ATLANTA — Lee Corso has almost three decades at ESPN under his belt, and the former college football coach still hasn’t lost his touch. This fall he kicks off another season as a member of the traveling caravan that is College GameDay. Corso, who turns 80 years old this week, continues to captivate college football fans with his trademark phrases and headgear-toting game picks on Saturday mornings.
On Monday Corso took part in a panel at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta that focused on the evolution of College GameDay. Afterward SI.com caught up with Corso to chat about his future, his favorite headgear moments and more.
SI: You’ve been with ESPN since 1987. Did you expect your TV career to last this long?
Lee Corso: I had no idea. I had 27 years as a college coach, and now I have 27 years in television. I tell you what, ESPN has been very good to me. A lot of people don’t realize it, but a while ago , I had a stroke, and it really knocked me down. But ESPN never once forgot me. They stayed with me. And that’s why I’ve been with ESPN, I’m going to be with ESPN and I’m going to stay with ESPN.
SI: How close were you to hanging it up?
LC: Oh, the opposite. I had the stroke on May 16, 2009. And I was supposed to be on television that September. The doctor said, “Oh, there’s no way you’ll be on television in September.” The problem was, I make a living talking, but the only thing it affected was my speech. I couldn’t talk! That was really something. At night, I worried about myself. I worried I wasn’t going to make it. But I had great therapists, and they were great people. They helped me through it, and I just got more bound and determined to make it back.
SI: Health-wise, how are you now?
LC: I feel good so far. I’m hanging in there!
SI: You turn 80 years old on Friday. How much longer do you see yourself going at ESPN?
LC: As long as they keep me! I don’t put a number on it. See, when you’re 80, the only people who want to be 80 are 79. [laughs] So I’m going to do this as long as I physically can add something to the broadcast. And I want to do it with passion.
LC: Oh, sure. But for me, it was easy. Nobody asked me to coach. I didn’t have a choice. I might as well stick in television. [laughing]
SI: You’ve put on a mascot’s headgear 257 times in your College GameDay career. Do you have a favorite moment?
LC: Bill Murray at Florida State-Clemson in 2013. It was so spontaneous, and it was controversial. He got up from his seat, and I was dancing around with the spear dressed as Seminole. He threw me down and acted like he was beating me up. The crowd was going crazy. Then he took the spear and threw it away. It was unbelievable.
I also had my three grandkids on the show when we were at Oklahoma-Florida State one year. It was at Florida State. I said, “Boys, don’t take this personal, this is strictly business.” You know, from The Godfather? And I picked Oklahoma! And they started crying. They’re Florida State fans.
SI: How excited are you about Rece Davis taking over as host of GameDay?
LC: It’s a great opportunity. He’ll do a magnificent job. He’s well-prepared, he knows his business and he also doesn’t have an ego. That’s very important. He’s a good guy.