of ESPN Staff and freelance crew prepared to set up for postgame coverage of the Iron Bowl Saturday evening, none of us could have predicted that we would be in the middle of an unbelievable and historic scene.
With a few minutes left in the game, we staged the desk just off the field against the end zone wall in order to be able to move quickly into place once the game ended and to potentially go live (if the game result turned out to be compelling enough!) once CBS coverage concluded.
We would set up as quickly as possible, knock out a couple of segments and those of us that had flights that night would scurry off to the airport.
When the officials put one second back on the clock and Alabama set up for a very long field goal attempt, it looked as if we would be be waiting for overtime. The crowd began to come alive and the roar became deafening as Auburn ran back the missed field goal to win the game.
There were a few seconds of shock and confusion as we processed what had just happened. Then the crew sprang into action and began running the desk and lights and cameras and pulling audio cable into position in the end zone. As it turns out, we were very fortunate that the majority of the Auburn student section was in the opposite end zone. There were fans coming onto the field from every direction.
ESPN and stadium security along with some of the crew and operations team did their best to protect the equipment, desk and talent from the growing surge of celebrating fans. Eventually they were able to create a perimeter around our set-up and we went live with Chris Fowler and David Pollack on Sportscenter almost immediately after CBS got off the air.
The craziest finish I have ever seen! How’s my hair? pic.twitter.com/M4swVifAxp
— David Pollack (@davidpollack47) December 1, 2013
It was difficult to tell exactly how many fans were on the field as we were surrounded on all sides, with security helping to keep them a few feet away. The scene was absolutely electric. The crowd was so loud we could not hear each other speak and had to communicate to each other and to the talent with hand signals, counting them down to the live toss from SportsCenter and wrapping up each segment. (Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and running back Tre Mason were also interviewed on-set.) Several times we had to move people back and widen the circle around us as the size of the crowd grew and the circle of endlessly screaming fans around us began to close in. In all, I think we did three live segments and taped three others. When the producer told us “that’s a wrap,” several of us took a few moments to take it all in, savoring the potential historic aspect of it all. A few of us even took a picture at the desk for posterity. Something we rarely do anymore, after having been at so many big games over the years. But, these are the moments that make all the long days and hard work so worth it. Then we packed up the gear, loaded the trucks and began to speculate on how the game would influence where GameDay would go next week. And the answer is:
— Lee Fitting (@leefitting) December 2, 2013
And now, some of what you might have missed over the weekend and what’s coming up from ESPN:
1. This is good advice at any time. . .
Tune it to ABC.
— John Walters (@jdubs88) November 30, 2013
. . . But it was especially true during Saturday’s Ohio State-Michigan window.
My colleague @Todd_Blackledge is very good at his job
— Wright Thompson (@wrightthompson) November 30, 2013
2. Bristol gets painted Burgundy on Thursday for the 6 p.m. ET SportsCenter, as Will Ferrell (Ron Burgundy) and David Koechner (Champ Kind) will be part of the show. (More details on Tuesday here on Front Row.)
3. When Drexel and Alabama went to quadruple overtime Friday night, it left a 75-minute hole to fill on ESPN as the extended play meant a later start for Duke-Arizona. So the trio of Steve Weissman, Seth Greenberg and Dan Dakich filled the time with some informative and entertaining analysis and highlights.
If you gotta be stuck with two guys forced to extend pregame analysis because of endless OT, glad it’s Seth Greenberg and Dan Dakich.
— Dave Reardon (@dave_reardon) November 29, 2013
— Best League Ever (@BLEtweets) November 29, 2013
— Keith Rondo Wiggins❄ (@KingRondo09) November 29, 2013
— Matt Kramer (@CSE_MattKramer) December 1, 2013
5. The forecast calls for a lot of lobbying between now and next Sunday.
— LeishaC (@Leishac) December 2, 2013