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Chris Murphy, Published September 21 2013

College football discussion has Fargo flavor Saturday

FARGO – ESPN’s Chris Fowler called it a scene that has to be seen and heard to be believed. For college football fans across the country, the center of college football had a downtown Fargo backdrop Saturday, as it was the host to “College GameDay.”

“It’s ‘College GameDay’ and we’re in Fargo,” Fowler said, sounding shocked he had just said it. “Welcome to a boom town where the business is winning championships and building a dynasty.”

The day began with the “College GameDay” analysts explaining why they were in Fargo with a graphic depicting the lopsided FBS matchups of the week. And it ended as it always does, with a college football legend in Lee Corso.

Corso put on North Dakota State mascot Thundar’s head, walked out of the Fargo Theatre on a red carpet with a baby bison named “Corso” and picked the Bison to defeat Delaware State. That put the finishing touches on three hours of college football hosted by Fargo and NDSU.

“We go to a lot of great places every year, but I think the bar has been raised to a different level after this trip to Fargo,” ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit said on the broadcast. “This is amazing.”

Although less than 30 minutes were actually dedicated to North Dakota State football in the three hours, the green and yellow painted the corner and hung out the windows of Broadway and Third Avenue, transforming a city block into a college campus for viewers.

“This is special,” ESPN’s Desmond Howard said. “This reminds me of my days in Green Bay with the green and gold. I’m really feeling this vibe. I love this.”

The show had a little bit of everything Fargo mixed in with college football. It had mockery of the University of North Dakota when Herbstreit said, “This isn’t hockey season,” and Corso starting a “tear it down” chant after a Fighting Sioux flag was pointed out.

A segment with NDSU coach Craig Bohl talking about his time at NDSU. Bohl’s impression of legendary football coach Lou Holtz in a later segment showed the personality of a man who rarely lets his guard down.

There was the woodchipper from the movie “Fargo” and the Troll Trophy, which goes to the winner of Saturday’s Concordia College and St. Olaf football game. Former NDSU defensive end Phil Hansen was booed when he picked South Dakota State to upset Nebraska, and Fowler even attempted a Fargo accent when saying, “the Gophers.”

Midway through the show, a segment written by ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski on the players who made it big in the NFL without taking the Division I FBS route, such as Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, Randy Moss, Kurt Warner, Terrell Owens, Richard Dent, Phil Simms and Jared Allen, reminded fans that sometimes recruiters get it wrong.

“They didn’t play in football palaces,” the segment said. “Nobody sent a camera crew to see what hat they’d choose on national signing day. Nike didn’t customize their uniforms. Their scores were on the agate page, not the front page. Maybe they were 2 inches too short, two-tenths of a second too slow or maybe, just maybe, the big-school recruiters had rocks for brains. Go ahead. You take the big-school players, the FBS players. I’ll take the FCS guys. The guys with chips on their shoulder pads. And just to be fair, we’ll spot you a touchdown.”

Heartfelt segments on the death of UCLA wide receiver Nick Pasquale’s eight days after his one and only play in Division I football and Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s handling of his mother’s breast cancer kept focus on the FBS. But the spotlight always came back to the center stage with the Fargo Theatre sign in the background to remind everyone where they were at.

“There’s nothing that’s ever been like this right here,” Corso said, looking out into the crowd.

ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi mixed poetry with humor in his segment on North Dakota, NDSU football and actual bison.

“It’s distant and limitless, open and wondrous,” Rinaldi said with visuals of endless fields filling the screen. “It’s the geographic center of the North American continent, but, really, North Dakota doesn’t feel central to anything.”

A number of NDSU football players followed the quote, listing how many miles Fargo was from the campuses of the University of Oregon, University of Alabama and Stanford and telling tales of not knowing where it was on the map before coming and how friends thought it was part of Canada.

Rinaldi asked a bison how to pronounce “bison” and received only a grunt as a response.

“Maybe on a football field you should know this: Fargo isn’t so far away at all,” Rinaldi said, which was followed with NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen saying NDSU could play with the best teams in the country.

The Fargodome got its due, as the NDSU entrance to the field was highlighted, along with the crowd noise in the building.

“Very intimidating atmosphere,” Herbstreit said. “It’s tough to come in there. You’ve got be a lot better than the Bison to win in there.”

It wouldn’t be “College GameDay” without humor from the fans, and it was everywhere with signs.

Signs ranged from mocking Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, who is married to Samantha Ponder of “College GameDay" to one that simply said, “I have a belly button.”

It was “College GameDay” in Fargo, which is something 72 FBS football teams have never experienced in their cities.