Ryan Miller hears the whispers each weekend on college campuses across the country. There’s Ben. Is it Ben? That’s Ben! Miller is usually behind the scenes, handling logistics and working with ESPN talent as a production coordinator on “College GameDay,” but Ben the golden retriever draws attention when they go for walks every Saturday.
“He’s kind of become a national phenomenon at this point,” Miller said.
Ben is Ben Herbstreit, the furry companion of Kirk Herbstreit, the ESPN and Amazon Prime analyst. To those outside of college football fandom, Ben may look like your average golden retriever, one of the most popular breeds of family pets in the United States. He turns 10 on Friday and is well-groomed, with floppy ears, a perpetual smile, and a wagging tail that sweeps back and forth like a lazy but reliable sprinkler. But since Ben started regularly showing up in Herbstreit’s social media posts as he tagged along on trips over the past two months for the weekly college football pregame show or games Herbstreit is calling, he’s become a budding star with enthusiastic fans.
During a recent trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game, Ben had a high-profile meet-up with University of Georgia mascot Uga, perhaps the most famous bulldog in the country, and dropped by the Atlanta convention center to take part in the “GameDay” festivities.
Ben first joined Herbstreit at “College GameDay” in November 2021, when the show traveled to the University of Cincinnati for the Bearcats’ game against Tulsa. The Herbstreits live in Cincinnati, so Ben went to work with Dad that day. He first hit the road for a work trip in October, when Herbstreit took him to Seattle. Herbstreit said his family had been going through some difficult times, including the hospitalization of his 20-year-old son, Zak, due to a heart condition. Zak, a tight end at Ohio State, has rejoined the team but is not practicing and has said he continues to receive treatment.
Ben provided Herbstreit comfort while he was away. The family’s other two goldens, Theo and Mitch, from the same breeder in New Jersey, stayed home.
At home, that means waking up at 6:30 a.m. to serve Ben and his four-legged brothers breakfast and take them for a walk. The trio then lounges in Herbstreit’s home office while he works until 2 p.m. “on the dot,” when Ben leaves to make sure lunch is ready.
“On the road, Ben is a certified emotional support animal for Herbstreit. He got his ESA license and official red vest in early November, which allows him to join Herbstreit in more places, including hotels that may not typically permit pets.”
Now Ben goes everywhere. And “Where’s Ben?” is something Herbstreit hears often.
He gets it from his ESPN co-workers. He sees strangers asking about Ben on social media. Some of the college students who flock to the set on Saturdays hold up signs like, “We love you Kirk, but we love Ben more!” or, “Kirk, can I pet Ben?”
An endorsement even came in an unexpected way from legendary sports broadcaster Al Michaels, Herbstreit’s partner on NFL games for Amazon Prime, after Ben attended a production meeting with 35 people in a large hotel boardroom. “He wasn’t on a leash,” Herbstreit said. “We’re talking serious business, and he’s kind of working his way around the room saying hi to people. When he got near Al, I could kind of tell Al wasn’t really keen on that. So I snapped my fingers to get Ben over towards me, and I was like, ‘I better not do that anymore.’”
The next week, Michaels questioned Ben’s absence in a similar setting.
“Gaul added that Ben’s coat is “very soft.” Getting Ben from place to place doesn’t require much effort, according to the members of his travel squad. He loves popcorn, long walks and watching a bit of TV, but Miller says he’s “really a low-maintenance dog.” Ben usually walks freely without a leash around stadiums, football fields, and sets unless other dogs are near. He’s mastered air travel and navigates hotels with ease once he’s been shown the path from the elevator to Herbstreit’s room.
During games, Ben usually hangs out with Miller or Gaul on one of the luxe buses or in the makeshift offices the production crew sets up on site. Sometimes, Gaul will take Ben up to the booth, like during the Washington-Oregon State game when Ben made a TV cameo while hanging out at the feet of Herbstreit and Chris Fowler.
Once the show is over, Ben and Herbstreit catch a plane to their next destination.