Sept. 14, 2012
By Brian Rice
ESPN's college football world has converged on Knoxville and the University of Tennessee this weekend, and a Friday of interviews and activity set the stage for a Saturday on the Hill.
9:00 a.m. - Desmond Howard, Heisman Trophy Winner and analyst for College GameDay takes to the stage for his first live shot for ESPN SportsCenter. As he leaves the stage, Donald Page, UT Athletics photographer, catches Howard in his "casual Friday" attire: Suit jacket, shirt and tie, but with athletic shorts and tennis shoes.
11:40 a.m. - ESPN's Holly Rowe and Todd Blackledge arrive, along with producer Phil Dean and the ESPN Radio crew of Bill Rosiniski and Joe Schad for production meetings with Tennessee coaches and players.
11:45 a.m. - Defensive back Brian Randolph enters the conference room to take questions from the crews. It's Randolph's first time in the room, but he handles himself like a pro.
12:05 p.m. - UT defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri makes his way in to meet with the ESPN talent. A former Pittsburgh Panther, Sunseri sees Blackledge, the former Penn State quarterback, and recalls the day "Blackledge ruined my year."
Later, Blackledge recalled his perspective on the game, a little more cheerfully.
"In that particular case, I love it," Blackledge said of interacting as a broadcaster with people that he played against. "We beat them 48-14 when they were ranked #1 in the country. Tennessee people know all about rivalries and for me and for Sal, Pitt-Penn State, that was the game."
12:25 p.m. - Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney enters for his session. Chaney is his usual candid self as he gives a peek into Tennessee's preparation for Saturday.
12:35 p.m. - Veteran ESPN play-by-play announcer Brad Nessler, fresh from calling Thursday night's Green Bay-Chicago game for NFL Network, arrives in the conference room to join his colleagues. Nessler said the guys on his NFL crew were jealous of his weekend.
"Pretty good doubleheader for me, right?" Nessler said laughing. "My NFL guys were like, `Lambeau to start your NFL season and the 185th game between the Packer and the Bears, 300th regular season game at Lambeau, and now you get to go to Neyland? You're kind of lucky.' When we hit the booth tomorrow, it'll hit me at just how fortunate I am."
12:55 p.m. - Derek Dooley arrives the room and holds court with the broadcasters. Before starting, Dooley takes the opportunity to trade chairs with Blackledge while he had stepped out. "I like this one better," he said.
1:00 p.m. - Over at Neyland Stadium, Assistant Media Relations Director Mary-Carter Kniffen leads the student staff in set-up of the press box. With seating capacity for the game maxed out, it takes the staff a little under two hours to get everything ready for game day.
1:10 p.m. - Jim Clausen, father of former Tennessee quarterbacks Casey and Rick, walks through the football complex with Scott Altizer from the football office. The elder Clausen, in town for the game, wanted a look at UT's new Football Training Center.
1:30 p.m. - Vol quarterback Tyler Bray is the final person to meet with the broadcasting crews. As soon as he's done, Bray head back out to lunch with his family, in for the game from California.
1:50 p.m. - Rowe, who will serve as sideline reporter Saturday night, covers multiple sports for the network, but looks forward to the same magic moment in Neyland that many Vol fans wait all year to see.
"Coming through the T is one of the greatest entrances in all of college football," Rowe said. "There's just something special about that and it means more and feels more dramatic down there (on the sideline). I remember we did the first game after (UT) won the national championship. I stood over near the T to try and absorb some of that experience and just remember getting chills, I almost started crying, this is so amazing. To me it's right at the top."
2:30 p.m. - Howard, still in his "casual Friday" look, meets the Knoxville media in a conference room at Andy Holt Tower. A few moments later, Kirk Herbstreit, also of College GameDay enters the same media session. Herbstreit said the GameDay crew was looking forward to the atmosphere Saturday.
"We're excited," he said. "This is a great rivalry, fun to watch. We'll find out early about both of these teams and if they're ready to compete for the SEC East."
2:45 p.m. - With interviews done, the GameDay guys join Chris Fowler on the set to record live shots for later SportsCenters.
3:00 p.m. - Back inside Andy Holt Tower, Tom Rinaldi, feature reporter for ESPN and College GameDay readies to host ESPN's College Football Live from the set outside. Rinaldi has been working all week on a "secret project" for Saturday's show.
Rinaldi's travels this year have taken him to venues around the world, but he says college football is just special.
"I'm really luck that I get to go to all of these different places for all of these different sports and hallowed venues, Wimbledon or England for The Open Championship," Rinaldi said. "But college football has this unique flavor, mania, intensity. For all of a person's connection from birth, feeling like their fandom is a birthright of the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Packers, but there is nothing as strong as `that's my alma mater." And people... just go see gameday every week, it's just sensational."
5:00 p.m. - With the live shots done for the day, the set goes quiet. The excitement in the air is so intense it's practically visible. But now, quiet takes hold in Circle Park and in Neyland Stadium. In just a few hours, that calm and quiet will give way to another excitement filled day, with all clocks counting down to 6:01 PM and Tennessee-Florida.