LINCOLN — A cold wind whipped around a steady stream of Nebraska fans exiting Gate 11. Stadium Drive was bustling, the nearby walking bridge full.
And there were still a few minutes left in the first half of what would eventually be Ohio State’s 56-14 win over Nebraska.
Snippets of conversations bubbled up from within the chilled, sullen crowd bathed in the flashing blue-and-red lights of a nearby emergency vehicle Saturday night. Someone on his phone talking about Bill Callahan and 2007. A smoker exhaling and muttering, “Gotta go back in.” A middle-aged man saying, “I feel sorry for the kids.”
Les Perryman, 61, flew in from Las Vegas to see the Huskers play a top-10 opponent but generally prefers to travel to road games. He’s never left this early.
“I’m going to go across the street,” Perryman said. “I’ll probably go watch on TV and live in the misery of everybody. Maybe Nebraska’s a little bit of a legend in their own mind.”
It’s the work ethic that bothers the longtime NU supporter. Or maybe the lack of Nebraskans and impact walk-ons on the team. His local squad, UNLV, played Ohio State tougher in a 54-21 game last month.
Over at Gate 3 on the southwest corner of the stadium, Wesley Dacus and his adult son, RaShad Dacus, were debating where Nebraska went wrong as a program. Wesley posits it’s because NU doesn’t have any “blue-chip” recruits. RaShad counters that coaches need to do a better job developing the players who are there.
The only reason the two attended — other than some father-son bonding time, Wesley said — is because they couldn’t sell their tickets. The Omahans have been season-ticket holders for five years.
“(Mike) Riley needs to be gone, in my opinion,” RaShad said. “We tried. He tried. I was all in in Riley until the Northern Illinois game. Then I sold all my stock in it. After that loss, I was done.”
Three generations of fans and Omaha natives strode out moments later trying to beat the crowd to their car. Mike Dahir, 69, started to explain how his family feels bad for Nebraska when his granddaughter, Whitney, interjected, “Yeah, and we don’t really want to see them lose, so ...”
Mark Dahir, 43, said the decision to go home so early wasn’t easy for a group of season-ticket holders.
“We shouldn’t be leaving,” Mark Dahir said. “We should be staying and being with them when they lose like we’re with them when we win. But we’re leaving anyway.”
Moments before halftime was when Bailey Jo Hiser, 21, and her friend Morgan Ihle took off for a nearby bar. Softball teammates at Dodge City Community College, they had an open weekend to make the drive to Lincoln. Hiser, from North Platte, said she would return for the second half but “I need to be drunk for that.” Ihle, wearing an Ohio State cap, said she felt “a little bad” for her friend.
Sadness was also the emotion for Brock and Emily McDougal, who try to make an annual trek from DeWitt to Lincoln for a game. Brock, 33, saw “a night-and-day difference” in the size of the players from each team. Emily, 25, noticed disorganization and confusion among the Huskers.
With a wind chill dipping into the 40s, that made their early departure a no-brainer.
Said Emily: “When it’s cold, if you’re doing good and fighting, there’s a big difference between that and your own team not showing up.”
What’s the solution? Recent Creighton graduates Sarah Hart, 30, and Brady Hoekstra, 29, don’t know where they’d begin. Firing the coaching staff would be a start, they said, but that just means starting over again. Their friend, Chris Schanou, 29, of Omaha said there’s no way the stadium should be emptying by 8 p.m. after a 6:30 kickoff against a Big Ten contender. But this is what the expectation has become among his colleagues.
Other fans declined to be interviewed, either ignoring the request or simply waving as they disappeared into the night.
Pat Tallon and Rhonda Epps of Grand Island were among the first fans to leave, joking wryly about how some fans let go of their red ballons when Nebraska finally earned a first down. They come to town for most games, but attend only every so often.
They figured Saturday night would be bad. But not like this.
“It was hard to come, yeah, but I have to support the team,” Tallon said. “But they’re not showing ... they’re too young, they’re just going to get their ass kicked. I don’t want to watch it.”
How would you grade Nebraska's overall performance against Ohio State?
The Huskers lost to the Buckeyes 56-14 on Saturday. How would you grade NU's overall performance?