There is no place like Nebraska,
Dear old Nebraska U.
Where the girls are the fairest,
The boys are the squarest,
Of any old school that I knew.
When Nebraska’s popular fight song was written more than 90 years ago, “fairest” and “squarest” were both compliments.
Though some colleges have started amending their fight songs to reflect changing times, the old-timey lines from “Dear Old Nebraska U” (There Is No Place Like Nebraska) are mostly met with a shoulder shrug. There has been no movement to change the words — at least not as long as anyone around now can remember.
The song pops up in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s marketing. A line from the song — “There is no place like Nebraska” — is painted in scarlet and cream at the entry to the student union. Incoming students at orientation last week learned to sing it.
“That song,” said Cornhusker Marching Band director Tony Falcone, “is not going away.”
Nebraska’s official fight song is “Hail Varsity.” That’s the first song the band plays after a Husker touchdown. “Dear Old Nebraska U” comes after that.
Falcone said more people sing along when that one plays because “Hail Varsity” is hard to sing. The words and the notes don’t quite line up, Falcone said. And “Dear Old Nebraska U” just seems more connected to the university’s identity.
Many of the schools amending their fight songs would say the same. University of Utah students launched a conversation about their song, “Utah Man,” which also includes a line about their coeds being the fairest. The “fairest” reference was criticized for being sexist and potentially racist.
After the students passed a resolution pushing for change in April and the president agreed early this month, “man” is being replaced with “fan.” The line about fair coeds will be subbed out with “finest students” in the official version. The university’s president said that students and fans are welcome to sing whichever version resonates with them.
Most people who spoke out about the song didn’t want it changed, students said, but administrators approved the change anyway.
Falcone thinks there’s a big difference between Utah’s song and Nebraska’s: When “Dear Old Nebraska U” mentions that its “girls are the fairest,” the song itself isn’t from a male perspective, as Utah’s was before the change.
“I don’t know if other people would see it the same, but I think there’s a little bit of a distinction,” he said.
UNL spokesman Steve Smith said he can’t recall a time anyone has questioned the lyrics. Ethan Rowley, director of fan experience for Nebraska athletics, said the same.
In recent years Nebraska’s goal has been to make sure more fans learn the fight songs, since he is certain that most of the nearly 92,000 fan in Memorial Stadium know only the part of “Hail Varsity” where they are supposed to shout “Go Huskers.”
“There are certain lines, like ‘There is no place like Nebraska,’ that’s something we constantly use everywhere,” Rowley said. “The line about sticking together is a fan rallying cry. As far as the rest of the words, some of them know them.”
There is no place like Nebraska,
Where they’re all true blue.
We’ll all stick together,
In all kinds of weather,
For dear old Nebraska U.
The song is a reflection more on Sarah Marlowe’s childhood going to Nebraska football games than on her years as a UNL student before she graduated in 2005. She went to her first game with her dad in third grade, and remembers the lyrics like “true blue” sticking out to her, both because the Huskers were obviously red and because they sounded kind of hokey.
It’s a tradition, she said, and she doubts the people here would change lyrics as other schools have. Still, a change wouldn’t bother her.
“I don’t think it needs to be the same thing we’re singing for 100 years,” Marlowe said.
Anne Prauner learned the words to “Dear Old Nebraska U” at freshman orientation four years ago, and it was locked into memory through her four years in the student sections of Memorial Stadium and the Devaney Center. The 2014 grad saw the story about the University of Utah’s fight song changing and thought a bit about her own school’s song.
It’s outdated, she agrees, and she wouldn’t be opposed to a change. But she wonders less about Nebraska girls being fairest (still at least a compliment) than its boys being squarest (not for quite a few decades).
“If you think critically about it I guess I would say it’s probably worth changing,” she said. “But it’s Nebraska tradition. People love that.”
Where the song actually means something to her, though, is in the next section.
Nebraska’s weather is crazy, Prauner noted, so one could take that line about sticking together through all kinds of weather literally. But when she hears that song, she thinks of the fun, the growth and the stress that come during those four years and the way her friends, professors and everyone else stuck together.
At dear old Nebraska U.
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FIGHT SONG CONTROVERSIES
» The University of Mississippi trimmed a fight song in hopes of preventing fans from shouting “The South will rise again.”
» At New Mexico State University, alumni in 2003 asked the school to rethink boozy references in its fight song, which includes the line “And when we win this game we’ll buy a keg of booze and drink it to the Aggies ’til we wobble in our shoes.” The group dropped the effort after football fans booed the watered-down lyrics.
» The University of Utah is changing the line “our coeds are the fairest” to “our students are the finest.” The phrase “no other gang of college men” becomes “no rival band of college fans.”