There was a national sports barrier broken at Doyt L. Perry Stadium on Oct. 25, 2003, but it wasn’t set on the field.
Ten years ago, the University became the first Mid-American Conference school to host ESPN’s weekly college football show, “College Gameday.” This was a highly-anticipated game between the then No. 12 ranked Northern Illinois Huskies and the No. 23 ranked Falcons.
The Falcons were coming off a 6-1 start, which included a close 24-17 loss at Ohio State University. There had been chatter throughout the national media during the weeks leading up to the matchup about how well BG and NIU were playing. The decision to bring the show to BGSU was made by ESPN the Sunday after the Falcons won 33-20 at Eastern Michigan.
Northern Illinois started its season 7-0 and had then one of the best running backs in the country, future NFL running back Michael Turner.
That next Monday ESPN sent their scout crew to the University to look at where they would set up the stage and look into everything from power, security, catering and even how many golf carts they needed, said Associate Athletic Director for Internal Directors Jim Elsasser.
“I was responsible for all of the gameday activities,” Elsasser said. “Pretty much the logistics of what they needed for them to execute “Gameday” as well as “Gameday” security and staff was funneled through my office.”
That same Monday a phone call came through to Mike Cihon who at the time was the assistant director for Athletic Communications.
“Lee Corso called my phone and was asking about getting a mascot head,” Cihon said. “I told him we had two mascots, a male and a female mascot, so I can get you the head of Freddie. He told me if you got me the female head that would be great.”
By that Monday the entire university and town heard the news about “Gameday” coming to the Doyt.
“It was an unbelievable feeling around the campus that week,” Elsasser said. “If you think about how big “Gameday” was then and how big it is now, just the magnitude of what it was caused a huge buzz in the media and in the news, giving us a chance to showcase our facilities, campus and students.”
“College Gameday” aired live on ESPN on every Saturday during college football season at 10 a.m. That Saturday fans were lined up outside the stadium gates at 5:30 a.m. hoping for a good spot to stand to hold their signs and see the ESPN reporters Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstriet.
“We planned to open the parking lots at 6 a.m.,” Elsasser said. “But at 5:30 the fans were already at the gates ready to start the day’s activities with ‘Gameday.’”
One of the ESPN personalities, Lee Corso, was a former coach for NIU, so he understood who BG was and what MAC football was about. Although he was a former coach for NIU, he put on the Frieda Falcon mascot head for his famous mascot head game pick during the show.
The main story that day was about College Gameday coming to BG but there were also plenty of other big media outlets like the New York Times, Sports Illustrated and others.
“It was a Thursday in Bowling Green, Ohio and a Sports Illustrated writer and New York Times writer were standing here having a conversation,” Cihon said. “The whole experience was pretty unbelievable.”
The Falcons game was a 3:30 game so there was a little down time between when Gameday went off and the game started. According to Elsasser the fans just continued to tailgate up until game time.
“There have been some pretty big crowds at the Doyt but that was a pretty big crowd that night,” Cihon said. “When the team went out to warm up that day the stadium was already packed.”
The Falcons upset the Huskies that day 34-18 making there record 7-1 in their first eight games.
It is not very often when a national television show comes to host their show in BG.
“To know and be part of that was something you will always remember,” Elsasser said. “The thought that those three guys were here showcasing Bowling Green is something I will never forget.”