Sports Media

On ‘GameDay,’ he can’t avoid the rush

When Saturdays roll around, ex-QB Kirk Herbstreit has a lot of things cooking. When Saturdays roll around, ex-QB Kirk Herbstreit has a lot of things cooking.
By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / October 2, 2009

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During Kirk Herbstreit’s early ’90s days as an Ohio State quarterback, when his teammates included current Patriot receiver Joey Galloway, it’s reasonable to assume he was acquainted with the term “fly pattern.’’

Herbstreit is now an in-demand college football analyst for ESPN and ABC.

And the phrase has taken on an entirely different meaning.

“I have an absolutely wonderful job, a dream job for someone who grew up around football the way I did,’’ said Herbstreit. “But sometimes I do spend a heck of a lot of time on airplanes.’’

Herbstreit, a broadcasting wunderkind who turned 40 in August but is already in his 14th season as a studio analyst on ESPN’s wildly popular “College GameDay,’’ will be in the neighborhood tomorrow when the program comes to Chestnut Hill for Boston College’s matchup with Florida State.

As always, he will be joined by co-host Chris Fowler and co-analyst Lee Corso for the two-hour program (10 a.m.-noon), which will originate from the BC campus for the first time since Sept. 17, 2005. (BC made its Atlantic Coast Conference debut in that game, a 28-17 loss to the Seminoles.)

But his day won’t even be close to complete when “GameDay’’ signs off. Herbstreit, who typically gets up at 6 a.m. since his work begins with a 7:30 a.m. “GameDay’’ production meeting, will take off his wireless microphone, tape a couple of segments, and do a quick meet-and-greet with sponsors.

Then he will hop into a car, zip to the airport with a police escort, and board a plane for Miami, where he’ll arrive “hopefully by 6 p.m.’’ to hammer out a couple of hours of preparation before joining Brent Musberger as analyst for ABC’s 8 p.m. matchup between Oklahoma and Miami.

It’s a long day - and a familiar routine - for Herbstreit, who follows essentially the same plan each Saturday, albeit to and from different destinations. Naturally, he wouldn’t want it any other way.

“It’s funny, from Jan. 8 to Aug. 1, when there’s no college football to cover, I get so much more tired than I do doing this,’’ said Herbstreit, who is married to his college sweetheart and has four sons younger than 10. (Herbstreit tries to catch a 6 a.m. flight every Sunday so he can return home to Columbus, Ohio, to be with his family.)

“Your whole existence for four months during college football season is traveling and studying, and you’re constantly on edge, and yet if I get 3 1/2 hours sleep, I’m pumped. It’s probably not for everyone, but for me, it’s an adrenaline rush.’’

Coincidentally, the trip Herbstreit recalls as his most daunting had to do with another BC-Florida State game, one that aired on ABC. The date was Nov. 3, 2007, and Herbstreit had to fly cross-country in what he described as a hurricane after “GameDay’’ aired from the University of Oregon campus.

“The five or six hours we were on the plane, the whole time the pilot kept updating us on where the eye of the storm was so we could determine where to land,’’ Herbstreit recalled. “We ended up setting up car services at two different airports, eventually landing in Springfield. By the time we got into Boston, it was pouring rain, and I got to the stadium with about 15 minutes to spare before kickoff.’’

Even poised former Big Ten quarterbacks get rattled once in a while.

“Let me tell you, that’s one game I don’t remember a ton about,’’ he said with a laugh.

Sounds familiar
TBS has exclusive rights to broadcast the two Division Series, beginning with a tripleheader Wednesday (start times still to be determined). But a couple of voices will be familiar to Boston fans.

Red Sox television play-by-play broadcaster Don Orsillo will handle the same duties for a series on TBS. And Dennis Eckersley, who was a revelation alongside Orsillo in the NESN booth while filling in for Jerry Remy much of this season, will return for his third postseason as a TBS studio analyst, a role in which he thrives on NESN.

Eckersley said he enjoys the TBS assignment, in part because the network doesn’t ask him to change his natural persona.

“When I first started doing it [three years ago], I was a little nervous, because I didn’t know what to expect,’’ Eckersley said. “But they never asked me to change. I can just be who I am, be myself, and that’s what’s great about it. I feel really comfortable now.’’

At least in front of the camera. Remaining in studio for three games is another matter.

“I’ll get there at 12:30, and we might not be done until 2 a.m.,’’ Eckersley said. “That’s a long day. When it’s over, I’m going to need a second shower.’’

Eckersley agrees with the consensus that a certain 100-plus-win team from the Bronx must be considered the favorite heading into the postseason. But he’s not writing off the team with which he is the most familiar.

“You’ve got to feel good about the Sox, even with their little [losing streak],’’ Eckersley said. “[David] Ortiz has been on a tear, and that’s a beautiful thing. J.D. Drew has been hot, Jacoby Ellsbury has gotten comfortable in the leadoff role. It’s a little scary that [Jon ] Lester and [Josh Beckett] had those problems so close to the playoffs, but if they’re both ready to go, that’s as good as it gets. Really, who matches up with that 1-2?’’

Eckersley is hoping for the first postseason showdown between the Sox and Yankees since the fateful October of 2004.

“That’s what I want. That’s what baseball wants,’’ he said. “And that’s definitely what the network wants.’’

Before and after
With TBS, which will also handle the ALCS broadcasts, and Fox (NLCS, World Series) taking it from here, NESN will air its final Red Sox game of 2009 Sunday, when the club wraps up the regular season against the Indians (1:35 p.m. start). But the network will have hourlong pregame and postgame programming throughout the Red Sox’ postseason run. NESN kicks off “Soxtober’’ with its playoff preview show, hosted by Tom Caron, Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. . . . Smart move for ESPN to bring Bobby Valentine back into its fold. Valentine, who was a studio analyst for ESPN in 2003 before departing for Japan to manage for six seasons, is telegenic and articulate, and his opinions are informed and brash. He will return as an analyst on “Baseball Tonight’’ during the League Championship Series and World Series . . . Speaking of opinionated, NESN announced yesterday that it has signed Mike Milbury to a three-year contract . . . NFL RedZone, which provides fans with a look at every touchdown from every Sunday afternoon game along with highlights, will be available for a free preview Sunday. The channel, produced by the NFL Network, has been made available to all affiliated providers, and Comcast plans to offer the preview to all digital cable subscribers during Sunday’s 1 p.m. games.