“I’m the biggest fan!” the sheriff said, referring to Corso and not the elephant. He asked if he could photograph the elephant. The producer said certainly, as long as he kindly would refrain from posting the photo before 11:59 a.m. Saturday. The sheriff took the photo. He said to please tell Corso he’d been watching him for years.
He said also, “Roll Tide.”
A delirious ecosystem has formed around the Corso house this football season, and it has become its own life force with its own durable anecdotes, its own array of ersatz species and its own habitat of, well, yes, love. In a pandemic and a pinch, ESPN and its Saturday morning institution of a college football show, “College GameDay,” have wrung some lemonade from this lemon of a year. “Our goal the whole season,” ESPN producer Patrick Abrahams said, “was anytime anybody sees him on screen, they smile.”
While the other panelists and analysts appear on the usual set in the usual college towns, albeit without crowds bleating from behind, the 85-year-old star character and long-ago coach chimes in from the family home, the family yard, the family pool, along with plastic flamingoes, football signs, production staffers engulfed in godawful-hot mascot suits. It’s a curiosity behind a sort of a curtain — even a nosy visitor can’t surpass the mossy trees and clubhouse outside the gate, and also should not, in a pandemic — and it has wound up bolstering some premises.
One: Mr. Corso really is some kind of beloved.
Another: He’s that rare television figure so familiar and defined that people’s eyes brighten as if they know him when they don’t technically.
And another: Even a 64-year marriage can annex fresh rituals.
After all, following upon Corso’s Friday night rigatoni and the Saturday morning wake-up at 6, his structured schedule has taken on one touching vignette. Promptly at 7:45, and continuing until 8 or just beyond, Corso’s wife, Betsy, does his makeup. “I’ll tell her she’s really good,” Lee Corso said in a telephone interview. “She keeps kidding me, she wants a credit on the TV show. ‘Not so fast, my friend!’ ”
Those last five words have spent decades ricocheting in sequence from Corso’s larynx through the untroubled Saturday mornings of American television rooms, which also have beheld a custom still managing to come up well shy of stale. That’s the end-of-show bit just before noon in which Corso dons the mascot headgear of whichever team he suspects will win the biggest game of a given Saturday all newborn and full of promise. It’s just that nobody ever imagined he would don the Alabama elephant head in his own yard, atop an 18-foot makeshift platform next to a 17-foot fake elephant as he correctly sensed Alabama would beat Georgia.
“He doesn’t say no,” Abrahams said. “He said, ‘You want me to go on top of the elephant,’ and, ‘Let’s do it.’ When we pulled the elephant up at the gate, he had pulled up in