By Bill Trocchi, SI.com
ATLANTA -- Where are you watching the games today? I'm guessing your setup is not as cool as that of Kirk, Chris, Lee and Desmond.
Parked in the middle of Atlanta's Centennial Park right right now is an enormous bus that would give John Madden's famous cruiser a run for its money. There is a bright orange Home Depot wrap around it, with huge pictures of Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit on the side, leaving no doubt who this vehicle belongs to (and who it is sponsored by).
Inside, there are two areas separated by a small kitchen equipped with a microwave, fridge and freezer. The rear of the bus is the larger viewing area, with four smaller plasma TVs mounted on the rear wall surrounding a huge plasma in the middle. There are also two TVs mounted on the side, for a total of seven. There are six leather captain's chairs, plus two three-person leather coaches lining the sides (not pictured above). The front area of the bus has two TVs, and is an area where one of the hosts may take a short nap during one of their long Saturdays.
"It is a show within a show in there," Fowler said. "We couldn't really have cameras in there, though. There would be a lot of bleeping out, plus people see who we are rooting for, etc. You can't not be a fan. We all have it in us. You just can't show it on the air."
When Appalachian State was beating Michigan last year, the crew gathered in the back and viewed the impossible.
"Poor Desmond was dying with every snap," Fowler says of former Michigan Heisman winner Desmond Howard. "The rest of us were just trying to digest what it all means."
Howard says the mood is usually light, not analytical or serious.
"We do what guys do," Howard says. "Its relaxed. We're just enjoying the games. We're taking mental notes, but we're just doing what guys do."
Part of Gameday's tradition and appeal is to go to the biggest game each weekend. The crew usually has an idea where it will be the following week, unless an upset throws things out of whack.
"A lot of dreams have died in that bus," Fowler says. "We think we're going somewhere and it blows up, and you know it is bad for next week's show."
The bus also serves as a haven from the crowds that the show's personalities attract, which can be in the thousands.
"The bus is a place for us to relax after the show and watch the games. For me, I can't go out now because the Alabama fans will be after me," said Corso, who picked Clemson to close Gameday today. "It is a good place to hide."
The bus, which has been a part of the Gameday production since Home Depot came on board as a sponsor six years ago, logs about 30,000 miles a year with driver Bobby Stephens at the controls. Tentatively, the next three stops are Gainesville (Miami-Florida), Los Angeles (USC-Ohio State) and Tempe (Georgia-Arizona State). If you see the giant Home Depot bus outside of a stadium on a Saturday afternoon, there's a good chance ESPN's personalities will be inside living the college football fan's dream in their mobile air-conditioned man-cave.
"We used to be in this dilapidated trailer with aluminum chairs and no room," Corso said. "Since Home Depot came, that bus has been wonderful."
Photos courtesy of Richard A. DuCree