LINCOLN — The next time Tom Osborne gets a check from Jim Delany, I have a suggestion on how to spend it.
Put an elevator in the south end of Memorial Stadium.
I went to my first Nebraska football game on Saturday. That is, first as a “fan,” sitting in the stands, doing all of the things that loyal and true Husker fans do on worship Saturdays. Just one question.
How do you do it?
After negotiating five or six ramps (I lost count) to the top of South Stadium, I climbed Mount Osborne, or, the countless steps up to near the top of section 16A.
It was the first time I've ever had to put my knees on ice after a game.
What a day. I sat next to my Husker fan wife, Jennifer, and 7-year-old daughter Kate, in row 96, seats seven and eight. The seats belong to her parents, Jary and Dee, who loaned them for the weekend.
Good choice. If there was a game to miss, this was it.
I could not have picked a better day to watch a college football game outside. Early autumn brilliance at its best.
I could not have picked a worse game to watch from the stands.
Idaho State. Oh, my. Who invited the Pop Warner team? After the game, I suspect that the buses were taking them to the pizza party.
You knew that this had a chance to be lopsided. But the Bengals were the saddest outfit I've ever seen in Memorial Stadium, and that includes the Stan Parrish K-State teams and the Woody Widenhofer Mizzou clubs.
Silly me. Before the game, I looked down from my seat, which was right on top of where the south end zone meets the east sideline.
The football romantic in me envisioned what it must have been like to sit in this seat through the years. The Billy Sims fumble in 1978 happened over there. Eric Alford caught a Brook Berringer pass and scored against Colorado in 1994 down there. Eric Crouch caught the pass against Oklahoma in 2001 and ran right at us.
What would I see Saturday? What memory would stick in my daughter's mind? Besides the cotton candy man.
Here was the signature moment of the game, near the end of the second quarter: An Idaho State defensive lineman caught a kickoff that NU pooch-kicked. Perhaps surprised that the ball came to him, he raised his hand for a fair catch. Then, he touched the ball to the ground, apparently downing it, before tossing it to the refs.
Nobody in our section had ever seen a player down the ball like that after a fair catch.
There were a lot of things I had never seen before on Saturday. The majority of them were good.
I wanted to do the fan thing right. I arrived at 11 a.m. for a 2:30 kickoff. I donned a red pullover. Yes, red. I had to know how it felt. Let me tell you: It's a powerful feeling wearing red in that stadium. You also feel like one small piece of a giant jigsaw puzzle.
I went looking for tailgate parties. Atmosphere. A walk around the stadium confirmed what I thought: Nebraska is not a great tailgate school. There are plenty of folks who do it right. Like the guy with two giant TVs in the bed of his giant red truck.
But it's not a classic tailgate scene. Memorial Stadium is almost a downtown stadium. Nebraska football has more of a downtown feel, a Wrigleyville feel, if you will.
I'm a big fan of the Nebraska pregame scene. No, it's not Michigan or Penn State, with rows of cars on intramural fields that go for miles. It's unique.
I took a tour of downtown. I stopped at the new Barry's. It's got a different look, with one major change. There are some Oklahoma sportswriters I know who would faint at the sight of those Big Ten helmets above the bar.
I headed down O Street, Main Street, Nebraska. This is the slice of Americana, Husker style. Folks in red wandering up and down, stopping at the eateries and bars. Everyone has a favorite. I peeked in several places, and every spot had the Iowa game on. And most everyone was cheering for the Hawks to lose.
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I thought Husker fans didn't acknowledge Iowa.
Before the game, I met my wife and daughter outside the Husker Burger stand. I was going to buy my daughter a Husker shirt. When I was 7 and going to games at Dodger Stadium, you had to buy your souvenirs at the stadium. That was the only place you could get them.
Kate already had a Husker shirt. She bought it at the mall.
It was fascinating to stop next to a tree outside the stadium and watch the sea of red flow into the stadium. Every other fan, dads and sons alike, wore a Rex Burkhead jersey. King Rex must have the most popular Nebraska jersey in the history of jerseys. There was one old guy wearing a Vince Ferragamo jersey. I'm sure Vince is pleased about that.
You make your way into the stadium and the first thing you see is a crowd of vendors, selling pizza, pop and popcorn. Before I could ask, my wife said, buy something now before you go all the way to the top. That sounded ominous. I would find out why later.
