Story #29: I’m A Stronger Husker Fan Today Than I’ve Even Been.
I’ve always been close to the country – both geographically and emotionally. Open farmland that spreads as far as the eye can see. Golden fields of wheat, corn and sorghum produce an earthy smell that drifts across sleepy prairie winds. And even though I was raised in the suburbs of West Omaha, I’ve always felt a connection to that agrarian life. Perhaps it’s because my ancestors were farmers; my grandfather still owns several acres of prime Missouri farmland to this day. Farmers represent the spirit of America – a “can-do” attitude that refuses to quit. Emblazoned on the Southwest corner of Nebraska’s most famous cathedral are the words: “Not the victory but the action; Not the goal but the game; In the deed the glory.”
In this way, Husker football epitomizes the stirrings of an entire state. An entire people group. A Big Red Nation.
Husker football is inescapable for those who call Nebraska home and I was no different. My parents were really not sports enthusiasts but even in their non-athletic minds, Saturdays in the fall were special. Wake up, rake leaves, finish house chores and then settle in with a pot of homemade chili and watch the beloved Blackshirts eviscerate another opponent.
If the Devaney Years were the Golden Age of the Husker Dynasty, then I grew up in the Silver Age of 1990’s dominance. I vividly remember names like Wistrom, Frazier and Crouch. My schoolmates and I would gather annually during Thanksgiving break to watch the dying Oklahoma Rivalry and then the blossoming Colorado Rivalry that replaced it. It was a ritual – watch the first half and then sprint outside for a backyard game. We would fight over who got to be Tommie and who got to be Brook as the last of the autumn leaves fell of their branches.
My parents’ generation remembers where they were when JFK was assassinated. Mine remembers the Berlin Wall collapsing or 9/11.
As for me, the triumphs and sorrows of Husker football are just as vivid. I know where I was when I saw Black 41 Flash Reverse. Texas’ extra second. When Henery and Suh blasted Colorado. When Tommie shook off 6 – no 7 – Gators. When a 1946 Piper Cub went flaming into the ground over Raymond, Nebraska and then the fifty thousand who attended Brook’s funeral. If you want evidence of the uniqueness of Husker football, it’s right there. Most teams are lucky if they can fill a fifty thousand seat stadium. Nebraska had that many attend the funeral of a backup quarterback.
But something changed. As my passion for Husker football grew, the team similarly slipped into some of their darkest days. The end of the bowl streak. 5 -7. Like Husker football, I changed. I grew up; moved away to the west coast. I got married and started a family here in the center of Duckmania; transplanted in beautiful, rainy Oregon. My wife is a Duck grad and so is most her family. And Oregon’s even enjoyed a recent rash of success on the field. But I can’t help but see a fan base with short-term memory. 10 years ago when Oregon was losing games to Indiana and Minnesota, their stadium was half-empty. Today it is jammed packed – loud and raucous, fans screaming and players wearing any one of 1459 combinations of costumes. It’s a 3 ring circus that poses as a football game.
Science has a lot to say about proximity. We know Mercury and Venus are much hotter than Neptune; warmed by the sun’s intense heat. But paradoxically, my love for Husker football intensified even as I moved further from the nucleus of power centered between Stadium Drive and Vine Street. The always-present distractions of Oregon, USC or Washington hasn’t softened my stance; it’s galvanized it. I’m a stronger Husker fan today than I’ve even been.
I believe it’s because, Nebraska football has become one-in-the-same with my memories of the country. Catching toads, sitting on a porch swing, walking down a dirt road. The snap count, the fullback trap, the short-side option. The quiet dignity of fans who applaud the victor whether they wear red or blue. The soft-spoken nature of a people who understand work ethic and morals. In this heartland, science and religion co-exist happily. Fashion means wearing your nice pair of Carhartts, and you can always strike up a conversation with the gas station clerk.
Though I’ve made my home along Lewis & Clark’s journey west, there is always a still, small voice inside of me that shouts “Go Big Red.” A silent, unwavering intensity that bleeds red, no matter how far I roam.