By the time college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit gets on the television on Saturday mornings for ESPN’s College GameDay—the on-location pregame show uses whatever campus with the week’s most intriguing game as its backdrop—the hard work is over. Most of Herbstreit’s stat crunching and game-film watching has been done long before the show airs. By the 9 a.m. start, in fact, the only thing left for him to do is toss around a few opinions with on-air teammates Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Desmond Howard. Come noon, Herbie rushes off to wherever he’s scheduled to be that night to fulfill his obligation as an analyst for ABC Sports’ primetime game.
“I live in Nashville,” begins Herbstreit, a former Ohio State quarterback who is in the midst of his 18th year with ESPN. “[Four weeks ago], I went from Nashville up to North Dakota, down to Austin, back to Nashville. [Then the week after], I [went] to Columbus [Ohio] to Athens [Ga.], back to Columbus and then back to Nashville.” We’ve got jet lag just from listening to the guy.
Of course, the other side to the seemingly endless hours on planes and the long days on set is being around football fans. And thanks to an exciting new partnership with Allstate, that winning relationship is only going to get better. The Ultimate Road Trip Sweepstakes is the opportunity of a lifetime for one sports fan and three guests to watch the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans with Herbstreit, win tickets to the VIZIO BCS National Championship in Pasadena, Calif. and receive the keys to a new 2014 Buick Enclave. Herbstreit recently took a timeout to talk to our Forbes Travel Guide editors about must-visit stadiums, the best places for tailgating and living out of a suitcase.
Your travel schedule is incredible. How in the world do you stay alert and wide-eyed through all of this?
Man, I think it’s two things: I think it’s adrenaline, No. 1; and I think it is the love for the sport, No. 2. Those are the two things, because I have four children and, in the months of March, April or May, if I was asked to go to sleep at 1 in the morning and wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning [like I do during football season], I’d feel like a truck ran me over. If I’m not in my normal work mode, I might go to bed at 8:30 or 9 p.m.
During the season, how does a typical week of preparation work out?
For me, it really starts Monday morning with my research and all the work that you try to put in prior to getting on location. I do GameDay in the morning, but I also call the game for ABC at night with Brent Musburger. So, for me, it’s a little bit of preparing on multiple levels. I’ll fly Thursday to [the school where the Saturday night game is played], meet with the coaches, go to practice, look at film and do everything I can to prepare for that game. And then Friday, I’ll fly to [the GameDay location] to be there for Friday and Saturday morning, do the show in the morning, and then I’ll fly back to call the game on Saturday night [for] ABC. So, it’s pretty much one big week of preparation. If [I’m] awake, it’s pretty much preparing, in one form or another. Or, [I’m] doing a radio interview or talking to a producer or [I’m] on TV. There’s very little time for much of anything else.
As you know, a team from the SEC has won the last seven national titles. Do you see anybody putting up a serious challenge to Alabama and the rest of the conference this year?
Well, it seems like every year there is potentially a team out there, and then the SEC shows its dominance in that championship game. I mean, Alabama—it’s just amazing to watch the way they’re able to win the battle at the line of scrimmage. But this does look like the year where an Oregon or an Ohio State or the winner of Florida State vs. Clemson [could win the title]. Stanford’s a great looking team, too.
Another thing that the SEC does really well is tailgate. LSU and Ole Miss are generally near the top of lists when it comes to pregame fun. Name some schools that might surprise people for doing a really good job with tailgating.
One thing that I tell my wife all the time is that I have never, ever been able to tailgate as an adult. Not once. Two things I’ve missed out on in doing this job for the last 18 years are tailgating with family and friends and going to high school football [games]. I love high school football and I missed out on going to [those games]. From afar, from looking and watching people enjoy their tailgating, it looks like Wisconsin doesn’t have to take a backseat to very many people when it comes to tailgating. They’ve got the grills set up for as far as you can see—the smokers, the brats, every kind of meat you can imagine. They look like they’re having a great time. LSU, as you mentioned. Almost anywhere in the SEC, it’s almost becoming an art on how to smoke brisket and how to smoke different barbecue. The thing I’ve always appreciated about the SEC is you know you’re at an SEC game when, on Thursday afternoon, those big campers start to come into the game [area]. On Thursday! Not Friday night or Saturday morning. They get there on Thursday to start smoking their meat and get ready for a big weekend. I’ve always been impressed with that.
The Allstate Ultimate Road Trip Sweepstakes will send someone to two of the most hallowed venues in the world, the Superdome and the Rose Bowl. What are the stadiums that have left you in awe and that you suggest every football fan to visit?
I would say going to Autzen Stadium [at University of Oregon] in Eugene, Ore. It’s a great atmosphere. It’s not quite as big as some of the other stadiums, but it is absolutely crazy. I would say LSU [in Baton Rouge] at night is a great place to watch a game. But of all the bowl games, the one that is by far—by far!—just at a whole different level is the Rose Bowl. It is the holy grail of all the bowl games. It’s like what makes Augusta Augusta, you know? There is just something different about having the San Gabriel Mountains [in the background]. There are palm trees that are sticking out on the outside of the top of the stadium. And the grass—it’s almost like there is not a blade out of position for a game. It’s landscaped immaculately. It is just the most beautiful setting I’ve ever seen for a sporting event.
Photos Courtesy of Bobak Ha’Eri, Kirk Herbstreit, Allstate and flickr-Ken Lund