We started the expedition up the mountain. My wife, who has sat in these seats countless times with her dad, said we had to get in the left lane going up the ramps. Why? Because we were going to eventually turn left at the top.
That turned out to be a veteran move.
Now there it was, the walk to the seats, the stairway to heaven. One look up and these old knees turned to mush.
Once I arrived at row 96 — two from the top — and stopped wheezing, it was time for introductions. What I learned Saturday is that a section of seats at Memorial Stadium is like its own small town. Everyone knows everyone who sits there.
Section 16A was very friendly. And calm. There were a couple of young guys who kept cracking jokes about Iowa losing. Again, I'm glad the Hawkeyes aren't a rival or anything.
There was a guy who brought his twin 7-year-old sons to the game. Apparently this guy is the section comedian, known for standing up and yelling one-liners the entire game. But he didn't say a peep during the game. Funny how having your kids around can change your personality.
The Tunnel Walk sounds great outside. People sang the national anthem. Nobody in the press box sings the national anthem.
When the team ran onto the field, everyone pointed toward No. 22, saying “There's Rex!” Elvis has entered the building.
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Nebraska had the ball first, and on third-and-4, Taylor Martinez overthrew Ben Cotton. Somebody behind me yelled, “Come on, (Tim) Beck!” In the press box, we usually wait until the second half to do that.
Pretty soon, Martinez was dealing and Burkhead was rolling, running 61 yards toward us. At that point, it occurred to me that I hadn't seen anywhere to buy a red balloon. My only regret of the day.
Never mind. I watched with my daughter as the balloons took flight. We like to joke about the balloon tradition. But out here in the real world, when you can sit underneath them and watch the red dots sail into the blue oblivions, it's a pretty cool moment.
The rout was on. If there was anything good about this game, it gave my first-grader a chance to work on her multiplication tables by seven.
This one reminded me of a lot of Husker games from days of yore, where Nebraska was physically superior to a team and the final score was based on the level of NU efficiency.
Bo Pelini was able to play a lot of players. The fans in our section called for Ron Kellogg III early, then were perplexed when Martinez came back and stayed into the third quarter.
Somewhere behind, I heard a fan say, “Bo must be getting bored down there. This will be a lot better for his blood pressure.”
Most everyone shook their heads at the poor Bengals, who hit the deck whenever it looked like they might be tackled. And then there was the punter, who entertained folks with a rugby style that was apparently designed to keep the ball away from a return. Except when it didn't.
At the end of the first quarter, I went on the Great Cotton Candy Safari, all the way down to the bowels of the stadium, next to the old Nebraska locker room. Apparently Kate and I cut in front of another fan standing in line. The fan said to Kate, “Tell your dad if he'll get off of Bo, you can get in front of me.”
I joked to the guy, “No, why don't you go ahead.”
The old South Stadium was functional. The bathrooms reminded me of Rosenblatt Stadium at the end. There wasn't much of a concourse to walk around. Memorial Stadium would never work for the College World Series. There's not a lot of room to “hang out.”
Everyone is there to watch the game. What a concept.
And then came the highlight of the day. The Wave.
Usually, I do not partake in the wave. The crowd, obviously bored, started into the wave. But then a funny thing happened. The student section, brilliant college kids that they are, started a slow-motion wave. And the rest of the stadium picked up on it. It was a riot. That was followed by the quick wave.
I don't mind admitting that I was part of those.
And I don't mind admitting that I was at this game. I'll never remember who played. But I'll always recall getting to sit with my daughter at a college football game. For all the drama on the field and the winning that's never enough and the losing that's always too much, being able to sit with your family at a game is a part of the process that is priceless. Never, ever take it for granted.
The fans in the upper peninsula of 16A won't. As the Pop Warner team finally scored at the start of the fourth quarter, most of the fans in 16A were packing up and heading out. They all said goodbye and see you next week.
I'll wave from the press box.
Contact the writer:
402-444-1025, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/tomshatelOWH
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>> Video: NU coach Bo Pelini at the postgame press conference:
>> Video: NU's Taylor Martinez at the postgame press conference:
>> Video: NU's Rex Burkhead at the postgame press conference:
>> Video: NU's Eric Martin at the postgame press conference:
>> Video: NU's Ron Kellogg III at the postgame press conference:
>> Video: NU-Idaho State postgame analysis:
>> Video: Nebraska students stampede for seats at the NU-Idaho State game: