Story #9: Damn Defense
My life as a Big Red Fan began in 1970 when I was 9 years old and started taking a major interest in college athletics. My father, Ret. LtCol. Michael K. McCuistion, grew up in Lincoln where he was a stand out golfer in the city, state and on the national junior scene. My dad was one of the first scholarship golfers at the University of Nebraska during the late 50′s. The interesting thing about my transformation to the Big Red Nation is the fact that I was born and raised in the state of Alabama, yet decided early on that my alligiance would be to Nebraska during my early formative years. I’m not sure if I was trying to keep a part of my father in my life, since he was shot down in 1967 over North VietNam during the VietNam war and held captive as a MIA/POW for almost 6 years, or if I truly had a draw to the program that would soon become one of the best in college football. Luck of the draw I guess; I could have done what most young boys in the state of Alabama do, get on the Crimson Tide or War Eagle band wagon, but I was determined to follow my heart and cheer for the Cornhuskers. My choice of Nebraska as my favorite college football team paid off quickly as I remember them being the National Champion in 1970. When they went back to back in 1971 I was a bit an outcast in my neighborhood since they kicked the snot out of Alabama (not to mention the grief I got from my mother, grandparents, cousins,etc.) The years that followed were very lean; I was bleeding red through and through and kept waiting for the next time I could puff my chest out and speak my mind proclaiming my team as one of the best in the nation. I felt bad for coach Osborne, he got close so many times but just couldn’t get that National Championship. I attended my first game at Memorial Stadium with my grandfather, Jack McCuistion, in 1986 to see the classic NU vs. OU matchup the day after Thanksgiving. It was a tough loss sitting there in the north endzone watching OU come back from being 10 down with a little more than 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. I was heart broken; this would be the only game that I would ever get to see in person with my grandfather. I had driven over 24 hours straight from Las Vegas, Nevada arriving sometime early in the morning to be with my grandfather for this game. It was a tough loss to swallow but an incredible experience to finally get a chance in person to be part of the Big Red Nation; I had seen so many games on TV and wanted to be there so many times, so to finally make it to a game with my grandfather was something that I would carry with me for the rest of my life. 1993 was a tough loss to Florida State; I was minutes away from being able to proclaim my Cornhuskers as kings of the college football world but instead ended up kicking my window AC unit out of its mounts over my frustration with the last second loss. Then came 1994-I had just recently been married so my new wife didn’t quite understand my fanatical behavior with the Cornhuskers. My father was in town for the holidays and was sitting with me as we watched the hated Miami Hurricanes put up a tough fight. My wife eventually left the room as my father and me continued to scream and curse at the TV. In the end it was an awesome night to watch the big mouthed Hurricanes run out of gas and get muscled into the ground during the 4th quarter. 1994 and the Fiesta Bowl will be another one of those lasting memories; I ended up flying down to Tempe with my good friend Mike who had come out to Vegas to celebrate New Years from Florida. Mike is an OSU fan but routes for Nebraska as part of our friendship. We ended up flying down with a ton of Florida Gator fans and had to listen to their crap the whole way down. I was worried about Nebraska’s ability to stop the passing attack of coach Spurrier. Mike and I ended up with tickets in the endzone that was full of Gator fans; other than the fact that Florida scored first blood it was a night to remember. I was politely excited the entire game; expressed my pride as a Nebraska fan and congratulated the Florida fans on a great season (too bad we just kicked the living —- out of your football team). 1997 was a tough year-my wife and I had recently moved to Dekalb, Illinois in the summer of 96; I was excited that I would be within 8 hours of Lincoln and was looking forward to attending games with my grandfather. Unfortunately he passed 9 days following the first Big XII Championship loss to Texas. When I went to Lincoln to help my father take care of my grandfathers possessions, there on Jack’s nightstand was an envelope with my name on it. Inside was a Christmas card with the $25 check that he always sent at Christmas and a short message that said “Damn defense”. I still have the card and ckeck; it will be something I will always hold on to. Earlier that season my grandfather sent me a painted rock he picked up from some sidewalk vendor during a home game. Its just a simple round stone painted white with a big red N in the middle of it-to this day that rock sits on top of the TV as a reminder of my grandfather and as a lucky charm to help the football Gods when Nebraska plays. Following my grandfathers passing, my father and I have tried to go out every year for a game; I’ve made it to Memorial every year since Jacks passing and my dad has made it out 10 times. The sad fact about my father attending games-he’s never seen them win at home (is Michael a bad luck charm). Even this past year when we went out for the OSU game, and yes my good friend Mike from Florida was there spouting off about his Buckeyes kicking butt, my dad didn’t make it into the stadium. Dad allowed tailgating to get the best of him so he went back to where we were staying instead of coming to the game. I didn’t make it inside Memorial until half time and almost walked out once I saw the score. Mike had made some trades with my north endzone tickects for some really sweet 40 yard line tickets on the east side of the stadium. Mike, my brother-in-law Jeff and I sat there and watched one of the greatest come backs in Nebraska history. Like all good Nebraska fans, even though my buddly was pissing people off all around him, they congratulated him on a good game and enjoyed watching him back down the further along the game went. So the string still stands with my dad not getting to see Nebraska win at home; we’ll see what happens next year when we all show up for pay back against Wisconsin. My life as a Cornhusker fan has provided many highs and lows; the one thing that remains is my undying passion for one of the greatest college football programs in the country. Even when my wife gives me the, “its just a game and it doesn’t have anything to do with the bigger picture”, I smile inside and think to myself, “she just doesn’t get it”. Go Big Red!!