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Whitley Writes: Lee Corso Still Going Strong At FCSports Kickoff Dinner

Ah, the sounds of the season. You know football season is back when you hear bands playing, Oklahoma State players denying payoffs, Nick Saban snarling at the media and one distinctive voice.

“Not so fast, my friend!”

Lee Corso didn’t break out his catchphrase Monday night, but he said a lot of other things. It was part of Citrus Bowl Sports tradition, the Kickoff Dinner at Linda’s La Cantina Steakhouse. After months of mindless diversions, we could finally talk about the most important topic in America: College football, or more precisely…

“Where the chickens?” one guy yelled at the guest speaker.

Corso was last spotted over the weekend squiring around a chicken. After Michigan accused Notre Dame of chickening out of its rivalry, it was Corso’s way of predicting the Fighting Irish would beat the Wolverines.

“Win one for the chicken!” he said.

Alas, the final was Chickens 41, Notre Dame 30. Corso had nothing to cluck about, not that it bothered him. It’s all part of the shtick that’s made him far more famous than he ever was as the coach of the Orlando Renegades.

He’s starting his 26th year on ESPN’s College GameDay. You’ve seen it on TV, but to truly experience it until you have to be there. It’s football Woodstock when the show hits a college town. Students camp out, party and go berserk over the performers on stage.

There’s Chris Fowler, Desmond Howard and Kirk Herbstreit. Herbie would be McCartney, the cute Beatle.

“Girls are throwing panties and keys at Herbstreit,” Corso said. “Me – nothing.”

Well, that’s not exactly true. He said a 98-year-old lady held up a sign recently.

“Grannies for Corso.”

He was kidding. Or maybe not.

The guy has become a college football icon. Keith Jackson did it with his voice and down-home gravitas. Corso has done it with piercing opinions, humor and a couple hundred mascot heads. When he puts one on at the end of GameDay to predict which team will win, the crowd roars with approval or disdain. Either way, Corso the character wins.

At least nobody had to camp out in the parking lot to see him perform Monday. About 300 people got in, thought Citrus Sports probably could have sold 10 times as many tickets if there had been enough seating and filet mignon.

(Quick aside to any women thinking of joining Citrus Sports: Do it! My quick demographic study of the room revealed it was 94 percent male, three percent women and two percent I’m not sure about. Whatever the case, Corso was far more likely to have boxer shorts thrown at him than panties. Now, back to the program….)

FCSports is lucky enough to have Corso in this area code. He traditionally drops by and gives locals a big taste of what he serves America every Saturday morning. He took the microphone, then paused as the room grew silent.

Corso had a stroke in May of 2009. He spent eight days in the hospital. His right side partially paralyzed and he couldn’t speak. Lee Corso couldn’t speak? It was like Usain Bolt being unable to run.

Corso threw himself into rehab. The goal was to be ready for the season-opening show at Georgia Tech. He did it. The cadence was slower and his words didn’t come as clearly, but nobody seemed to mind.

He said Monday night that his brain and mouth still aren’t quite in sync, though you would hardly have known it once he got rolling. Here’s a quick sample of the Q-and-A:

“Florida is a hell of a lot better than Miami.”

Yeah, just don’t tell that to the scoreboard last Saturday.

“Central Florida will beat Penn State.”

You read that right. UCF will beat the Nittany Lions in State College, Pa. Corso’s one gripe is that the Knights aren’t making Penn State return the home game next year in Orlando. The rematch will be played in Ireland. That sounds nice, but…

“Have you ever been to Dublin, Ireland?” Corso said. “It’s like Birmingham. There’s nothing there.”

Speaking of nothing there, what is going on at USC?

Corso says the problems are easily traced. Lane Kiffin was the Trojans’ offensive coordinator when Al Davis hired him to coach the Raiders. Kiffin failed in Oakland but got Phil Fulmer’s old gig at Tennessee. He turned the Vols into the Pariahs but somehow landed in Hollywood with the Trojans.

“I want to know who his agent is,” Corso said.

Then there’s the player everybody on earth seems interested in. Tim Tebow. Is he destined for the NFL, the CFL, the Arena League or the Lingerie League?

“Tebow’s got a great future outside football,” Corso said. “He’s got more important things to do than screw around with the NFL.”

Everybody in the audience – Gators, Seminoles, Knights, Hurricanes, Baptists, Atheists – seemed to agree with that assessment. On and on it went until Corso was asked who’ll win the national championship.

He said it’ll be Alabama against Stanford. And since the game is being played at the Rose Bowl, Corso predicted a surprise winner.

Stanford?

“They are the Alabama of the West,” Corso said.

If only he’d had the tree outfit that Stanford’s mascot wears, it would have been a perfect ending. It was still obvious speaker still gave the crowd what it came for. Even if nobody threw their boxer shorts at him.

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