LAKE MARY, Fla. — A sheriff turned up. He relayed one rare complaint in the pristine circle of a gated neighborhood in the American sprawl of suburban Orlando. A citizen had phoned in alarmed about the sudden presence of a live, gigantic elephant. In the front yard on that Friday midday this past October, a television producer reassured the sheriff: Not only did this particular 17-foot elephant have the distinction of being non-live — made of fiberglass or something — but it also had arrived in town to appear on television with Lee Corso.

“I’m the biggest fan!” the sheriff said, referring to Corso and not the elephant. He asked whether he could photograph the elephant. The producer said certainly, as long as he kindly would refrain from posting the photo before 11:59 a.m. Saturday. The sheriff took the photo. He said to please tell Corso he had been watching him for years.

He said also, “Roll Tide.”

A delirious ecosystem has formed around the Corso house this football season, and it has become its own life force with its own durable anecdotes, its own array of ersatz species and its own habitat of, well, yes, love. In a pandemic and a pinch, ESPN and its Saturday morning institution of a college football show, “College GameDay,” have wrung some lemonade from this lemon of a year. “Our goal the whole season,” ESPN producer Patrick Abrahams said, “was anytime anybody sees him on screen, they smile.”

While the other panelists and analysts appear on the usual set in the usual college towns, albeit without crowds bleating from behind, the 85-year-old star character and long-ago coach chimes in from the family home, the family yard, the family pool, along with plastic flamingoes, football signs, production staffers engulfed in godawful-hot mascot suits. It’s a curiosity behind a sort of a curtain — even a nosy visitor can’t surpass the mossy trees and clubhouse outside the gate and also should not in a pandemic — and it has wound up bolstering some premises.

One: Mr. Corso really is some kind of beloved.

Another: He’s that rare television figure so familiar and defined that people’s eyes brighten as if they know him when they don’t.

And another: Even a 64-year marriage can annex fresh rituals.

After all, following upon Corso’s Friday night rigatoni and the Saturday morning wake-up at 6, his structured schedule has taken on one touching vignette. Promptly at 7:45 and continuing until 8 or just beyond, Corso’s wife, Betsy, does his makeup. “I’ll tell her she’s really good,” Lee Corso said in a telephone interview. “She keeps kidding me, she wants a credit on the TV show. ‘Not so fast, my friend!’ ”

Those last five words have spent decades ricocheting in sequence from Corso’s larynx through the untroubled Saturday mornings of American television rooms, which also have beheld a custom still managing to come up well shy of stale. That’s the end-of-show bit just before noon in which Corso dons the mascot headgear of whichever team he suspects will win the biggest game of a given Saturday all newborn and full of promise. It’s just that nobody ever imagined he would don the Alabama elephant head in his own yard, atop an 18-foot makeshift platform next to a 17-foot fake elephant as he correctly sensed Alabama would beat Georgia.

“He doesn’t say no,” Abrahams said. “He said, ‘You want me to go on top of the elephant,’ and, ‘Let’s do it.’ When we pulled the elephant up at the gate, he had pulled up in his car, and he was just smiling . . . ‘I want to get on top of that elephant. I can’t wait.’ ”

Certain members of the six- or seven-member production crew had to fetch that elephant. In Louisiana. From the lieutenant governor who used it for election season and loaned it out. Fourteen-point-five hours out. Seventeen slower hours back (with elephant). Seventeen to return it. Fourteen-point-five to return from returning it. “It still had a political sign on it as we were driving,” Abrahams said. “So every single car, they would either be behind you taking photos. They’re pulling up next to you. They’re pulling up a mile up the road to take a photo of you. Or they cut you off and take a photo!”

Amid the TV-production money crunch of 2020, they also have gone to New Orleans to collect a “FrankenCorso” statue for Halloween. (An assistant brought that through a hurricane, sometimes at 35 mph.) Just this week, two of them went to Charleston, S.C., to gather a smallish mass of Coastal Carolina’s signature teal turf for temporary installation atop Corso’s pool.

They have had a canoe in the pool, with Minnesota’s Goldy Gopher mascot steering Corso the humorously short trip. They have had former NFL return maestro Devin Hester in the yard, playing cornhole opposite Corso. They have gone on Craigslist to find a bulldog roughly similar to Georgia’s famed Uga. They have had an oak tree done up like Toomer’s Corner at Auburn, with toilet paper. “It took us an hour last week to pull out the toilet paper out of the ‘Toomer’s Corner’ tree,” Abrahams said. “Throwing the toilet paper in the tree, that was easy. That was the easy part. Getting the pulls to get it out of there, that was the hard part.”

Imagine being from Estonia, beautiful nugget of a country on the Baltic Sea, and winding up in Lee Corso’s yard dressed as the Oregon Duck, a Louisville Cardinal and a Wake Forest Demon Deacon. That’s the plight of Tiina Treima, Abrahams’s girlfriend and good sport, who has helped the crew with the mascot portrayals in this bizarre land. As Corso said of those suits, “And they’re hotter than hell, boy.”

The crew stays in a different house and bubble in Winter Park, toiling and getting all food curbside. An overseeing three-member crew from Charlotte’s Crown Town Films drives in every Wednesday night. Everybody undergoes serial testing. Nobody goes anywhere but the two houses. They shoot most of their bits Thursdays. They set up cameras Fridays. A regular satellite-truck driver named Brad comes around. Packages reach the Corso house and garage in an onslaught: helmets, signs, mascot uniforms.

They all love Corso. No, they really love Corso.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever met Coach before, but if you spend any time with him, you’re just instantly, ‘What a beautiful soul, man,’ ” said Abrahams, who worked seven years on “GameDay,” then went to NBA coverage, then returned for this oddball mission turned oddball delight. Corso frets about their long drives to collect those major knickknacks. “He’s such a loving man for everyone that’s around him. He’s always caring about everyone, down to the mascots.”

To interact with the public these months, then, is to reinforce Corso’s place in the American culture. There was that one sheriff. There were those two sheriffs who came to the Winter Park house, pursuing a call about all the cars suspiciously crowding the house and that weird nighttime yard work (including spray-painting a Masters scoreboard sign for when “GameDay” played Augusta National). “Instantly, both sheriffs were like: ‘Coach Corso! We love that guy!’ ” Abrahams said.

One turned out to be “a Bulldog,” the other “a Buckeye.”

There’s the roofing crew across the street from the Corsos, working all this while. “Who’s he picking this week?” they will say. At certain junctures, they do hold off on their hammering or sawing.

“Hey, we’re about to tape something,” the ESPN crew will say.

“Okay, let us know when to start again,” goes the reply.

There was that manager at Publix, the Florida grocery staple. The crew found itself needing a turkey on Thanksgiving eve, never an ideal scenario. Publix had sold out.

“We need this for ‘GameDay’ and Coach Corso. You’re sold out.”

“No, we’re not. If this is for Coach Corso, follow me to the deli.”

The man amid all of it misses the weekly crowds and how they react to his picks. He misses the doses of youth he obtains from frequenting campuses. He misses his interactions with his cross-generational cohort, Kirk Herbstreit, because a one-second delay on television just can’t match the spontaneity.

He also states — and states and states — gratefulness. “The big thing is,” Corso said, “these guys are doing this, and it really makes me feel good because basically they’re doing it for me.” He said, “First of all, it surprises me ESPN has kept me this long.” He said, “About 10 years ago I had a stroke [in 2009]. Couldn’t speak and everything. ESPN could have dumped me.” Now, this: “They could have set up an easy one-person camera. They’ve gone all-out. They’ve made it into something. And it could have been nothing, except for me sitting in a room with a camera. That’s what everybody else does.”

And the neighbors, in a place he and Betsy have lived for more than 30 years: “Six o’clock, there’s a satellite truck in my driveway making all kinds of noise,” Corso said.

Then by 1 on Saturday, everything calms. The toilet paper comes down. The heat and the TV lights have sapped the American mainstay. “I’m exhausted,” he said. “The first thing I do is take a shower ’cause it’s so hot here. Then I have some soup. Then I go right to bed. An hour and a half, two hours.”

“And now we all don’t want it to end,” Abrahams said.

That’s even as the new makeup artist might want to keep going. Just this past Thursday, Abrahams asked her whether she had noticed progression in her skills through recent months.

“Have you noticed any progression?” she replied, then laughed.

Then, after recalling being nervous in the early weeks, she said, “In fact, I think I do his makeup now better than my own.”