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Davis: The GameDay Experience and the Rarity of an Event Like This

I can’t recall an instance of two million TV viewers focusing on Northwestern when a game was not being played. That changes on Saturday morning when, for three hours, college football fans will tune in to ESPN and see Northwestern profiled in all of its lake-adjacent glory. We all know this is a big deal, of course. The marketing exposure will be unprecedented. Many fans, if not most, do not know where Northwestern is located. Many recruits, if not most, never considered Northwestern football as a College GameDay-worthy program. This is going to be big.

If you’re reading this, you likely do not need to be sold on attending GameDay. So, instead, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about the GameDay experience and what to expect.

Some of you have yet to make your signs. I’m not sure what you’ve been doing for the last week and a half, but there is still time. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are still trying to come up with ideas. First, while security does let a lot go, they won’t allow political, promotional (including websites or Twitter handles), anti-sponsor, or otherwise offensive material. Second, people at home are looking for original humor. Most signs should be unique to Northwestern without the joke being exclusive or at least unique to your own personal voice. There are exceptions, of course, but originality is crucial. The “likes Nickelback” sign worked once and only once. We don’t need to see it every week. Want to tell the country that Corso sucks? Don’t, or at least don’t do it in those words. Do you feel that everyone needs to be reminded about tattoos or off-field arrests? Unless you can come up with something truly unique and funny, move on to a different idea. It’s been done.

You will be standing and waiting for a long time. This is not particularly pleasant. The show itself, a full three hours, is not exactly non-stop entertainment for attendees. There are many commercial breaks and pre-taped segments about other programs. But it’s still pretty great.

I hope you appreciate the rarity of this opportunity and have fun from the moment you arrive at the lakefill. As most of you know, Northwestern has only “hosted” College GameDay twice in the show’s history. The last show was in 2010 at Wrigley Field, an off-campus event that was great exposure for Northwestern but perhaps spent more time focusing on Wrigley itself. The only other visit was in 1995, the first full year of the show’s existence, and should not really count since the show was very different at the time. It also had to be moved indoors due to bad winter weather, which would provide a nice backdrop in the victory over Iowa. I have yet to see a single picture from that show, which speaks volumes of both the show’s significance at the time and what the move indoors meant to its potential impact. So this, for all intents and purposes, is really the first true Northwestern GameDay appearance.

Do you think Northwestern football is on the rise and the future will lead to even better things? Hey, that’s great. So do I. But that doesn’t mean you’ll see GameDay on campus again anytime soon. Getting GameDay requires not just a good football program, but also a lot of luck. We will only get one or two truly attractive games each season. If those one or two games happen to fall on the same day as even bigger games in different parts of the country, which is almost always the case, there will be little to no chance of getting GameDay.

Consider the “big name” programs that have gone years since hosting GameDay. Prior to last Saturday, GameDay had not visited Georgia’s campus since 2008. Arkansas? They haven’t hosted it since 2006. Florida, the most visited SEC campus? There were no trips to Gainesville in 2010 and 2011 and likely will not have one this year. That would mean a four year graduate of the class of 2014 would have only experienced it once. UCLA has had the show only once and that was in 1998. Stanford? Just once in 2011, though they have a decent shot again later this season. They haven’t gone to Texas and Penn State since 2009 and Nebraska since 2007.

I could go on, but my point is to not take this for granted. Northwestern football could be very good over the next few years and still not see GameDay come back for a while. So wake up early, keep your energy levels up, come up with creative signs, have one, and appreciate this opportunity to be at the center of the college football world.