This is the first of a week-long series of posts sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
The story of my unhealthy* relationship with Nebraska Cornhusker football is pretty damn simple. I grew up there. There was no attraction based solely off success (Miami fans) and the uniforms weren't cool (many Florida St, Michigan fans). If you grow up in outstate Nebraska, (read, not Omaha or Lincoln) you are a Husker fan. There's no other option. At my small high school, I knew one kid who wasn't a primary Husker fan. He was a hapless individual who had inherited a love of Notre Dame. Being the caring Catholics that we were, we teased him (and his father) to near tears. All right, getting back on track, this is a story about how I became a crazy Nebraska fan, concentrating on a few memorable games that I attended. More after the jump. Before you make the jump, check out this video. Despite the horrific "Rudy" music (Nebraska has hundreds of Rudy stories), it still turns me into a puddle every time I watch it.
Nothing can compare to the zeal for Husker football in Nebraska. Entire towns shut down during games and there are no split allegiances like in Alabama. People outside of Nebraska like to poke fun at the state. They say there's nothing else to do in Nebraska and that's why we are so obsessed with Husker football. They have a point and that's a big reason I moved away, but Nebraska fans generally don't care. We are happy with our Huskers, thank you.
Two of my older siblings graduated from Lincoln and I was fortunate enough to score tickets at a young age through the late 80s and early 90s. My first game was in 1989 against the Scott Mitchell led Utah Utes. I sat across the aisle from the band and the glare off the AstroTurf burned my retinas all game. It was life changing. Later that year, I attended the season finale against Oklahoma. Mind you, this was probation era Oklahoma. They were one year removed from the Switzer regime where the coke was snorted like Norman was Studio 51. I was petrified of the Sooners. I figured they were going to come into the stands and steal my dad's wallet. Despite all that, Nebraska won with relative ease.
My next memorable game was another OU tussle in 1991. My family encountered rain, hail, snow and sleet on our drive to the game. It was about 34 degrees with a driving rain all game, the most miserable weather I've ever encountered at a football game. Check out the YouTube highlights filled with fumbles. The best is the 3:45 mark of the first video. Cheryl Miller states that the field plays better when it's wet and then the camera pans over to the puddles of water all over the AstroTurf. The Huskers came back from a 14-0 deficit to win in the 4th quarter. Frozen oranges were flying all over the place and I found and empty 1.75 bottle of vodka under my seat at halftime.
Then, in 1994, my sister scored season tickets. Lucky for me, she moved to Kansas City, so my parents took over the main role of ticket users. My first game in those seats was a #2/#13 matchup against UCLA. It was a GameDay game and the Huskers crushed the JJ Stokes-less Bruins 49-21. That game was especially memorable because we attended a funeral in Omaha before the game. I'll never forget changing into my Husker red in the church parking lot after the service.
Later that year, I lucked out and received the Nebraska-Colorado tickets. My mom was supposed to go to the game, but my dad woke me up at 6 am for the 11 am kickoff and said, "Get up! You're going to the game!" It was a #2/#3 matchup, but the Buffs were no match for the Huskers in the 200th consecutive sellout in Memorial Stadium. Kordell Stewart was scared out of his mind and the Blackshirts didn't allow a 3rd or 4th down conversion all game in the 24-7 romp.
Fast forward a few years to 1999, when I went off to school at Marquette. I was a Husker in Big Ten country, but that didn't stop my ferocious love of the Huskers. The first item I unpacked was my Husker flag and it hung in my McCormick dorm window all year.
Then in 2000, the Huskers invaded South Bend. I had 3 uncles, 1 brother and at least 14 (out of 83) classmates at the game against the Irish. I sat next to a Husker couple from Maine who drove to South Bend without tickets! ND put up a good fight with a couple of fluky special teams scores, but Crouch pulled off the win with the TD in overtime.
2001 was another classic Nebraska-Oklahoma game. The teams were #1/#2 in the BCS rankings and Mike Stuntz delivered the most memorable play I've ever seen live. I shook/hugged my dad so hard that he gave me a petrified look and told me to stop. Memorial Stadium came completely unglued.
My most memorable Husker game is actually a loss in 2006 against Texas. My flight was delayed and I didn't get into Lincoln until 2:30 am. I stayed at my brother's house and around 6 am, my oldest brother, who thought I was asleep, said, "I don't think you can get up, you're too tired. Just a little pu$$y." I jumped off the couch and yelled, "I'm ready to go, bring on the red beer!" About an hour later we were at the bar preparing the 11 am start. As I was shuffling into the stadium I kicked something. It just so happened to be a mini airline bottle of Jack Daniels with the safety seal intact. Score one for the good guys! Nebraska dug itself an early hole on that cold October day. Colt McCoy was a freshman and played a great game and Nebraska couldn't sustain any drives. NU was down 9 in the 4th quarter, but a long shovel pass (!) for a touchdown and a halfback pass for a TD put NU up 20-19. To top it all off, it started to snow right after Nebraska went ahead. Memorial Stadium was going nuts, likely the loudest I've ever heard it. NU got the ball back and it was 3rd & 4 with time running out. A first down would have sealed the win. Zach Taylor ran right on a play action pass and hit Terrence Nunn for the first down, but Nunn fumbled and UT recovered. About 3 plays later, McCoy was flushed out of the pocket and had the ball poked out from behind. The ball flew forward about 10 yards, but was recovered by the Longhorn CENTER! UT then used their backup kicker to punch in a short field goal for the win. Husker fans were crushed but the entire stadium was yelling "Go Big Red" after the game because we were so proud of our underdog Huskers. It was a typical loss to Texas and it still burns me to think about, but it is the most memorable game I've ever attended.
Now, as we head into the Big Ten, I'm more excited about Husker football than ever. I am a new season ticket holder. I will be able to see more road games from my home base in the Milwaukee area. We have a rising star coach in Bo Pelini. Life is good. Now, it's time to leave the Big 12 in style. Beat Texas on October 16 and bid adieu to the Oklahoma rivalry with a win in the Big XII title game.
*I have Husker football anxiety dreams on a roughly quarterly basis. They consist of a couple key elements: 1) We are losing to a team I deem inferior - usually the entire Big XII North or a Sun Belt team and 2) I am at some sort of social event so I can't watch the game or I have to censor my reactions to the goings on. The latest came last week. It involved the upcoming Texas game, which is rife with emotions and WEMUSTWINTHATDAMNGAMEORELSEI'MJUMPINGOFFABRIDGE. It transpired much like last year's Virginia Tech game. Nebraska lost 17-15 because we kicked 5 field goals instead of scoring a touchdown. I proceeded to melt down in front of a mix of co-workers and my wife's friends. I made a mess of a champagne fountain and forced people to scatter with their kids while I fired off a torrent of obscenities. Anyone know a good shrink?