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Personal Fowler: The Incident on the set of Gameday at the 1995 Iron Bowl

We might not really want to know what Chris Fowler thinks of this place… but we do want to know why a Tennessee flag is back there.

The impending arrival of the ESPN College GameDay crew for Saturday’s clash with Clemson has me waxin’ all nostalgic, back to the first time I can recall showing up to see Fowler and Corso and company live and in person: the 1995 Iron Bowl at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

I was by that point well into year nine of my Eight Year Plan for earning college degrees and obtaining student tickets—with the emphasis probably more on the student tickets, to be honest.  So I had no business trying to squeeze in with a bunch of undergrads nearly ten years younger than me, just for the sake of yelling and booing on cue for the ESPN cameras.  No business at all.

Nevertheless, my roommate and I decided to go.  After all, if you’re going to stretch the College Experience out as unnaturally long as I already had, what was one more largely inappropriate activity?  And who could pass up the chance to boo Corso in person?  (We were still a year away from the addition of Herbstreit.)

Things got strange before Saturday even arrived, when I found out that I had won a contest sponsored by Stouffer’s frozen dinners.  Part of the prize was breakfast at the Stouffer’s corporate tent prior to the game.  Who knew there was a Stouffer’s tent outside Jordan-Hare?  Not me.  But as my roommate and I made our way through the ocean of RVs and early-game-morning bleary-eyed crowds, heading for the GameDay set, we detoured over to said tent and, clad in our wrinkled t-shirts and jeans, joined the suit-and-tie Stouffer execs (who never fully grasped exactly who we were supposed to be, nor exactly why we were crashing their corporate event) for a lovely pre-game meal of (I kid you not) Stouffer’s frozen dinner food.  You’d think they’d at least let the big shots eat real food at an outing like that.

There were only so many odd and uncomfortable glances we could tolerate while chewing on rubbery chicken and rice.  And since time was mercifully drawing near for the GameDay telecast to begin, we bid adieu to our clueless corporate hosts and hurried through the rapidly-swelling orange-and-blue multitudes, pausing only to hurl insults at the occasional crimson-clad interloper.  My secret weapon was rolled up and stashed in my pants—a sign I had cleverly fashioned to include the requisite letters “ESPN” while also being football- and GameDay-relevant, and insulting Lee Corso.

We wormed our way through the throngs, the wind picking up and carrying a slight chill—though nothing to match the insanely intense, freezing cold of the Georgia game a week earlier, at which I had seriously contemplated lighting a section of the fabled Sanford Hedges on fire for warmth.  Somehow we managed to position ourselves just behind the GameDay set—it was, if I recall correctly, on the lawn near the Nicholls Center, where the West Stands entrance was grandly visible in the distance.  From our location we couldn’t see a thing the hosts were doing; other than having a small TV monitor set up nearby, to give us the frontal view from the cameras, all we could see were the backs of their chairs and heads.  But that didn’t matter, because we were only a scant few feet away from them, and we would be on TV!  Okay, maybe we would be on TV.  It depended on the angle the cameras shot at, and as I discovered much later, watching on tape, we were not at all on TV.  But it was worth a try; and when you’re a college student—even a 27 year old one!—such things somehow seem to matter a great deal.

War Damn Man-Child: 27-year-old adult Van Allen Plexico (far right) at an Auburn basketball game on a student ticket somewhere around 1995. Mr. Plexico is joined by (soon to be?) Wishbone co-columnist John Ringer (middle) and Mrs. Ringer (left).

We stood there, elbow to elbow and shoulder to shoulder with fellow fanatics, in that weird state where part of your body is sweating and the rest is freezing.  Through several segments we waited, never quite sure what was going on but just living in the moment of This is GameDay and We Are On It!, and then they went to a commercial and some of the guys around us started yelling at Fowler and Corso.  I couldn’t tell exactly what they were saying, but then Fowler turned around and suddenly he was looking directly at me and my roommate.  He gave us the most condescending smile imaginable and said in a voice just loud enough for the folks right around us to hear:  “You don’t really want to know what I think of this place.”

Oh. My. Goodness.   He. Did. Not. Just. Say. That.

My roomie and I gawked at each other while grumbles erupted in the immediate vicinity.  Oh, for a “hot mic” moment.  Alas, aside from the couple dozen of us located just behind him, no one else had heard it.

When the cameras came back up, I was fuming and decided it was time to unveil my sign.  At that point, though, I was wishing I could somehow refashion it to make fun of Fowler.  Nonetheless, I held it up, right behind Fowler’s head.

Immediately, a security guard shoved his way over to me and snatched it away.   I was shocked!  Had the guy even had time to read it?  Was he going to stuff it in the trash?  Did he know that I’d spent…well, whole minutes thinking up its message, and then scrawling it down in magic marker on taped-together printer paper?

This was simply too much to bear.  First, to hear our town and university and people dissed en masse by Fowler—a guy I’d really liked and respected up till then—and now to have my sign confiscated by the cops!

I moped.  Dejected, I started to grab my roomie by the arm and gesture for us to head for the stadium.

But wait!  Someone to my right was nudging me and pointing.  “Hey, buddy,” he said, “Corso has your sign!”

I looked over at the small TV monitor that was set up nearby and, sure enough, Corso was holding up my taped-together sign and grinning.  There, displayed for everyone to see on national television—held aloft by the person it maligned, no less!—were the bright red words, “LEE CORSO PICKS HIS NOSE.”

“My favorite sign of the year,” Corso proclaimed to loud whoops and cheers from the crowd.

Vindication!

So, if you are a proud Auburn man or woman, before you go hating on Corso for all of his admittedly egregious anti-Auburn moments over the years, and before you go praising Chris Fowler for his silky-smooth studio presence, just bear in mind the events of that breezy November day on the Plains in 1995.  Chris Fowler couldn’t resist taking a cheap shot at his hosts, while Lee Corso had the class to laugh not at us but at himself, and to be cool about it.

Fifteen years later, that memory still stands out for me well beyond anything from the game.

Okay, well, except maybe for big Freddie “my favorite rooms are” Kitchens, impotently hurling the ball through the back of the end zone to finalize our 31-27 victory.  I mean, come on—it was the Iron Bowl, after all.

Van Allen Plexico managed to attend Auburn (and score student football tickets) for some portion of every year between 1986 and 1996. He realizes that’s probably not something one should brag about, but hey. He teaches college near St Louis (because ten years as a student was somehow just not enough time to spend at school) and writes and edits for a variety of publishers. Find links to his various projects at www.plexico.net.

More Iron Bowl:

* Auburn fan who ran onto the field during the 1969 Iron Bowl tells all!
* More like the BUST Bama pep rally…
* The Snorg Tees Girl in a 1987 Auburn Iron Bowl victory T-shirt
* This song about the 1969 Iron Bowl is awesome
* A rap about the 1989 Iron Bowl
* Aubie romances early 80s coed on Bear skin rug
* David Housel’s radio address before the 2002 Iron Bowl

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About Van Allen Plexico

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