We are leaving. We are so leaving.
My wife Sarah and I sit slumped in Section 18, Row 25 — right above Memorial Stadium's southwest end zone — as literal and metaphorical darkness closes in on Saturday afternoon.
We occupy Seats 17 and 18, but by this point in Nebraska's sure loss to Northwestern we could have laid down end-to-end on the metal bleachers without disturbing a soul. Seats 6 to 16 are already soulless, their ticket holders having decided that this game, this season, maybe this era, has ended. They don't feel like watching the final seconds slip away.
“Well, I'm quitting,” a man sitting right above us had announced to the section, neatly summing up the mood right after Tommy Armstrong threw an interception that appeared to seal another crushing Cornhusker defeat. “Good luck to the rest of you.”
Now less then a minute remains. The Huskers, led by their third-string quarterback, face fourth-and-forever at the football intersection of Depression Drive and Angry Talk Radio Avenue.
“We'll leave after this play,” I tell Sarah. I actually stand up and take three steps toward the stairs as Ron Kellogg dumps it to Ameer Abdullah — seriously, a dump-off to the running back on fourth-and-forever? — and Abdullah appears wrapped up several yards short of the marker. And then I stop. The referee looks like he is, yes he is, signaling a first down. Weird.
I walk the three steps back to Section 18, Row 25, Seat 18. I shrug.
“Let's stay,” I say.
How Sarah and I came to be perched in these particular seats is the sort of story that seems oh-so-insignificant until the moment it isn't.
My loving parents had lovingly mailed their two nosebleed South Stadium season tickets to us because they weren't planning to make the drive to Lincoln for Saturday's game. But of course yours truly is forever looking for an angle, an opening, any possible way to avoid wedging my butt into a tiny piece of real estate all the way up there in Row 85.
Which is why, an hour before kickoff, I approached a man with greasy hair who held two tickets aloft. Section 18, Row 25, Seats 17 and 18. He said they were his boss' seats. I didn't ask any more questions. I bought them for $112, face value, reasoning that surely I would then be able to turn around and sell my parents' nosebleeds for something close to face value.
I ended up unloading my parents' tickets for $30. Total.
Basically I'm Warren Buffett's evil twin. You can call me Barren Wuffett.
So it was through my stunning buy-high, sell-low business genius that we are sitting low in the southwest corner of Memorial Stadium as Nebraska converts that fourth down, moves it to midfield and lines up for one final play.
Right before the snap, for the first time all game, I notice a teenage boy to my left. He's maybe 15. He's wearing a Taylor Martinez jersey and jeans. He's standing on the metal bleachers, and he's hopping on one foot and then another.
He's filled with the sort of electrified, expectant energy that seeps out of all of us, a watt at a time, as we celebrate birthdays and buy houses and watch as countless Hail Marys, in football and in life, fall just short of their intended targets.
Come on kid, I think. Don't be a dope. Don't hang your dopey hopes on this final play.
Time and experience will teach you that this is over. This is over. This is so over.
Ron Kellogg lofts the football into the lengthy shadows. Right at us. The ball is tipped. It flips slowly, end over end, back up again into the darkening sky.
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.|
It's as big as an orbiting planet. It's so close that everyone left in Section 18, Row 25, instinctively leans into it, like we can catch it ourselves, like it's a beautiful and priceless object that we can save just before it smashes violently to the floor.
We lean forward, and we brace for the inevitable crash, and ... and ... and ...
And then I am jumping. I am jumping and grabbing Sarah by the shoulders and shaking her. I am jumping up and down and I am shaking my wife and I am screaming and she is jumping and she is screaming and around us there is only jumping and shaking and screaming.
I scream and jump until I run short of breath, until the gravitational pull inside Memorial Stadium begins to return to normal, until I'm just a dope wearing a dopey grin.
I turn left to look again for the 15-year-old. I find him.
He is still standing on the metal bleachers in Section 18, Row 25. But now he is motionless. Now he is sobbing.
He is saying two words, over and over. Maybe he's saying them to his mom. Maybe he's saying them to Jordan Westerkamp.
Maybe he's delivering a message for all of us, a message that once in a great while sports isn't in-depth analysis or message board debates or any of the things we attach ourselves to as we grow up and grow old and forget what it's like to be 15 and believe wholly in miracles.
“Thank you,” the boy says. “Thank you. Thank you.”
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Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini during Monday's press conference
Video: Nebraska wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp during Monday's press conference
Video: Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah during Monday's press conference
Video: Nebraska quarterback Ron Kellogg during Monday's press conference