Story #23: My Son Should Experience His First Husker Game Just As I Had… With His Dad.
Jim: This is my story of my sons first Husker Game. To start with some background: I was born in North Platte, but raised all of my early years in Ralston. My fondest memories of Ralston are of the Oak Hills swimming pool, and fall afternoons raking leaves and mowing lawns, but always stopping whatever we were doing when Lyle Bremser would start his broadcast with “Good afternoon football fans.” My best friend, Jeff Vojtech, and I would act out each play as it was called by Bremser, using my parents privet hedge as the line of scrimmage and jumping through or over the hedge for goal line stands and touchdowns as though we were Touchdown Tony Davis or Choo Choo Charlie Winters. As a fifth grader, I memorized and took pride in knowing every player and matching jersey number for the Huskers. In the summer of 1969, my father informed us that our family was moving to New Jersey, and I was devastated. I had seen three live Husker games to that point. My first live Husker game was in 1968, when I was ten years old. My father took me to the opening game against Wyoming. I still have some of the Lays Potato Chip “Go Big Red” buttons that they used to put in bags of chips. After moving to New Jersey, the only time I got to hear or see Husker games was when they played on TV. My former basketball coach always gave me a bad time because all of the sweat pants and sweatshirts that I would wear to practice were Husker red. Then came New Year’s and the Huskers vault over the Texas Longhorns after they lost in the Cotton Bowl, and along came the Huskers playing a night game in the Orange Bowl against LSU. I made a wall plaque out of the picture of Jerry Tagge’s game winning QB sneak from the Sports Illustrated Cover. Then came the Game of the Century, and I was bursting with pride. Johnny The Jet, and back to back National Championships while I lived in Jersey. AND THEN THEY BURIED NOTRE DAME IN A BOWL GAME. This was important to me because my neighbor, Rich Alloco was a backup QB for Notre Dame at the time. Also, the Ara Parsegian show was always on Sunday morning replaying the Notre Dame games, but we never saw any footage of the Huskers. That killed me.
In 1972 my family moved back to West Omaha, and I began high school at Creighton Prep. Every year, I would make it to at least one Husker Game, but those were the years of Tom Osborne’s nemesis, Barry Switzer, at Oklahoma. I was there the year TO beat Oklahoma for the first time as Head Coach, and remember the goal posts coming down, only to be followed a couple of weeks later with the announcement that the Huskers would “get” to play the Sooners again in the Orange Bowl. What a farce! I was also there the year that the Huskers had the Sooners on the ropes, and the famous hook and lateral happened right in front of me. After graduating from high school, I attended Creighton University and Creighton School of Law, and one year out from graduating from law school I moved to Reno, Nevada, where I have lived ever since. From 1985 until about 1994, the nearest radio station that covered Husker football was in Sacramento. I used to drive up to Lake Tahoe on Saturday morning to listen to the games on the faint radio waves that made it over Donner Pass. In 1988 I married my lovely wife and in 1990, we were blessed with a baby boy, Alex McCarty who of course, became a Husker fan upon taking his first breath. I always believed that my son should be able to experience a Husker game just as I had, with my dad, at age 10, as a right of passage, so to speak. I took him and my daughter to their first husker game in 1998 when the Huskers came to play Cal at Berkeley. My daughter was 5 years old at the time, and loved the Husker cheerleaders, more than the game, but my son got the chance to go down to the stadium floor. Just standing near the Husker players when he was 8 meant the world to him. When the Husker basketball team came to Reno for the NIT tournament, my family dressed in Husker red from their shoes (Converse high tops for everyone) to pompoms and skirts for the girls, Husker jerseys for the guys, and we sat in the nose bleeder seats at Lawlor Events Center on the University of Nevada-Reno campus and cheered on the Huskers! Again, my daughter got to meet the cheerleaders and went onto the floor with them because she was all dressed up in a Husker cheerleader outfit her grandma and grandpa McCarty (Art and Margie McCarty) in Omaha had sent her for her birthday! September 11, 2001 happened, and my son was ten. He was devastated and scared by the events that unfolded that day, as was every person of any age at that time. We had previously had no luck getting Alex to a Husker game in Lincoln, and that tragedy seemingly prevented any idea of putting him on a plane with me to go to see the Huskers that season.
