College Football

ESPN's Lee Corso brings his act back to Navy as GameDay visits Baltimore

Lee Corso isn't hiding his allegiance leading up to the 115th Army-Navy game. Earlier this week, the popular ESPN college football personality ended an interview about Saturday's contest by proclaiming, "Go Navy, Beat Army!"

Corso was a Navy assistant from 1966 to 1968 under head coach Bill Elias and to this day considers it one of the greatest experiences of his life.


"I absolutely loved working with the players at Navy. There are no better young men to coach than those you find at a service academy," Corso said. "I really enjoyed going to work every day because I loved being around those midshipmen."

Saturday, Corso returns as one of the stars of ESPN's College GameDay, which will be broadcast from the Inner Harbor before the Army-Navy showdown at M&T Bank Stadium. This marks the first time the popular program has ever broadcast from in the state or on location from the site of Army-Navy.


Corso believes the relationships he built during three years in Annapolis helped put his career in motion. He left Navy to become head coach at Louisville in 1969. A career assistant up to that point, Corso had received a recommendation from former Louisville great Johnny Unitas, who was the star quarterback for the Baltimore Colts at the time.

"Johnny U got me in the door, but it was the superintendent of the Naval Academy who got me the job," Corso said. "The admiral called the president of Louisville, who just happened to have been a Navy commander. There's no doubt that getting the endorsement of an admiral put me over the top."

Corso would also serve as head coach at Indiana from 1973 to 1982, but he is best known to college football fans for his 27 years as a commentator for ESPN. Corso has been a featured analyst for College GameDay since it began in 1987.

Over the years, Corso has played the role of comic foil to host Chris Fowler and fellow analysts Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard. With omnipresent pencil in hand, Corso loves delivering his catchphrase, "Not so fast, my friend," when disagreeing with one of his colleagues.

"I've been saying for years that we have to do the show at an Army-Navy game. It's the greatest rivalry in all of sports and should be on the bucket list for every college football fan," Corso said.

In the early years, College GameDay emanated from the ESPN Studios in Bristol, Conn. In 1993, producers decided to broadcast live from the Notre Dame-Florida State game in South Bend, Ind.

"That is when it became an event. We're outside of Notre Dame Stadium and fans are going crazy all around us. It was like a circus and just a tremendous success in terms of atmosphere and excitement," Corso said.

Lee Fitting, senior coordinating producer for College GameDay the past 11 years, said ESPN executives have always wanted to incorporate the Army-Navy game, but he said the logistics never worked out until this year.


"Thankfully, all the pieces finally came together and we can finally have an Army-Navy version of College GameDay," Fitting said. "We're so honored to be just a small sliver of a game with so much history and tradition."

So on Saturday from 9-11 a.m., College GameDay will be broadcast live from Bicentennial Plaza in the Inner Harbor. Hundreds of Naval Academy midshipmen and United States Military Academy cadets will be in the background as ESPN puts the focus on Army-Navy through numerous human-interest stories and video clips. Naval ships will be berthed in the harbor while Army tanks will be parked onshore. Pep bands from both service academies will add to the festive atmosphere.

Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo and Army counterpart Jeff Monken will be interviewed live on the set. Navy football legend Roger Staubach and Army great Rollie Stichweh will make a joint appearance. Staubach and Stichweh were the opposing quarterbacks in the 1963 Army-Navy game that was played following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and in 1964, when Army upset Navy for the first time in six years.

One of the few times the show will veer away from Army-Navy will be when Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota talks about being one of three finalists for the Heisman Trophy and leading his team into the inaugural College Football Playoff.

"We think we have a great show planned," said Fitting, declining to reveal the special guest who will join the GameDay cast for the prediction portion of the program.

Ever the character, Corso cannot wait to wear the spoils of a 1967 victory over Army. Assistants from both sides wagered an item of clothing that year and Corso still has it.


"I'm so excited I can't take it. I am anxiously looking forward to wearing my Army robe on the set," he said.

Corso is famous for closing the show by donning the mascot headgear of the school he predicts to win that week's big game. It started in 1996 in Columbus, Ohio, when he got the idea to put on the "Brutus Buckeye" head while picking Ohio State to beat Penn State. Is there any doubt whom he will pick to win this year's Army-Navy game?

"Navy has really had Army's number ... I mean 12 straight wins in this series? Are you kidding me?" Corso said. "I'm looking for Bill the Goat. I don't just want the mascot head, I've got to get my hands on the real live goat!"