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September 9, 2011

ESPN GameDay invades Ann Arbor

When Desmond Howard was inducted into the College Football Hall Of Fame class of 2010, it created a snafu for the Heisman Trophy winner and his alma mater.

The Hall Of Fame stipulates that its members are to be honored during a home game of their former team. Howard, a member of the ESPN College GameDay crew since 2005, couldn't make it back to Ann Arbor at any point last year, because of his responsibilities on the show.

So when he initially heard about the Wolverines' 2011 schedule, Howard was instantly excited.

"We saw that Michigan had scheduled Notre Dame for the first night game, and I made up my mind, no matter where GameDay was that weekend, I was going to get on a plane and fly to Michigan to be honored at that game," Howard said. "It just so happened that the good folks at ESPN think highly enough of the Michigan program to bring the program here."

Click Here to see a Photo Feature of the show setting up

Howard won't have to do any extraneous traveling - the show's elaborate set is already constructed in Ingalls Mall, across North University St. from The Diag. The show will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday morning and will broadcast until noon.

And fans will want to be there.

"You can put out there that there will be a couple special appearances that may take place that would really excite the crowd," associate athletic director for public relations Dave Ablauf said.

This summer, as the Michigan athletic department was planning the mega-event that has come to be known at "The Under The Lights Game," it made more and more sense to attempt to get GameDay on campus.

"I actually reached out to them, because I wanted them to know that we wanted them at Michigan," Ablauf said. "It's a huge day for us, considering it's the first night game. But I also wanted it so they had an opportunity to be here to celebrate Desmond. It's something I thought was important for us to reach out to the to try to get them back here, because it is an historic occasion."

Abluaf said there was a back-and-forth conversation with ESPN, while the network weighed the pros and cons of coming to Ann Arbor or Happy Valley, for Penn State's showdown with Alabama, or several other locations.

In the end, the choice was clear.

"Of course, teams would love to have College GameDay on their campus every Saturday, but our approach is to just go to the best game every week, and this week, it's Notre Dame at Michigan," show producer Tom Engle said. "Without question, it's the best game this week, and it's where we decided to be. There weren't any conversations about looking elsewhere."

Engle said the pageantry surrounding the first night game in Big House history is "icing on the cake" for the show's being here. The crew is excited to see the pregame presentation honoring Howard, but none of it factored into ESPN's decision to bring the show to Ann Arbor.

When the crew looked at the schedule, Michigan-Notre Dame was simply the most exciting match-up in Week Two.

The show has been to Ann Arbor on multiple occasions, most recently in 2007 for the Michigan-Ohio State game.

"Everywhere we go, every week is great, but any time you go to a place like Michigan, with the tradition they have, you always look forward to that," Engle said.

The show has set up in a variety of locations during its previous trips to Michigan. In 2007, GameDay was in the parking lot across the street from Michigan Stadium's north endzone. Before that, it set up on the U-M Golf Course. Before the 1997 Michigan-Ohio State game, the show was actually inside the stadium gates, on the concourse.

Michigan and GameDay discussed several of those options and others, including Pioneer High School and the university's outdoor track, before settling on Ingalls Mall.

"Obviously, being on campus is tremendous," Engle said. "For us to take the show to the students and make it as easy for them to get to us as possible, the better our turnout will be. The more people we get there, the better."

In the past, an on-campus show didn't make sense for either side; with a hefty walk from Ingalls Mall to the stadium, turnout for the show would have been a concern. Because of the late kickoff, fans will have plenty of time to get from the show to the game.

"It's the best situation we could ever ask for," Ablauf said. "It's going to be a great atmosphere."

From GameDay, fans can head to The Diag, where the school will hold "Brady's Brunch," a chance for fans to eat and hear Michigan coach Brady Hoke speak. From 12-7, a student-oriented tailgate will take place on Elbel Field, too, creating a natural progression down to The Big House for the game.

Even though the show begins 11 hours before the game, Engle says, in similar experiences, there has always been a great turnout.

"Even last week, we were at a neutral-site game in Dallas for LSU and Oregon, and we had a tremendous turnout," Engle said. "Obviously, we weren't on the campus of either team, and that was a concern. Coming to a campus, it's never been a problem. We've always had a real positive turnout, and we're looking for the same this week."


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