But then it happened. You see, I have a friend named Michael Kealy, a friend since third grade, a Ralstonite, a true Husker fan, and the best friend a guy could ever have. Mike is the guy who talked me into looking into moving to Reno, got me a job interview, got me a job, and put me up at his aunt and uncle’s house in Carson City when I first moved to Northern Nevada, until we became roommates. We lived together in an apartment in Reno until Mike married his wife Karen. Soon after, they had a son named Patrick. On October 25th, Mike called me at my office just before noon. I thought it might be a lunch invitation. I was not available to take his call so he left an urgent message for me to call him back. All kinds of bad thoughts went through my mind as I placed the return call. But when we finally connected, it was after 1:00. He said he had two tickets to the Nebraska vs. Oklahoma game, No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the country. How often do you get to go to that kind of game? His proposition however, was not for me and him to use the tickets, but that he of course wanted to take his son Patrick but couldn’t get air arrangements made in time and cheap enough to make it work. Mike asked whether I would help him and Patrick drive the 22 hour trip from Reno to Lincoln, but we had to leave by 5:00 p.m. that day! Needless to say, I was not enthused about that drive, especially when there were no tickets available for me to go to the game. Sometimes you just have to help a friend do something that is so far out there that it just might work, and despite my better judgment in my gut, I told Mike that I would be there for him and help him drive his son. He promised to do everything he could to try and find me and Alex tickets, because this should be a father/son trip for both Mike and I. I picked my son, Alex, up from school at 2:30. He normally got out of school at 3:00, so he thought he was in trouble or something was wrong. I had called my wife and told her that I was helping Mike out, driving to Omaha and back over the long weekend. ( Nevada celebrates “Nevada Day” on the last Friday of October, as a celebration of the day that Nevada was admitted to the Union of the United States) The schools were out on Friday the 26th and my business would be closed. We left at 4:00p.m. on Thursday, October 25th, in Mike’s Husker red Yukon, ripping down Interstate 80. By Friday morning, the boys woke up in the back seat and we had breakfast in Sydney as the sun came up. We were tired, but still had quite a bit of driving left. The boys were excited about being in Nebraska, Alex was looking forward to seeing his grandparents in Omaha. When we finally got to Lincoln, we had been on the road for 22 hours straight, arriving in Lincoln around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. We stopped at the first ticket scalper and asked his price for two tickets. $350 apiece for nosebleed seats in the south end zone. I couldn’t afford those prices, so we just kept driving on to Omaha.
When we got to west Omaha, Mike dropped Alex and I off at my parents house and he went on to Ralston, saying that if he found us tickets through his family or whatever, he would call and give us a ride to Lincoln the next day. My parents took us to dinner that night where we met my sister and her husband. My sister wanted to take Alex to “Husker Hounds” and buy him a styrofoam corncob hat, and we were all resigned to the fact that Alex and I had come all the way from Reno without tickets to the game and we weren’t likely to find any at that time of night. (it was almost closing time when we finally made it to Husker Hounds) While standing in line to by Alex’s hat, an angel stepped in front of us to buy a Husker t-shirt. She was talking with the two young men in front of her about going to the game, that her husband was not able to go, so they were going to a party with a group of people. The two gentlemen stated that they had a bunch of friends who had flown in from the West Coast to party with them and watch the game at a local bar. The lady offered them her husband’s tickets, but they turned them down!! I jumped at the opportunity to tell these people my story of having driven for the last 22 hours, without tickets to bring my son to the game. The lady indicated that if the two young men in front of us did not want them, then I could call her husband and buy them from him. After hearing my story, the two young men just smiled and offered me their cell phone to call her husband. Everyone wanted to get Alex to his first HUSKER GAME. Alex was grinning from ear to ear and was so excited he couldn’t stay in the store! The lady called her husband for me, and told me to sell the tickets to me and ALex at his cost, that he was not to try and make money on this deal as Alex HAD to go to this game!!!