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This 'Little Game' hits the big time on ESPN

Email|Print| Text size + By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / November 9, 2007

It is being billed as the "Biggest Little Game in America," and for good reason.

When Amherst travels to Williams's Weston Field for tomorrow's football season finale, the teams will have some high-powered company in the form of broadcast teams. In addition to the NESN crew for the ECAC Game of the Week with Tom Caron and Andy Gresh in the booth and Ashley Adamson on the sideline, ESPN's "College GameDay" will be there for the pregame, from 10 a.m.-noon, marking the program's first visit to a Division 3 school.

Offensive-minded Williams, which was 8-0 a year ago, has won five straight after stumbling out of the gate. Defensive-minded Amherst is 4-3 and has a two-game losing streak. But it's one of those great rivalries where a win for either team can make their season.

"Obviously, we're pretty excited," said Amherst coach E.J. Mills. "The Amherst-Williams game is always a special thing. Certainly, it's the last game for our seniors, but the 'College GameDay' thing has obviously added a nice little twist. It's certainly, I think, a great thing for both our schools to be represented on a national level like that."

Williams coach Mike Whalen said they're getting a taste of what it's like to be in the spotlight and although time-consuming, it's a bonus for the schools.

"Obviously, with NESN doing the game, it's always a big game," said Whalen. "Certainly with the rivalry, it's always a huge rivalry. For both these schools to be the first Division 3 schools on ESPN's 'College GameDay,' it's a huge honor. I think our players and our coaches are excited that people from all across the country are going to get an inside look at these two great schools and these two great football programs and what they have to offer. So it's going to be a special day for all Williams and Amherst people alike."

With some rivalries, there can be animosity. No such situation exists between Mills and Whalen. "We go back a long way," said Whalen. "If a kid says to me he wants to go to Amherst, the first thing I tell him is, 'Hey, you're going to get a great education and you're going to be well coached,' and that's the way I feel. It all starts with the foundation that we have and the respect we have for one another's program."

As much as the matchup means to the coaches, it's also revered by the players.

"This Williams team, as a senior, is kind of the game that defines your career," said Amherst strong safety Rob Grammer. "When you look back at the game, when you look back on your career at Amherst, you'll always look back at this game. People will always ask, 'Did you beat Williams?' And that pretty much defines your career. So it's really special to be a part of this rivalry and to go out there and play your last game against your most fierce rival is a really special feeling."

Switching gears

NESN will feature Boston College's basketball opener at home against the University of New Hampshire tomorrow at 4. Red Sox broadcaster Don Orsillo will handle the play-by-play with Ron Perry the color analyst. It's the first of 35 ACC basketball games on the network, six of which will feature the Eagles. That night at 7, NESN will have the Bruins-Panthers matchup . . . CBS Sports hit the jackpot with the Patriots-Colts game last Sunday. The contest was seen by 66.4 million viewers (who watched six minutes or more). The broadcast averaged 33.8 million viewers, the largest audience for a Sunday afternoon NFL game in the regular season since 1987 (the farthest CBS records go). That number surpasses the previous best of 32.1 million, which was recorded when the Cowboys played the 49ers Nov. 12, 1995. Patriots-Colts was the highest-rated program on TV since the Academy Awards. You could argue there was far more drama last Sunday than the snoozefest that was the Oscars and the plot line was more compelling than "Babel." . . . If you didn't get enough of last weekend's game, Channel 68 will be airing highlights of "The NFL Game of the Week" tomorrow at 6 p.m. The hourlong program, hosted by NFL Films president Steve Sabol, will give the perspective from the inside. There will be footage not seen during the original telecast, and commentary . . . Patriots fans are going to be sleep-deprived more than football lovers in other cities. After this weekend's bye, the team has three straight night games. On Nov. 18, the Patriots face the Bills in Buffalo at 8:15 on Channel 7. On Nov. 25, they host the Eagles at 8:15 on Channel 7. And they play Monday, Dec. 3, at 8:30 against the Ravens in Baltimore. On Dec. 9, the Steelers game is now at 4:15 on Channel 4.

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