It’s time for Nebraska to finally make a big deal of the spring game.
I know, you think it’s already overcooked. You think it’s borderline insane how much folks will invest (time and money) to watch a football practice. I agree with you. Believe me.
A capacity crowd will descend on Memorial Stadium Saturday starving for a taste of the future under Scott Frost. Here’s the problem. He can’t possibly satisfy them. Sure, he can show glimpses of the new offense. He can introduce the new Blackshirts. But it’s still just a practice. It's not real football.
Which is why Frost should do something different in 2019. He can make his life easier — less hype (and overreaction) on the “game” — while offering fans more bang for their buck. He can honor old legends, inspire new fans and give everyone an experience that will get them through summer.
The Red-White scrimmage doesn’t go away. It should still be the focal point. But it needs to be the culmination of a much larger slate of events. Think of the spring game less like a fall Saturday and more like homecoming or a small-town Fourth of July celebration.
Here’s my proposed itinerary that runs from Friday afternoon until Saturday night.
4-6 p.m.: Autograph sessions at Memorial Stadium. Coaches aren’t crazy about squeezing “fan day” into the preseason calendar, so move it forward four months to a less stressful time.
6-8 p.m.: Alumni 7-on-7 tournament at Memorial Stadium. Short games. Small field. Microphones on selected players and coaches. Let Taylor Martinez make a little magic. Let Eric Crouch reenact Black 41 Flash Reverse.
At breaks in the action, hold skill competitions for current players. Let’s see who's the fastest Husker. Who can bench press 225 pounds the most? Who can throw a medicine ball the farthest? Have a few skits involving athletes across campus. Maybe a talent contest.
8-10 p.m.: Free concert in the stadium, followed by fireworks. Pray for good weather.
Pack the day with so many casual events, catered to so many different audiences in different parts of campus, that a Husker fan wouldn’t dare stay away.
9 a.m.: Punt, pass and kick competitions in the Hawks Center.
10 a.m.: A football-themed parade through the sidewalks of campus. Decorate different areas like different parts of the state.
Noon: Video game tournaments pitting kids against Nebraska athletes.
1 p.m.: A contest where fans, with the help of Adidas reps, design their own alternate uniforms.
2 p.m.: Motivational talks from former Huskers like Ameer Abdullah and Rex Burkhead, describing their underdog roads to the NFL.
9 a.m.: Chalk talk sessions with former players and coaches. Imagine learning Milt Tenopir’s blocking schemes from members of The Pipeline. Better yet, what about Charlie McBride and Erik Chinander on a stage talking defense?
10 a.m.: Replay a classic game with the main characters. Picture Jerry Tagge and Johnny Rodgers in a campus auditorium taking you through the Game of the Century.
11 a.m.: A diversity panel highlighting Nebraska football’s remarkable history as a melting pot.
Noon: A session featuring Husker families like the Ruuds or Makovickas, where siblings or fathers and sons share memories of cheering from the stands. Let them tease each other and take questions.
1 p.m.: Hold a trivia event for fans (or even former players) about Husker history. Let athletes themselves give tours of their locker rooms. Bring in Larry The Cable Guy or other Husker-obsessed celebrities for short performances.
I could come up with ideas (good and bad) all day. Ferris wheels. Petting zoos. Scavenger hunts. The point is, it’s all available. Tens of thousands of fans are coming to town. By the time they watch the scrimmage Saturday afternoon, their stomachs should already be full.
For years, Nebraska has nibbled around the edges with reunions, autograph sessions, bounce houses, face-painting, etc. They’ve scheduled baseball games and volleyball scrimmages around the spring game. All of that is fine. But it’s not enough.
The spring game is the perfect opportunity to do something unique. Throw a family-friendly bash that extends beyond a few possessions of 1s vs. 1s. Pay homage to NU history and give the next generation access to the university in a fresh, fun way.
Call it Husker Heaven. For April, it’d be pretty darned close.
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2018: Flying into the future. The star of the Red team's 49-9 win over the White team didn't play or call one snap. Instead, Scott Frost stood behind the action, part coach, part spectator. He came home and a spring game record crowd of 86,818 welcomed him. "It was a special day for me, " Frost said. Frost had the spotlight. But the kid? The kid took it for a moment. In a quarterback race still far from over, true freshman Adrian Martinez — the player Frost once flew in the middle of the night to recruit — arguably took the lead. He ran for 60 yards, threw for 114 and, most important, amassed four touchdowns.
2017: Two close to call. Quarterback Tanner Lee, right, appeared to be the front-runner for the starting job, connecting on 13 of 19 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns, none better than a 30-yard touchdown pass to slot receiver JD Spielman. Close behind was Patrick O’Brien, who hit 11 of 17 passes for 134 yards and one touchdown and got the first snaps of the game with the Reds after winning a pregame coin flip in the locker room. Lee, O’Brien, Tristan Gebbia and Andrew Bunch combined for 702 yards passing, five touchdowns and one interception on the day.
2016: Nebraska walk-on Kyle Kasun’s interception of freshman quarterback Patrick O’Brien on the final play produced the six points in the scrimmage’s scoring system that gave the defense a 46-41 victory over the offense. The Huskers racked up 343 yards on 64 carries — with the quarterbacks accounting for 162 of those rushing yards.
