World-Herald staff writer Anna Gronewold wrote a series of vignettes about the sizzling temperatures on Husker Game Day.
Heat doesn't quell pregame excitement
Jerry Kreuzberg hiked up his denim overalls and let out a sigh.
"I was going for effect," he said, "but now I'm not so sure that was a good idea."
The Beatrice, Neb., native always tries to attend the first home game, but today he left his costume accessories, stalks of corn and wheat, at home. The trick to staying cool, Kreuzberg said, is drenching his red baseball cap with ice-cold water at steady intervals throughout the day.
As the afternoon sun continued to beat down from a cloudless sky ahead of the kickoff on Husker Game Day, fans flocked to the northwest side of Memorial Stadium to take temporary refuge from the heat.
The shady branches lining Stadium Drive became standing room only as fans fought to conserve energy for the kickoff.
City, university and medical officials took the offensive this year by actively promoting heat safety in the days leading up to the game. And according to Charlotte Evans, director of patrol operations for university police, it might have worked.
“It appears as though the fans have actually listened to us,” she said. “It's very nice to see the fans taking their own health seriously.”
“The trick is to always drink water in between drinks,” said Justin Hart, who set up on the corner of T Street and Stadium Drive about 3 p.m. “One bottle of water per beer or mixed drink.”
During the second quarter of the Nebraska-Wyoming game, even the number of alcohol calls and dismissals from the stadium were relatively low, Evans said, meaning people were drinking more responsibly.
Helping eager fans keep their cool
The season opener, with its fresh energy and expected victory, inspired fans to sacrifice comfort for Husker pride.
"It's game day!" one sweaty fan said, wearing a floor-length black Superman cape over a full set of clothes. "I have to keep the spirit up!"
As fans trickled into the stadium at 5:30 p.m., the Red Cross had treated only six people for heat-related illness, Cornhusker Community Chapter Executive Susan Epps said.
But in the southeast first aid room, the team was ready and waiting with ice-cold towels and coolers of water and Gatorade. Members of Star Care were also available for additional care.
Recalling the hundreds of fans they treated for dehydration last year, staff members planned a triage for this year, determining whether a fan simply needed a bottle of water or more intensive medical care. The Red Cross also had people stationed at each side of the stadium to watch for potential medical problems in the stands.
Abby Jones, a sophomore clarinet player in the Cornhusker Marching Band, began experiencing frontal headaches after halftime. During the fourth quarter, she sat in the first aid room with a bottle of water.
“I tried to hydrate beforehand, but I guess it wasn't quite enough,” Jones said.
The new CoolPlay turf in Memorial Stadium, which uses cork bits instead of tire pellets for the top layer, is said to cool the field up to 30 degrees, but Jones said she didn't notice.
“I'd still say its pretty hot,” she said, glancing down at her sweat-drenched uniform. “This is better than last year, though. Like the entire band was in the cooling station.”
Red Cross staff members in the southeast first aid room saw patients of all ages for things such as heat illness, nausea and bee stings.
But Epps said the number of heat-related illnesses was “absolutely better than last year.” By the end of the game, the Red Cross recorded 93 incidents total, about 60 of which were heat-related. Epps estimated that about three were taken to the hospital for more intensive treatment.
An additional cooling station was opened up during the second quarter when a north stadium first aid station became overcrowded, but Epps said staff members were able to close it by the end of the third quarter.
“I think we were able to move people through pretty quickly,” she said.
No different from down under
Michael Darnielli didn't notice the heat at all. The Australian native said the weather for his first Husker football game was identical to the weather back home. Besides, he was far too distracted by the sea of red.
"Our stadiums in Australia aren't nearly this big," Darnielli said. "And you'll never see such a huge community of loyalty to a team."
Most kids didn't seem to care about the weather, either. At Husker Nation Pavilion, the only fans affected by the heat were the staff members.
"We were setting up these inflatables at like 2 p.m.," one staff member said as she chugged a Gatorade. "It was so hot."
For the past 10 years, the area north of Memorial Stadium has hosted free music, games and autograph signings before kickoff. By 6 p.m. the shadow of the Hawks Championship Center drew kids of all ages to the inflatable obstacle courses, and staff said they hadn't had any problems with high temperatures.
'Is this life-size?'
“He's a lot smaller than I thought he would be.”
“Is this life-size?”
“I'm taller than Coach Bob!”
Throughout the afternoon and evening, a steady crowd gathered around the new statue of Bob Devaney on the East Stadium steps, all in agreement that the beloved coach couldn't have been so short. Nevertheless, fans waited patiently to get a picture with the bronze icon before beginning their exploration of the stadium's expansion.
Jill Quinn, Memorial Stadium events staff member, guarded the entrances to the new elevators and escalators with a smile. She said she couldn't blame Husker fans for their curiosity.
“It's all brand new and it's all beautiful,” she said. “We've just been explaining that this is for club levels only.”
Evans said Husker fans giddy about brand new additions were cooperative with security.
“Anytime you have something new there will be a lot of questions,” Evans said, “but fans have all been very workable.”
Don't sweat it
Years ago, August temperatures gave Husker fans two options on game day: sweat it out or stay at home. Saturday, Pinnacle Bank Arena offered the best of both worlds: a community event in an air-conditioned facility.
Pinnacle Bank Arena welcomed fans to explore the new facilities during the day and watch the game on the scoreboard Saturday evening. At the start of the third quarter, Pinnacle Bank Arena general manager Tom Lorenz estimated about 3,000 fans were either touring the arena or watching the game.
“I think people just want to watch the game with someone,” Lorenz said. “This proved to be a really nice dynamic.”
Just like in the stadium across the street, the fans in the arena bumped chests at touchdowns and high-fived in the hallways. Unlike at Memorial, they were also able to enjoy a $4 domestic draft or two.
"We want people to be really comfortable with this building," Lorenz said. "This is their building and we want them to enjoy it."
Get full coverage on our new "Husker Game Day" page.