Today is Lee Corso’s 74th birthday. For Corso and his family, it just might be the happiest birthday ever.
“I’m the oldest guy on television,” Corso said when I reached him on Thursday in Orlando. “I’m glad to have the title.”
Back on May 16 Corso wasn’t sure if there would be a 74th birthday or if he would be returning for another season of ESPN’s award-winning College Game Day show. He suffered what he now calls a “minor” stroke. He admits that it didn’t seem minor at the time.
“It was scary,” said Corso. “You can’t believe that it is happening to you.”
But it was. Since then Corso has been recovering nicely. He went through a round of physical therapy. “I graduated from that,” said Corso, who still works out every day. ”I’m in pretty good physical shape.”
The “occupational” therapy continues. Even though his voice is now sharp and clear again, he gets speech therapy on a daily basis to fine tune the voice and work on particular patterns of speech. He also is working to strengthen the use of his right hand.
“You really have to teach yourself how to talk again,” said Corso. “The brain heals itself but it takes time. That is the most frustrating part. You know what you want to say but you have to get your brain and your mouth to say it.”
Corso was in his office in Orlando when I reached him on Thursday. His day job in the offseason is Director of Business Development for Dixon-Ticonderoga. They make those yellow No. 2 pencils that Corso keeps in his right hand during the show.
Corso has been with ESPN since 1987 and has fashioned out a great second career after 28 years as a football coach. But in many respects the old coach in him never goes away. When faced with adversity, you go to work and you set goals. When you achieve one goal, then you move on to the next one.
Corso’s ultimate goal now is a simple one. College Game Day makes its 2009 season debut on Sept. 5 for the Alabama-Virginia Tech game in Atlanta. Corso said that on Sept. 5 he will be sitting in his familiar chair between Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit. Preparing for and executing two hours of live television on a weekly basis is hard work.
But remember Corso was the guy who once, as the head coach Indiana, popped out of casket during a television appearance and said: “We’re not dead yet!” He is an eternal optimist.
“I’m not saying that I’m at 100 percent now but I’m getting better every day,” Corso said. “I’ve got a month to get ready. I know I won’t be perfect, but I’ll be ready for that show. I’m looking forward to it.”
Corso loves to come to Atlanta to visit his son, Dan, who is vice-president for marketing at the Atlanta Sports Council, and his grandchildren Nicolas and Sophia. He is especially looking forward to being here in early September.
“I am so lucky,” said Corso. “I saw so many people in rehab who had it so much tougher than me. There were so many people who wanted to help me and I can never thank them enough.”
At the same time, there is a determined tone in Lee Corso’s voice.
“After coaching I was able to find something that I love doing. And I’m going to keep doing it a while longer,” Corso said. “I’ll see everybody in Atlanta on Sept. 5.”
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