'The Bear' from 'College GameDay' first roared on Long Island
Producer Lee Fitting of Orient is not the only key figure on ESPN's "College GameDay" from the unlikely college football environs of eastern Long Island.
Chris Fallica, whom host Chris Fowler called "an essential pillar of the show," grew up in East Moriches.
"He's a beauty," Fitting said of the man nicknamed "The Bear." "He has as big a role on a weekly basis as anyone on the show. He acts as my brains. He is my sounding board."
Fallica, 41, is the information man, overseeing all manner of notes, graphics, statistics and such. This season, for the first time since he joined the staff in 1996, he also has been given a regular on-air role.
"We were thinking of trying to get him on television, because he's such a beautiful character," Fitting said. "Finally we said, 'Screw it, let's put him on.' "
Said Fallica: "Some might say they didn't wait long enough."
Like Fitting, Fallica's primary football allegiance growing up was to the Jets, but he was exposed to college football first through relatives who were Penn State fans and later as a University of Miami fan.
Soon he found himself going from being a Westhampton Beach High Hurricane to a Miami Hurricane, working in the sports information office during the football program's 58-game home winning streak.
"I knew from my freshman year of high school that I wanted to be a part of a big athletic department, and I wanted a career in sports," he said.
While at Miami, Fallica met Mike Breen at a Knicks-Heat game, which led to an internship at WFAN. That in turn helped lead him to ESPN Radio and eventually to a full-time job as a researcher for various sports and events.
Fowler said he regularly asks to have Fallica assigned to events he works.
"He really is one of those unseen -- unseen until this year -- pillars of the show," Fowler said. "Chris' knowledge, his sense of what are fans looking for and what a story is or is not, is essential. I'd say it's sort of a little bit of a triangle with [Fitting, Fallica] and myself being principally responsible for the editorial direction of the show. Chris is a guy every single person on the show has leaned on for a long time."
Fowler noted that while Fallica's "persona is out of place in a lot of Southern hotbeds," he is an eminently relatable figure for a national TV audience -- especially those back home. "Walk around Long Island," Fowler said, "and you'll see half a million guys who look just like Fallica."