BOZICH | For Lee Corso, Florida State vs. Louisville is mission impossible
Lee Corso has waited nearly three decades for ESPN College GameDay to come to Louisville, but fans must wait to Saturday to learn if he will picks Louisville or Florida State to win.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — You watch Lee Corso stride in front of the microphones, smile that made for College GameDay smile, and you forget he is member of the Class of 1935.
That’s correct. The man is 81, born the same year as Elvis Presley, Woody Allen, Sandy Koufax, Julie Andrews, Sonny Bono, Gary Player, Jerry Lee Lewis, Richard Chamberlain, Paul Hornung ... and I think I’ve made my point.
He didn’t win as many games as Woody Hayes or Lou Holtz, but Lee Corso has done more to promote college football into its cultural home as a Saturday religion.
Corso is as funny today as he was the first time I met him after he became the football coach at Indiana University in 1973 — and just as delightfully congenial.
As Corso made his way from a vehicle to the lobby of the Trager Center at the University of Louisville Friday afternoon, he spotted a friend — Russ Brown, a local sports writer who covered his IU teams during the decade Corso worked in Bloomington after the four seasons (1969-1972) the coach started his career by winning at the University of Louisville.
“RUSS!!!” Corso said, before reaching out for Brown and reeling him in for a hug. I’d told Brown that Corso would insist upon a hug. “RUSS!!!,” Corso said a second time. “How are you?”
As a student reporter at IU from 1973-75, I encountered two coaches who created towering legacies (for different reasons), one in football, one in basketball.
Guess which one treated the cub reporter who asked stupid questions from the student newspaper the same way he treated the guy from Indianapolis Star or Chicago Tribune.
For Corso, the reward has been a life marvelously lived and wildly adored, particularly after he became the face of GameDay nearly three decades ago. At 81 and seven remarkable years after he overcame a stroke that momentarily slowed him, Corso remains the trademark personality on ESPN’s trademark college football show.
The purest confirmation that GameDay has indeed made its first appearance at Louisville for the Cardinals’ collision with Florida State Saturday will be the moment when Corso pulls either a Seminoles' head piece or a Cardinal bird on his head, signaling which team he expects to win the game.
Corso said he made his pick several days ago, but neither Woodward nor Bernstein nor Russ Brown nor the former IU student reporter could get him to leak the news of his selection or the identity of ESPN’s celebrity game picker.
“I've been waiting over 20 years for GameDay to come here,” Corso said. ”It's tremendous. It's good news we're here, bad news I've got to pick a winner.
“It's between my old school, Florida State (his alma mater), where I coached and played, and this school, Louisville, which gave me a chance after 11 years as an assistant coach, to be a head coach. So it's gonna be a very difficult pick.
“I made (my pick) as soon as we decided to come here, because there's no question in my mind, this is a pick between my heart and my head and what I'm gonna do, you never know.
“I made (the choice) immediately between my head and my heart so it wouldn't be the emotions of seeing the stadium, talking to Louisville guys, all my players calling me.”
What about game strategy?
“I think the team that wins will be the team that controls the quarterback of either team on broken plays,” Corso said. “I don't think the game's going to be won or lost with regular plays on offense, defense.
“The coach that has the best plan to stop the other guy's scrambling is gonna win this game. I think the game will be won by the quarterback who makes the best plays on broken plays, and that's it.”
If Howard Schnellenberger and Frank Camp are the Godfathers of Louisville football, Corso is in the team photo.
Arrived in 1969. Left in 1972. Hustled to sell tickets every day he was in town. Brown said he actually remembered meeting Corso when the coach visited the sports department of The Courier-Journal, eager to sell the program.
He agreed to come here for the salary of $12,000 — with the added bonus of a $5,000 recruiting budget.
According to one cost of living calculator that I uncovered, that salary would translate to approximately $80,000 today, which is a few pennies shy of the salary bump that U of L athletic director Tom Jurich gave coach Bobby Petrino.
I doubt Lamar Jackson, Keith Kelsey or any players on Petrino’s team would believe the conditions at Cardinal Stadium where Corso’s teams performed. I know most of the newcomers covering this team would not believe the size of the 12-seat press box that had a habit of swaying in that facility.
“It's just unbelievable,” Corso said. “I always dreamed that Louisville would be someplace like this because when I was here, I think it was (sigh) 40-some years ago, we dreamed that Louisville would be like this.
“I just hope that I did a little bit my part to help get it where it is. But I am tremendously impressed with Louisville. They've got the AD, and the football coach here now to win a national championship.
“So a question: Why not? They're just as good as anybody else; they've got good players, they've got the AD who gives the football coach the support he needs to win a championship.”
One more crack: Who wins this game?
Corso has never forgotten how to audible.
“So excited, but I'm hurt,” he said. “I've got to pick one team to lose and it really bothers me.
“Florida State has been good to me. I went to school there and coached there, and this school here was the first school to give a guy a chance after 11 years as assistant coach. So it's good news I'm here, but I hate to pick this game.”
Sometime before noon on Saturday, Lee Corso will make that selection — the final, official confirmation that College GameDay is in town.
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