EVANSTON, Ill. — One of the more patriotic pregame ceremonies Saturday got an assist from a few Nebraska players.
While three skydivers parachuted into Ryan Field — one floating in with an American flag — a larger version of the Stars and Stripes was unveiled on the south side of the 50-yard-line.
There weren’t enough Northwestern folks to help stretch out the flag, so Huskers Drew Brown, Zack Darlington, Sam Hahn and Nick Gates were recruited to help.
None of them missed seeing the skydivers land just a few yards away. When the chorus got to, “O say does that star spangled banner,” Brown, Darlington and Gates all started shaking the flag with the other flag holders who were primarily from the Northwestern band.
All of this happened during a stirring rendition of the national anthem sung by Jim Cornelison, who performs the anthem at Chicago Blackhawks games. Cornelison also performed the anthem at the Chicago Bears’ home opener earlier this month.
Nebraska fans who arrived early got the first peek at the Huskers’ alternate uniforms, and the early reviews were primarily positive.
Though the design was revealed during the preseason, seeing the all-white look with silver stripes on the shoulders, pants and around the red numbers as players took the field made the moment that much more exciting.
While having larger numbers on the back of the helmet was a nice touch, the biggest complaint was that the names on the back of the jerseys being in silver made it difficult, if not impossible, for most people to read.
Even at field level the letters were hard to make out from the usual red that’s easy to discern from anywhere in the stadium.
Speaking of field level, the grass surface on Ryan Field looked as bad in person as it did on television.
Many of the brown spots, especially between the 30-yard lines, weren’t just brown grass. There were several divots that looked like chunks taken out of fairways on a municipal golf course.
A number of grass divots along the sideline and in the end zone were masked by purple paint. While it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, the rough turf didn’t seem to affect the level of play.
Spectators dressed in red far outnumbered those in purple on all three sides of the stadium that had seating for fans.
The noise generated by Husker fans always dwarfed that of the Northwestern faithful. But when the Wildcats starters were being introduced on the Ryan Field video screen the noise level rose considerably.
It wasn’t for the players being introduced, though. It was for the Huskers who were wrapping up pregame drills and gathering for a huddle and last-minute motivational shouts prior to heading to the locker room for final instructions.
During one point in game action, the Wildcats had the ball deep in Nebraska territory while driving toward the south end zone. When the ball was lined up on the far right hash mark, Husker fans made it feel like Memorial Stadium as Northwestern players couldn’t hear the signals from quarterback Clayton Thorson.
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong spoke to the backs and receivers while keeping the message upbeat after the ball got away from Terrell Newby on the third play of the game.
When drives stalled or Northwestern’s offense pieced together several good plays before the Blackshirts shut things down, the messages from assistant coaches were firm but upbeat.
Time spent with their units by offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh and defensive line coach John Parrella were teaching moments instead of screaming sessions.
The loudest any coach got was when head coach Mike Riley was trying to get Armstrong’s attention as he lined up for a play.
Armstrong was in the shotgun, but that wasn’t where he needed to be. Riley brought together and separated his hands a couple of times, a signal that Armstrong was supposed to be lined up under center Dylan Utter; Armstrong quickly moved up.
Before the start of the fourth quarter, players, trainers and even a couple of coaches on the Husker sideline were jumping up and down while clearing their collective throats as if they were getting ready for the final 15 minutes of a game at Memorial Stadium.
That’s because the Northwestern public address system began playing the song that became part of the Memorial Stadium game day experience last season — “Let Me Clear My Throat” by DJ Kool.
Northwestern fans were a bit surprised at how much fun players on the Husker sideline and the fans in the stands were having dancing and singing along with the song.