2015: Nebraska coach Mike Riley's spring game debut featured 408 punting yards by Sam Foltz, a bizarre safety by quarterback Tommy Armstrong and plenty of growing pains. NU quarterbacks completed 34 of 68 pass attempts, but it ended with a Gatorade bath for Riley. “I loved that,” he said.
2014: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini kicked off the spring game by carrying a cat onto the field during the tunnel walk — a nod to Faux Pelini, his Twitter parody account. Red defeated White 55-46, behind running back Imani Cross, who had 100 yards and two touchdowns on six carries.
2013: Team Jack stole the show. Midway through the fourth quarter, Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez handed off to 7-year-old Jack Hoffman — a pediatric brain cancer patient who became close friends with former Husker Rex Burkhead — for a 69-yard touchdown. Both sidelines emptied to converge on Jack, who was raised to the shoulders of a couple of players. The play was named USA Today’s “Best Emotional Moment of 2013″ and awarded the ESPY for best sports moment.
2012: Fans take shelter in the concourse at Memorial Stadium to avoid the rain. Nebraska chose not to play the 2012 spring game when a severe thunderstorm blew through the area about 90 minutes before kickoff. It was the only spring game canceled in NU's 65-year history of the scrimmage.
2011: After missing a field goal for White seconds before, Brett Maher kicked the game-winner for Red, giving them a 32-29 win. True freshman Jamal Turner racked up 228 all-purpose yards on just seven touches.
2010: The Taylor & Cody show. Taylor Martinez (pictured) passed for two scores and added nine carries for 60 yards. Cody Green’s highlight was a 72-yard touchdown throw to Will Henry that showed off his arm. He finished 7 of 15, passing for 155 yards for White, but Red won 21-16.
2009: Quarterback Zac Lee finished the game with 214 yards and three touchdowns and directed Red to a 31-17 win. He completed 15 of his 18 attempts, hardly looking rattled in front of 77,670 Husker fans who had been waiting all spring, maybe somewhat anxiously, for a chance to see the team’s new leader in action.
2008: I-back Marcus Mendoza eyes the end zone, but is pushed out of bounds by Mathew May of Imperial, Neb. Mendoza gained 33 yards on seven carries in Red's 24-14 win. The Bo Pelini era began with a school-record 80,149 fans in attendance.
2007: NU quarterbacks Sam Keller and Joe Ganz combined to complete 21 of 31 passes for 350 yards against No. 2 and No. 3 defensive players. Keller and Ganz led Red to a 38-0 win. “The coaching staff obviously has a handle on this (deciding on a No. 1),” Keller said after the game.
2006: Cody Glenn, No. 34, tries to run against White Team defenders, including Phillip Dillard, No. 38, and Kevin Luhrs, No. 89. Glenn finished with 98 yards on 16 carries. Red defeated White, 35-7, racking up 28 first downs and 219 rushing yards compared to two first downs and -10 for White.
2005: Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor is greeted by fans as he enters the field. Taylor, a transfer from Butler County (Kan.) Community College, finished 20 of 27 for 357 yards and three touchdowns, leading White to a 42-14 victory. Taylor’s 357 passing yards, and the 606 combined passing yards by White and Red, set spring game records.
2004: White's Brandon Rigoni and Tyler Fisher break up a pass intended for Ross Pilkington. New coach Bill Callahan unveiled a new pass-happy attack and set multiple spring game passing records, including attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns. Husker quarterback Joe Dailey threw 49 times for Red, completing 29 for 241 yards and four touchdowns in 35-6 victory. “I had a good time,’’ Dailey said. “It was a great day. I think there’s more to come. This is the very tip of the iceberg.’’
2003: White's Joel Jackson catches a pass and is tackled by Mark Brungardt, left, and Stewart Bradley. Defense was the theme of the day in Red's 13-0 win, led by new defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. NU defenders recorded six interceptions and three sacks, despite lining up in just one front. "I just chose to hold back," said Pelini. "It wasn't about beating the offense. All we wanted to do is have our guys lined up in a base defense and play hard."
2002: Red's Ira Cooper blocks Sam Koch's punt in the second quarter. The blocked punt set up Red's first touchdown in their 17-7 win. Junior-college transfer linebacker Demorrio Williams made a game-high 13 tackles for White, while Red's Dahrran Diedrick averaged 8.0 yards a carry en route to 96 yards and a touchdown.
2001: Thunder Collins had 55 yards on 13 carries for White, but defense ruled the day in Red's 16-7 win. The Red and White defenses combined for 16 sacks and limited the offenses to a combined 426 yards. "We feel like we made progress this spring," NU defensive coordinator Craig Bohl said.
2000: Red Team quarterback Joe Chrisman tries to escape from DeJuan Groce and the White Team defense. Eric Crouch and Jammal Lord sat out the spring game with injuries, leaving the Huskers with three inexperienced quarterbacks. White rallied for two fourth-quarter touchdowns, the last one coming on a 46-yard pass from converted split end Brett Lindstrom to Ryan Ommert with 2:24 remaining, tying Red 21-21. The no-decision marked the first time since 1950 that the game ended in a tie.