WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Kenny Bell's hair bounced as he jogged off the field Saturday, helmet in hand. His smile grew as locked in on 10 matching goofballs in the front row.
Nothing beats playing at Memorial Stadium amid the Sea of Red. But every Nebraska player knows Husker roadies are a different breed. When they cross into enemy territory, they shed their inhibitions. They party a little harder. They yell a little louder. Sometimes they dress a little crazier.
Bell reached his hand to the wall behind the south end zone and delivered high-fives to 10 old guys he'd never met, all in afros and red T-shirts that said “Fear the Fro.”
If only he knew their whole story.
Todd Graves and his buddies go back 30 years, when they worked together at Godfather's in Omaha. They remained tight through job changes and marriages, kids and 50th birthdays, all the activities that make an annual Husker road trip impractical. But where there's an RV, there's a way.
Thursday they packed their afro wigs from Nobbies, drove to Kansas City, rented a 36-foot party on wheels and took off for a college town in northwest Indiana.
Why Purdue? Well, it worked on the calendar. They'd already been to Michigan. And they hoped to improve their road trip win-loss record of 3-5.
Two years ago, they bought tickets at Wisconsin for $225 apiece. Ten seats at Purdue cost them $14 each. Of course, they found other ways to blow cash. Beer, for one.
And then there was that little problem with Holiday Inn Express. Kurt Malsam checked his credit card statement Friday morning and realized that his two-night reservation in West Lafayette was LAST weekend. They were out $631. (That's a lot of pizza delivery tips.)
Hours later, they rolled in to the only vacant hotel — check that, motel — they could find. A customer outside dished them a piece of advice — You're better off in the RV.
“He also told us there's no cockroaches because the rats ate 'em all,” Graves said.
They drew straws. The winners slept on wheels, the losers slept in the motel. “The losers of the losers” slept in the motel beds.
Saturday morning they put the finishing touches on the T-shirts — the white ink was barely dry at kickoff — slipped on their afros and drank enough Bloody Marys to stunt an elephant.
They didn't turn in until 5 a.m. Sunday. Then they turned west, counting the miles to Omaha and the hours to Monday morning's alarm — they suffered a two-hour setback in K.C. when their cars were locked in the RV lot.
All told, the trip cost each guy $420. That doesn't include bar tabs.
“Then you're talking about $600,” Malsam said. “Once a year it's worth it.”
Malsam called it one of their best trips. Not so much for the football, but for the food and drink and new stories to tell.
Like John Finnegan's sneak attack on the sideline.
At halftime Saturday, with Nebraska leading 21-0, Finnegan grabbed his camera, summoned the courage and descended the same ramp the Huskers took from the locker room.
He found himself on the grass behind the south end zone — shouting distance from his buddies in the front row. He spent the second half standing next to credentialed media, snapping photos, acting like he belonged.
Finally, late in the fourth quarter, a Purdue security guard approached Finnegan and asked to see his sideline credential.
“I forgot it in the car,” he said.
The excuse might have worked ... had his hair not looked just like Kenny Bell's.
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Video: NU coach Bo Pelini after the Purdue game:
Video: Postgame analysis with Sam McKewon:
Video: Husker fans at Purdue: