Story #16: My First Husker Game
My First Husker Game:
My love for all things Nebraska football officially started September 25, 1982 (The Penn St game “the horrible, awful, officiated game it was”). I was watching the game in Lincoln at my aunt and uncle’s house. I didn’t quite get all the aspects of the game of football at that time but I did realize that our beloved and revered Huskers were jobbed in a HUGE way. I never saw my Papa so upset over anything…Uncles were spewing out the absurdities of this game and my own very difficult to anger Father was not at all happy either. There was a strange camaraderie (band of brothers situation) that seemed to take place(not only in my Uncle’s house but the whole state of Nebraska) in the fact that our beloved team was just screwed out of a victory and ultimately a National Title in 1982 and ever since that day I have watched, followed and immensely enjoyed Nebraska football.
The following year of 1983 set the hook forever…of course! The Scoring Explosion was the greatest offensive team ever assembled and it was a true joy and pleasure to watch that team steamroll over everyone (in the regular season) I don’t like to talk or write about lo$$es and don’t even like to type the word as you can see. I watched every single game of the 1983 season and was developing an acumen very quickly about players, coaches, stats, schematics…(much quicker than any of my school studies) I still have a special place in my heart for the first Quarterback I ever watched Turner Gill and still place him as the standard by which all other Husker QB’s are measured.
Fast forward to October 6, 1984: My family lived in Yankton, SD at this time and we stopped into Lincoln for the weekend just to visit my grandparents and then drive right back on Sunday. This happened quite often in my childhood especially when we lived in Fremont, NE. I was, of course, worried that I was not going to be near a radio or a TV for the Oklahoma St game. The Mighty Cornhuskers did NOT have a good outing the previous week and all of Husker nation was in the mood to get another game played. The game had a 1:00 pm start time and while I was downstairs with my sisters …(My nana had a saying about the kids after breakfast and when the energy levels started peaking)….”Dowwwwn Zha Stayaaars” in her very unique accent from living all over the US and being originally from Newfoundland, Canada.
11:30 or so I heard my Papa say that he would like me to come upstairs for a minute….I go up there and my Papa was telling me that he was on the way to the game and wanted to know if I would like to join him….This, as far as I know, was NOT planned at all and I believe whoever my Papa had tickets with couldn’t go for whatever reason….My Scarlet and Cream heart STOPPED! I was a kid that would hold his breath whenever we even DROVE by Memorial Stadium. I happily accepted and luckily I was already in the habit of wearing Husker RED for ANY game that the Huskers played whether I was anywhere near the game being played or not. I honestly have no recollection of the drive to the stadium, parking probably two miles away and walking in….I don’t know if I blacked out or because of what was to happen next completely trumped that part of my long term memory.
The first second I peeked my head onto the field ….I saw what appeared to be two massive warrior giants in gladiator gear…(Jeff Smith and Doug DuBose) playing catch with each other during warm ups. I just couldn’t believe the size of everyone and I am sure my Papa was literally dragging me to my seat which turned out to be the 45 yard line on the west side!! I was so mesmerized about the warm ups and the fact that I was actually there that I was not being terribly cordial to Papa’s stadium buddies and he had to basically tell them that this was my first Husker game! I do remember noticing one of my Papa’s friends was wearing a “crimson” sweater vest. That irked me…Nebraska wears SCARLET NOT crimson…There are several teams that I am NOT FOND OF that wear Crimson…
I also remember just prior to kick off Herbie Husker and Pistol Pete (The Okie State Cowboy mascot) were doing the cowboy standoff where they had their hands where their holsters would be and they were marching towards each other for a draw of guns and once they finally met…They shook hands and the crowd roared with appreciation.
The game was ready to begin and this was also a Homecoming game and the crowd seemed extra juiced because of that and the fact that we did not play well AT ALL the previous week. We were rotating two QB’s at the time as the Huskers were in a transitional year after having Turner Gill as the starter. Craig Sunberg and Travis Turner had the daunting task of taking over the Big Red Offensive Machine. This was also the first time EVER that Okie State had a better record than Nebraska going into the head to head meeting so there was a certain nervousness in the air. The polls had Nebraska and the Cowboys very equal with Nebraska being ranked #8 and #9 in both polls and Okie State was ranked #9 and #8 so the game was evenly matched as far as the AP and UPI rankings were concerned.
The first points of the game were scored by Okie State.. A 40 yard field goal to put them up 3-0 in the opening stanza. Nebraska was sputtering and faltering all over the field for the first 3 quarters of this contest and was FORTUNATE to only be down 3-0 going into the 4th quarter. During the Huskers troubles I recall a “sweet” old lady at the start of the game turn into a foul mouthed raving sycophant as the game unfolded. She was very eloquent in her dislike of the Big Red’s performance and let all the ole capacity of 76,300 know it!
Finally FINALLY Nebraska shows some life with a field goal of their own to tie the game 3-3 in the 4th quarter. Obviously the Huskers needed a spark and a ton more execution to escape with a W in this one. It happened when the Blackshirts made a very timely and important stop near midfield and forced the Cowpokes into punting. Enter Shane Swanson, the old country boy from Hershey Nebraska of all places to take off like a bullet and juked and jived shimmied and dived into the end zone 49 yards to finally break the game open. I still remember how unbelievably loud it was when he was running toward the end zone and the fact that I was screaming as loud as I could but could not hear myself.
Now the Huskers needed another defensive stand and according to the “sweet” old lady sitting in the stands that day The Huskers still needed their craniums out of their posteriors. (paraphrased) Danny Noonan was the stud Blackshirt that finally ripped down Rusty Hilger for good and was able to get the Big Red the ball back to see if they could put this game away.
To finally seal the game Jason Gamble rangled in a Travis Turner pass and took the pigskin 64 yards to the house to end this hard fought, gut wrenching battle with the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Nebraska won the game with Okie St 17-3 and went on to finish the 1984 season with a 28-10 victory over LSU and finishing 3rd in the AP poll.
I have been to tons of games since that one and I have seen better teams (and worse) but that will always be my “First Husker game”!
Thanks Pops for thinking to invite me AND thanks to the poor soul that had to give up his ticket!!