JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Nebraskans were hard to find at local hot spot Jacksonville Landing the day before the Huskers' Gator Bowl matchup today with Georgia.
People wearing Husker red were plentiful. But most attending the Husker pep rally before the Gator Bowl parade through downtown Jacksonville hailed from areas closer to northern Florida than Omaha or Lincoln.
“What do you expect?” asked Husker fan Joey Bell of Tampa, Fla. “We've been in Florida, what, the last four years?”
Actually, three. This will be the Huskers' second straight bowl meeting with Georgia and its third straight against a team from the powerful Southeastern Conference. The first two were losses.
Art Ladenburg and his wife, Linda, who made the trip from Fairfax, Va., were milling around after the pep rally at Jacksonville Landing, an entertainment and shopping district near the St. Johns River. The Ladenburgs attended the same event five years earlier before the Nebraska-Clemson Gator Bowl game.
“I don't think the crowd was as big at this rally as the one five years ago,” Art Ladenburg said. “We were eight people back, and we were up pretty close to the front this year.”
NU announced last week that it had sold 3,000 of the 12,750 tickets the school was allotted for the Gator Bowl; it donated an additional 1,000 to the Veterans Ticket Foundation.
But school officials said they still expected a good Husker crowd at the game. Tickets were priced at $60, $80 and $125 through the NU athletic ticket office, and cheaper options could be found on the secondary market.
Many Husker fans waited until arriving in Jacksonville to buy tickets for the game or said they purchased them from sources other than the schools.
Several said they found better seats by buying them in Florida.
Art Ladenburg, a Nebraska alum who also graduated from Fremont St. Patrick's — now Fremont Bergan — said he and his wife have attended many Husker bowl games, including the last three played in Florida, and are excited for the 11 a.m. CST game at EverBank Field.
He said they also would have jumped at the chance to travel to Tempe, Ariz., to watch Nebraska play Texas or Oklahoma in last week's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. But those old Husker rivals were invited to other bowls before the Arizona bowl got its turn to pick a school from the Big 12. So it selected Kansas State — and then invited Michigan instead of Nebraska as its representative from the Big Ten.
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“I'm thinking a whole lot of Husker fans were sort of ready to go to Tempe to play Texas or Oklahoma,” Ladenburg said. “So coming back to Florida to play Georgia again is sort of a disappointment, I'd imagine.”
Dennis and Delores Parsley were among the few Omahans found at the pep rally. They were in town to visit daughter Deanna and her family for Christmas and said it was a no-brainer to make the Gator Bowl part of their trip.
“It gave us an excuse to come,” Dennis Parsley said. “We've been to a lot of the bowl games in the past. San Diego, Orlando. Those were fun places.”
Like Ladenburg, Parsley thought the rematch with Georgia after last season's Capital One Bowl was a big reason NU fans don't seem as enthused about this year's game. Parsley offered another reason for the low number of tickets purchased through NU.
“I think some people are probably a little upset with the season,” Parsley said. “The season hasn't gone as some people would have liked, would be my guess.”
The Huskers finished the regular season 8-4 after a loss at home to Iowa in the season finale. Bell, the Husker fan from Tampa, agrees that's a likely reason he hasn't seen much red around town this week.
“Winning cures everything. Am I right?” Bell said. “And that's the truth. If this was a 12-1, 11-1, obviously we wouldn't be here. But no matter where, it would be a much bigger draw.”
Bell said he thinks better days are ahead next season and beyond for Bo Pelini's Huskers.
“Wait until next year,” Bell said. “I'm a Bo-liever. You remember when they wanted to throw Uncle Tom (former NU head coach Tom Osborne) out back in the day? Remember that?
“He was almost at Colorado. He was out the door. He did pretty OK, you know? That's unfortunately the world we live in: You've got to have it today. Today, today, today.”
Another Husker fan glad to attend today's Gator Bowl is Paul Woods of Jacksonville. His parents were stationed at Offutt Air Force Base when he was born in 1971. Woods lived in Omaha for about 10 years before the family made another military move.
“It's a big deal when they bring my Huskers to me,” Woods said. “I love it. I was born there, so it's in my blood. As soon as I became self-aware, I have followed them faithfully ever since.”
Woods has been a pastor working with teenagers at Jacksonville's Trinity Baptist Church for 20 years. Woods attended the Gator Bowl luncheon Tuesday with his 11-year-old son, Mason, in hope that the boy will catch Husker fever.
“My daughters have converted to the Gators. They're a lost cause,” he said, “but I'm not letting my son get away from me. He will be a Husker.”
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Video: NU coach Bo Pelini at the Gator Bowl press conference:
Video: UGA coach Mark Richt at the Gator Bowl press conference:
Video: Watch the Husker pep rally in Jacksonville: