Schnepf: GameDay attracts massive crowd in Fargo

FARGO -- For a second straight year, the nation watched downtown Fargo party like it was Mardis Gras in New Orleans. If you were one of nearly 2 million viewers who tuned in to ESPN's "College GameDay" Saturday morning, you saw an aerial view of ...

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FARGO - For a second straight year, the nation watched downtown Fargo party like it was Mardis Gras in New Orleans.
If you were one of nearly 2 million viewers who tuned in to ESPN’s “College GameDay” Saturday morning, you saw an aerial view of an estimated 9,000 North Dakota State University football fans pack into a three-block area of Broadway. You saw the downtown buildings draped in green and gold - including a mammoth banner that was unfurled during the show that covered the front of a four-story building.
The banner displayed NDSU’s 11 national football championships - including the 1986 Division II title when Jeff Bentrim was the quarterback. Back then, “GameDay” didn’t even exist. Back then, the nation never heard of Bison football.
“It’s incredible,” Bentrim said earlier this week from his home in Calgary. “You just never thought this would happen. The national love, it’s hard to fathom.”
Hard to fathom indeed.
Perhaps former Forum writer and Wyndmere native Chuck Klosterman put all this recent ESPN exposure into perspective during a segment of Saturday morning’s show. Showing highlights of NDSU’s Division II days and the Division I national championships it has won the last three years, Kolsterman’s voice could be heard:
“Back then, there was no Division I. It didn’t matter if the rest of the nation didn’t know anything about the Bison, let alone how to pronounce it. …. Now, they have become the Harlem Globetrotters. If they are on TV, they never seem to lose.”
They were certainly a winner again for “College GameDay” – an entertainment show previewing college football games that made its debut back in 1987. Last year when ESPN came to downtown Fargo, 1.8 million viewers watched - ranking sixth in ratings among the 15 “GameDay” shows.
“Come with us now back down the road to Fargo because the mighty Bison just keep growing,” “GameDay” host Chris Fowler announced to open the show. “We saw it a year ago and we had to come back to prove it was no fluke.”
If you were among the mayhem in downtown Saturday morning, or if you had to work, or if you were like Jeff Bentrim and had to watch your daughter play in a volleyball tournament, here is what you missed from Saturday’s telecast:
- In the opening segment, ESPN longtime analyst Lee Corso wore a fur coat that he called his Bison jacket. It was Corso who, wearing a Bison head, walked a young buffalo onto Broadway to close last year’s show.
The buffalo named “Corso” has grown from 280 to 750 pounds. “Don’t let him see you wearing that jacket,” joked Fowler. “You may be wearing one of his cousins.”
At the end of the show, Corso hopped inside the back of a livestock trailer with the much-larger “Corso” standing in the back. “I’m ready to go to the Fargodome,” Corso said as the trailer was hauled north on Broadway.
- The ESPN boys, perched on their stage with the Fargo Theatre marquee in the background, made mention of the “Big Iron” farm show recently held in West Fargo. They also pointed out events competing with Saturday’s NDSU-Incarnate Word football game … like the sharptail, ruffed grouse, partridge and tree squirrel hunting season openers in North Dakota.
- There was no golf cart entrance like Bison head coach Craig Bohl had last year, but his successor Chris Klieman was on the secondary stage getting interviewed for three minutes by ESPN reporter Samantha Ponder.
When asked about moving up the program to the highest level of college football, Klieman responded: “Well, we will let that play out. We love the FCS. We’ll see what happens three or five years down the road.”
- As promised, “GameDay” devoted the majority of its program to that highest level of college football. Like last year, 25 to 30 minutes of the three-hour program was devoted to NDSU and FCS football.
-”Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs” is the song that opened another segment. And there were plenty of signs being hoisted among the Broadway throng.
Some that stood out during the telecast were: “Beam me up, captain Kirk,” in reference to ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit; “My arms hurt;” “Hey Minnesota … Wooo … stick to wrestling,” with a picture of all-star wrestler Ric Flair; “Lester Nygaard was my neighbor,” in reference to the quirky character on the TV series “Fargo”; and ‘Don’t act like you’re not impressed,” with a photo of ‘The Anchorman’s’ Ron Burgandy.
But perhaps the most popular sign read: “Sam Ponder, pet my mullet,” in reference to the same Sam Ponder who interviewed Klieman. Later in the show, cameras zoomed in on Ponder petting the mullet of the man holding the sign. He even gave a somewhat-startled Ponder a big hug.
- Fowler told the viewing audience that the show will be at Florida State next week. He then looked back at the Broadway fanatics and said: “Tallahassee? See how we roll … look at Fargo.”
- As usual, the highlight of the show was the unveiling of the always top-secret guest picker. It was last year’s Bison quarterback Brock Jensen, who by the way, was on that rooftop earlier helping unfurl the championship banner.
The cameras zoomed in on Jensen’s hand, where he was wearing his three national championship rings. Seated in the middle of the stage, Jensen wore his yellow No. 16 jersey (the one that was stolen last year) and a green Bison baseball hat.
He picked Northern Iowa, an NDSU rival, to win at Hawaii.
“Not so fast my friend,” Corso uttered his patented phrase, that sparked a chuckle from Jensen. “It’s Hawaii all the way.”
And when it came time to pick NDSU against Incarnate Word, it was unanimous: the Bison would win big.
Herbstreit offered a bonus pick: “I’m thinking it will be four straight national championships.”
Jensen agreed: “I see them four-peating too. I’m going to call them the quad-squad.”
If that happens, Fowler said earlier this week that it was possible - if all the right things fell into place - that “GameDay” could become an annual thing in Fargo.
Can you say “GameDay” for the NDSU-UND game?
UND would certainly be thankful for that exposure. Just as the Broadway crowd was when it chanted as “GameDay” signed off: “Thank you GameDay … Go Bison … Thank you GameDay.”

Schnepf is the sports editor for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum News Service.

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