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College Gameday’ draws fans, students to JACC

Sam Werner | Monday, January 26, 2009

Eight hours before tip-off of Saturday night’s basketball game against Connecticut, an estimated 4,500 people filled the Joyce Center to witness ESPN’s morning pre-game show “College Gameday.”

School officials estimated 3,700 students, many of whom had camped out the night before in the Joyce Center Fieldhouse, attended the event.

“It was a real exciting experience that showcased the school well,” junior Dallas Frey said. “The turnout by the student body was definitely the most surprising part for me.”

Students began filing into the Joyce arena from the Fieldhouse at 9 a.m., and the general public was admitted at 10 a.m. Numerous ESPN personalities commented on the size and enthusiasm of the Notre Dame student body. Students also said they could feel the excitement in the air.

“We have great school spirit, probably the best in the country, but maybe some people on the basketball side didn’t know that,” Frey said. “And I think that myself and a lot of Notre Dame students took pride in the fact that we looked good and we had so many people out there for the Saturday morning show.”

Junior Doug Hummon said Saturday’s festivities made the day feel more like a home football game than basketball game.

“It was electric, really,” he said. “The atmosphere was great. I’ve never seen that kind of support outside of football.”

When the show started at 11 a.m., hosts Rece Davis, Bob Knight, Jay Bilas, Hubert Davis and former Irish basketball coach Digger Phelps discussed college basketball news from around the country and previewed Saturday’s slate of games. The crowd cheered for Phelps and booed the Duke graduate Bilas who earlier in the week said the Joyce was not an intimidating venue to play in as an opposing team. Phelps also played the part of cheerleader, revving up the crowd starting several cheers.

“It was fun having Digger [Phelps] pumping everyone up,” Hummon said.

The student body also responded to the analysts’ on-air comments. When one of them suggested that North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough might be the toughest player in college basketball, the crowed responded with boos and a chant of “Harangody,” in support of Notre Dame center Luke Harangody.

Fans were also allowed to make signs to hold up behind the hosts during the show. Some signs were pro-Irish, such as one that said “McAlarney’s Shooting School Open for Business,” but many were anti-Connecticut. One such sign said, “Thabeet = Gody’s Pre-dinner Snack,” in reference to Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet, who months ago said that Harangody was “not that tough.”

Frey said his favorite sign was one that said “Fighting for 46,” which referred to the Irish home winning streak that ended at 45 on Saturday night.

“Even though it ended at 45, I think our team was fighting for 46, and the fans were certainly fighting for 46,” Frey said.

Towards the end of the show, a Notre Dame student was given the chance to win $17,500 from State Farm on a half-court shot. Unfortunately, the shot fell short of the hoop.

Students said that Gameday’s presence on campus only amplified the excitement for what was already a big-time match-up.

“It increased the atmosphere by getting people exciting earlier in the day and really building it up and hyping it up as much as possible,” Frey said. “Even 20 to 25 minutes before tip-off when we were chanting ‘Let’s go, Irish’, it seemed like we were at a fever pitch and ready to go.”

Even though the Irish lost, 69-61, in Saturday night’s game, students said they would still look back on the Gameday experience with fond memories.

“I mean it does matter that we lost,” sophomore Kelly Pierson said. “But I’ll still remember it as a good experience.”