There's not many other experiences that exemplify the excitement of being a sports fan than College GameDay. It's the show that can give a college, athletic program, and a fanbase the national recognition that they deserve.
That's why when ESPN announced that College GameDay was coming to Harrisonburg to broadcast from JMU, I couldn't miss it. The show goes to huge schools like Alabama, Ole Miss, Texas, and Stanford. It's not unheard of for them to come to an FCS school, but it is not often that they do. When they made the decision to come, I had to be there.
With this being the first time I've ever experience GameDay in person, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I'm not sure anyone at JMU knew what to expect, but Lord have mercy, did they set a new standard for Gameday. Let me just tell you about the best parts of the whole experience and how, if you ever decide to go, you'll know how to get the best out of your GameDay.
1. The Signs
You cannot go to GameDay without a sign. It's just not right.
Fellow Odyssey writer Annie Sullivan and I spent the better portion of Friday night coming up with our signs. She, being the huge Taylor Swift fan that she is, had to do something to make all the Swifties go nuts.
I went with something a little more, well, just look:
If you can't read it, it says "Danny Rocco Tips Strippers Kohl's Cash." Unorthodox, to say the least. Wasn't the hit that Annie's was, but it got some laughs.
But JMU turned out with the best signs of the year.
And my personal favorite:
If you ever go to GameDay, bring a sign. It doesn't need to be a great reference. I made a reference to Kohl's Cash. I mean, come on. Kohl's Cash. Just have fun with them. You get a better chance of being on TV with them and they liven the atmosphere up.
2. The Preparation
This is where the sports nerd came out in me.
I knew it was going to be packed, so the day before the broadcast, Annie and I went to JMU to scout how many people were already there so we could figure out how early to get there. We spent hours getting our signs ready, which included a lacrosse shaft, a golf club, duct tape, and tons of pencil.
We left for the show at 5:30 in the morning (had to go to Starbucks to wake up). I made sure to tell my parents exactly where I was and what my sign was so that they could see me on TV every chance they could.
The point of all this is that the plan and preparation for the show made it so much fun. As the obsessive sports fan, I had to make sure I did everything I could to make this the best experience I could. We planned out a bunch of stuff, and while some stuff happened that we couldn't plan for or expect, the plan made it a lot more rewarding when our Kohl's Cash and Taylor Swift signs made their TV debuts.
3. The Spirit and Noise Level
Holy Lord, the noise.
I'll just put it into context for you. We were standing right in front of a speaker, and they had that turned up as loud as possible. When Rece Davis, host of the show, said "James Madison, father of the U.S. Constitution," I could not hear the speaker for a good 20 seconds. The Quad in front of Wilson Hall completely lost their minds.
My voice is still recovering from the pounding it took Saturday.
Most people don't give JMU it's credit because it's an FCS school, but their fans are absolutely wild and loud. Yes, it helps that half of them were inebriated, but they truly went all out with how loud they got. They weren't going to half-effort their opportunity to show America who they are. They had a ton of pride in their school, and they got that across on TV.
As a non-JMU student, I thought it was awesome how loud they got.
4. The Head Gear Pick
I give you perhaps the greatest head gear pick Lee Corso has ever made.
So what if JMU lost? That alone was worth it.
5. MORE SIGNS
Todd McShay played for the University of Richmond. He paid for it.
If you remember, in 2010, JMU went to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and beat the Hokies, 21-16. They don't forget.
Seriously, the signs were the best.
6. The 15 Seconds of Fame
There's no denying that your goal at ESPN GameDay is to get on TV. Everyone wants that moment where they look on the big screen and scream "HOLY CRAP, THAT'S MY SIGN!! I'M ON TV!!"
When I got the text from my dad saying that he just saw my sign on TV, I felt that all my sports-nerding for the past 24 hours had finally paid off. It may be a little strange or weird, but it's kind of a rush to get a text from someone saying they saw you.
I thought I was going to go nuts for that 15 seconds of fame, but I couldn't touch some people. I was a prop for a 50-year-old woman who was on her husbands shoulders just to get on TV behind Dierks Bentley. At least 10 guys were standing on top of the guard rail, the only thing holding them was trust that their friends would catch them if they fell, just to get their "Vad Blood" sign on TV. Most of them fell.
It was awesome to watch these people.
Anything can happen at ESPN GameDay. It's a lot of fun to watch on TV, but if you ever get a chance to go experience it in person, go. Bring signs, bring noise, and have fun with it. It's a once in a lifetime experience.
JMU deserved to get GameDay, and they did an excellent job at making it a great time.
And one more thing: SIGNS ARE LIFE.