Chants of “Go Big Red” echoed through the halls of Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln.

Then came high-fives. And photo ops. And autographs.

As part of a long-standing tradition, Husker football players stopped by Madonna and four other Lincoln medical centers on Wednesday.

Members of the team also visited St. Elizabeth Regional Medical Center, Nebraska Heart Institute & Heart Hospital, Bryan Medical Center’s east campus and the VA clinic.

The visit is something many patients and residents at Madonna look forward to, said president and CEO Paul Dongilli.

“When we have visits like this, it introduces fun. It’s inspiration for (patients) and it just brightens their day,” Dongilli said.

About 25 Huskers — all in their red jerseys — wandered through the halls of Madonna. In addition to high-fives and photos, they also signed autographs. One man had a player sign his baby’s onesie.

In another room, a handful of players surrounded Mary Jo Karnopp. Karnopp, from McCool Junction, Nebraska, has gone to games for years. It was exciting for her to learn that she’d get to meet some of the team.

After taking a photo with the players, Karnopp told them they were “just fabulous.” Then she told them to keep catching passes on the field.

“I’m under a lot of pressure now,” Husker receiver Stanley Morgan told her.

Morgan said the visits are a good way to give back . It’s a way to show support and appreciation, especially to fans who might not be able to get to the games.

Quarterback Andrew Bunch shared Morgan’s sentiments.

“It’s important to go out into the community and talk with the people we get to represent on Saturdays,” Bunch said. “It’s inspiring to see some of the real-life things they’re going through. At the end of the day, football’s just a game.”

The Husker fight song played in one jam-packed room. Players made their way around the room, shaking hands with patients and their families. A patient on the pediatric floor presented players with drawings.

The visit was a highlight for 18-year-old Malik Paulson, who has grown up a Husker fan.

The Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native is a former athlete. A diving accident this summer left him paralyzed from the shoulders down.

Paulson, wearing a Nebraska jacket, chatted with the players and invited them to check out his hospital room.

Players learn some perspective from the visits, said Keith Zimmer, a Nebraska senior associate athletic director.

“It gives balance to their lives,” he said. “There’s more to life than sports.”

Kelsey covers health and fitness for The World-Herald. Follow her on Twitter @kels2. Phone: 402-444-3100.

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