It had been 23 years since UCLA hosted ESPN’s College GameDay, so Bill Walton wanted to make sure no one felt forgotten.
The Bruins basketball legend and guest picker mentioned Gary Beban, Troy Aikman, Mark Harmon, Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Billy Kilmer … and that was just among the school’s famous alumni.
The Rolling Stones, Ahmad Rashad and the Lewis and Clark Expedition also received shout-outs during Walton’s rants. Basketball players and coaches, some deceased and many long past their playing days, were referenced while he was making football picks.
Fired Washington State coach Nick Rolovich received some unsolicited advice — “Get a vaccination,” Walton said — and ESPN analyst Lee Corso got a kiss on the head.
It was a wild, wacky and wet morning at UCLA’s Wilson Plaza, where GameDay made its first appearance on campus in the 35-year history of the show. It was also the show’s first appearance before a UCLA home game since being staged at the Rose Bowl before the Bruins beat Oregon in 1998.
A few thousand hardy souls who braved the morning chill and an intermittent drizzle before UCLA faced No. 10 Oregon at the Rose Bowl started the festivities with an eight-clap while waving hundreds of signs, few in good taste.
“Walton 2024: Make America Weird Again” was a sentiment all Bruins fans could probably get on board with regardless of their political affiliation.
One sign took aim at Oregon’s tendency to break out a new uniform every week, including its pants and top that Saturday looked like they were covered in paint spatter, reading “330 Uniform Combos, Zero National Championships.” Another sign took a shot at Oregon’s state law that requires station attendants to fill gas tanks, reading, “At least we pump our own gas.”
In a moment that was either heartwarming or nauseating, depending on your perspective, UCLA coach Chip Kelly hugged the Ducks mascot, the tandem having once enjoyed such dizzying success together while Kelly coached at Oregon. The notoriously media-averse Kelly also held a selfie stick attached to a camera to pan the crowd for ESPN.
Any mention of USC received loud, sustained booing, regardless of whether it was during a segment, on a commercial or when the panelists revealed their picks. Walton showed he really does love the self-proclaimed Conference of Champions, picking the Trojans to beat Notre Dame.
Earlier, Corso had prompted boos by mentioning Oregon had beaten UCLA in eight of their last nine meetings.
“Safety school!” the crowd chanted.
Kirk Herbstreit won a dollar from Corso for knowing that Oregon was the last top-10 team UCLA beat at the Rose Bowl, in 2007.
Bruins athletic director Martin Jarmond thanked fans for showing up, taking a microphone and saying, “They said it was too early. They said you wouldn’t show up. Bruin Nation stood up!”
The event could generate more than good vibes. Bruins basketball coach Mick Cronin and his assistants brought top center prospect Adem Bona to GameDay as part of a recruiting visit. UCLA’s basketball team was featured during one segment, with guard Johnny Juzang inexplicably wearing sunglasses.
The show’s climax came when Walton rambled his way into picking the winner of the UCLA-Oregon game, mentioning fur and feathers, bills and claws, all those Bruins alumni and a litany of others who had little to do with anything before Corso checked his watch and host Rece Davis informed Walton he needed his pick.
Said Walton: “They’re rolling. This crowd is fired up. The Rose Bowl will be rocking, rocking like when the Rolling Stones would go there.”
Repeated Davis: “I need your pick.”
“You need my pick?”
“I need your pick.”
Walton, wearing a UCLA football T-shirt, announced his was going with his alma mater, thrusting his arms into the air. After acknowledging his love for the Oregon Duck, who stood nearby, Corso said, “This is strictly business, sweetheart, strictly business. Give me that head.”
And with that, Corso put on a Bruin head, earning a kiss from Walton.
The crowd roared, the pressed-for-time producer exhaled and everyone headed to the Rose Bowl.