Popular ESPN broadcaster and sports analyst Lee Corso touched down in Houston Thursday, but it wasn’t for a trip to UH's football field. This time, Corso’s visit was personal.
The 81-year-old College GameDay co-host made the trek from his home in Orlando to the Bayou City to serve as guest speaker at Houston Aphasia Recovery Center’s (HARC) annual “Let’s Talk” charity luncheon.
HARC is a non-profit therapeutic wellness center for persons with aphasia, the loss of the ability to understand or express speech caused by brain damage. It’s a cause Corso is all too familiar with, having suffered a stroke in 2009. With it, he temporarily lost the ability to speak as well as partial use of his right arm and leg.
With hard work and determination, Corso successfully returned to his post at ESPN within four months. He’s been a fixture on College GameDay since 1987 and remains one of college football's most entertaining, knowledgeable, and opinionated analysts.
We caught up with the warm and friendly Corso, who sipped hot tea to keep his words from getting stuck (a lingering effect of the stroke), for a quick conversation about GameDay and college football.
CultureMap: ESPN’s College GameDay is such a phenomenon. Why do you think that is?
Lee Corso: One of the things that helped us the most is that we went on the road. In 1993, Florida State played Notre Dame in South Bend. We took the show out of the studio to the site and it exploded after that. We could feel the crowd’s enthusiasm and it made the show 10 times as good. Now it’s grown into an event. It’s like a rock concert. We go places and people stay up all night to get there, and they’re having parties all around us. It’s really unbelievable.
CM: How did the tradition of choosing who you think will win the game at College GameDay’s site by donning the headpiece of the school's mascot begin?
LC: I was in Columbus and picking Ohio State to win. I saw “Brutus Buckeye” (the school’s mascot) walk behind me, so I said to Kirk Herbstreit (Corso's GameDay counterpart), who went to school there, “Do you think you can get me that Brutus head to put on? They (the audience) will know I picked Ohio State to win and I won’t have to say anything.”
They got the Brutus headgear for me so I put on, and the crowd went crazy! I said, “Oh boy, I’ve got a shtick here, I think I’ll keep doing it.” And I’ve put on about 275 heads since then.
CM: Is conference realignment in college football done?
LS: No, there’s still some changes to come. I think the one place that’s got to be careful is the Big 12 conference. If the Big 12 doesn’t do something, I wouldn’t be surprised if Texas and Oklahoma leave 4-5 years from now and go someplace else just like Texas A&M did.
CM: The University of Houston's campaign to join the Big 12 Conference was rejected. Will the school be able to eventually get into one of the Power Five conferences?
LS: No and the reason is, there’s a limit to how many teams they can take because they split the money television-wise and don't want anyone else to go in. But the University of Houston is in good shape where they are now in the American Athletic (Conference).
CM: What are your thoughts on the new head coaches both at the University of Houston (Major Applewhite) and at the University of Texas (Tom Herman)?
LS: Texas is one of the five best coaching jobs in America and Herman is going to be terrific. He’s proven it here in Houston. With Applewhite, Houston was smart. They got stability and there’s no question that’s going to help them.
Both of these guys will be successful. I don’t think Houston will be quite as good without (quarterback Greg) Ward. Man, he was something. But (Kyle) Allen from Texas A&M should be a good player and (defensive tackle Ed) Oliver is one of the best defensive players in America. There’s no question about it.