ESPN/ABC college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit wowed about 600 college football fans Tuesday afternoon at The Parklands of Floyds Fork Kick-Off Luncheon at the Louisville Marriott Downtown – including some who were probably just there for a free lunch.
Parks Director Scott Martin – representing his alma mater Boise State in an orange and blue tie easily visible from Coeur d’Alene – led a kickoff, fund-raising rally with a proclamation, “Our long national nightmare is over; college football is back,” – which hopefully also means a temporary end to endless newspaper stories about the recruiting of elongated, 15-year-old high school basketball players.
Martin delivered an impassioned history of The Parklands and its value to the entire Louisville area in terms of business, family and community visibility.
“Great cities have great parks,” he said, dropping the names of regional challengers and leaders such as Nashville and Indianapolis.
“What matters is 50 years from now what will be the best city to raise a family.”
Herbstreit, living on a very game tight schedule, barely made the kickoff. He was led onto the field by veteran Louisville radio and TV personality Terry Meiners, who offered an introduction, a seat next to him on an elevated stage and a knowledgeable background of local football plays and heroes.
The long curtain behind them was solid Kentucky Blue – but there were no obvious protests from U of L fans.
Herbstreit, a former Ohio State quarterback now in his 20th year as an analyst, was as comfortable in the setting as a ten-term Congressman.
He told stories of the soon to be 80-year-old Lee Corso, his College GameDay sidekick who once coached football at U of L and tried to energize its then moribund fan base by riding an elephant onto the field.
Corso also took Louisville to a 1970 bowl game – its second in school history – and moved on to coach Indiana University, leading it to two bowl games at a school generally much more interested in a round ball.
Corso’s greatest moment as an Indiana coach, however, was when he called a timeout in a 1976 game after taking a 7-6 lead over Ohio State to have the entire team pose for a picture in front of the scoreboard – its first lead over the Buckeyes in 25 years.
It didn’t last.
Corso’s GameDay shtick includes ending the three-hour program by donning a monstrous hunk of headgear of the team he predicts will win the game – a move that has come to energize the fans watching the GameDay show live behind them in fits of joy or rage.
“For the first two hours and 58 minutes,” Herbstreit said of the headgear donning, “nobody cares what the hell we are talking about.”
Herbstreit, a man with a boy-next-door demeanor, told stories of dealing with the rabid fan bases at the schools they visit on a weekly basis, particularly if someone had predicted a loss (see Lee Corso above) on a previous visit.
The greetings are even tougher if someone like GameDay co-host Desmond Howard – who played at the University of Michigan – does a show at Ohio State University.
“Desmond Howard’s life is hell for three hours,” said Herbstreit, who added the GameDay crew does have its own security unit.
As Meiners asked for applause for fans of U of L or UK – a pretty evenly divided bunch in the packed ballroom – Herbstreit offered opinions on whither each team goest in the ever-expensive realm of college athletics where hundreds of millions are spent in pursuit of facilities and dormitories for outsized adolescents.
He traced U of L’s positive progress from its Thursday nights schedule of yore to meeting Alabama in the 2018 season opener for all of college football – and its dance through various conferences to the ACC and a better place in the bowl picture.
Of Kentucky, he pointed out the better recruiting classes the school has landed, its upgrade in facilities and the need to “get some wins early” before the SEC schedule buries them.
When Meiners asked for any Indiana University fans in the audience to show support, two men in the far corner of the banquet hall applauded politely.
Herbstreit, after first asking if the subject was basketball or football, said Indiana football needed to develop a little “momentum.”
Like maybe a 14-6 temporary lead over Ohio State.
He spoke of his total immersion into college football, the two-day run-ups to the weekly games talking top players, coaches and staff meetings – with little time to tour any campuses, especially wearing a monstrous hunk of headgear.
Seated in his chair, holding a football, he was never far from his next opinion – with a delivery based on knowledge, research and an honest approach mixed with humor that didn’t offend—unless you attended the University of Michigan and still hate Ohio State University.
Heading into the fourth quarter of the discussion, Herbstreit drew the most attention with his goal line defense of the history, pageantry, tail-gating gestalt and emotion of college football when compared to the NFL.
He lamented the fact too many college athletes don’t enjoy the moment worrying about NFL careers – with an eventual NFL success rate for them somewhere below two percent.
Creating actual murmurs in the room, he expressed wonder at how any NFL fan could go to any game feeling any excitement prior to the playoffs – especially a 1 p.m. game.
“I would much rather go to a good high school football game than an NFL game,” he said, a confession that almost audible gasps from some seated at round tables across the room.
He also spoke again of Corso, his pleased reaction when grown men who played for him 30 and 40 years ago come up to him to say hello at a GameDay visit.
“When companies CEOs retire,” Herbstreit said, “they often leave a lot of money. When a head coach retires he leaves pieces of himself all over the country.”
Herbstreit left the room stage left, still in a hurry, and to a large round of applause.
The Big Winner: The Parklands of Floyds Fork.
Photos by John Nation
To see more photos from the Kick-Off Luncheon, click here.
Former Louisville-Courier columnist Bob Hill is a historian for The Parklands of Floyds Fork. He travels Floyds Fork writing of the people, the places and the history of the stream within the 20-mile park system - all of which is to be preserved in the Filson Historical Society. Some of Hill's stories appear in A Landscape and its Legacy, the commemorative book for The Parklands of Floyds Fork project. Hill has also compiled a Floyds Fork “Places & Faces” presentation that adds imagery to the words.
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