BOZEMAN — ESPN College GameDay legend Lee Corso made a surprise return to the show on Saturday.
Dealing with an illness that forced him to miss the past few shows, the popular 87-year-old television personality made his return in minus-3 weather at 7 a.m. in Bozeman.
Nothing was going to stop him from seeing the Brawl of the Wild. In the first few moments of the show, he made a classic home team comment to come back in style.
“I love,” Corso started, before pausing for dramatic effect. “The Bobcats!”
The home crowd erupted with some boos mixed in by the traveling Griz fans, and the historic Big Sky experience was officially underway.
It was a highly anticipated moment finally come to fruition for a pair of teams and fan bases longing for the exposure.
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“Absolutely electric,” Bobcat fan Austin Wheeler said in describing the morning.
Wheeler was there with three of his friends from the local Sigma Chi fraternity. They were among the lucky bunch of observers given VIP passes to sit in the bleachers close to the GameDay set.
They didn’t have to wait in line in freezing temperatures to get into the pit. They didn't have to stand in the dark at 2:30 in the morning when ESPN's equipment was so cold it wouldn't work — including the generators.
Most weren’t as lucky as the fraternity guys.
The lines started forming late Friday night into the wee hours of Saturday morning.
That prompted Big Sky commissioner Tom Wistrcill to take action.
“The time is 10 (minutes) to 11 (p.m.), and we’re about to make some people happy,” Wistrcill said in a Twitter video. “Delivering some Buffalo Wild Wings. Let’s go make some friends.”
By 5 a.m., the line of fans stretched four blocks as Montanans eagerly awaited entry — signs and libations in hand.
From making a mockery of Griz head football coach Bobby Hauck to degrading the University of Montana as a whole, the signage was creative. And while there were UM fans here and there, the Cat propaganda was everywhere.
With a good idea they may land the show, Bozeman was prepared.
“I knew it was happening, bro,” Cats fan Andre Orengo said. “My friend works at Brigade (restaurant) and last Saturday, the execs (ESPN executives) were at Brigade.”
What unfolded was three hours of prime entertainment.
The MSU rodeo team opened the show by riding in on its horses, both schools' cheerleaders had turns at the front of the set and fans went back and forth — cheering and booing, chanting and yelling — as the GameDay crew debated the game.
What Wheeler said at nearly 6 in the morning came true.
"Everybody is going to turn up and be shocked about the atmosphere that we have here today," he said.
Finally, the show came to an all-time finish. The elephant on the set — who would Corso pick with his famous mascot headgear selection?
Desmond Howard picked the Cats first and Rece Davis followed him up. Later, Kirk Herbstreit leaned the same way. Pat McAfee went against the grain with an emphatic selection of the Grizzlies. Guest picker Nick Faldo also picked the Cats.
But everyone was waiting for one pick, and out came the Bobcats head.
Corso called Cats, and one of the best five-hour stretches in Big Sky Conference history was over. Two years worth of work had finally played out in front of everyone involved, and it was on to the main event:
The 121st edition of the Brawl of the Wild.
Lucas Semb is the Griz football beat writer for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @Lucas_Semb or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.