Story #35: This Is OUR Community
Being a Husker isn’t just about celebrating what happens on the football field. It’s about celebrating our community. When Tweedy first told me he was going to produce a documentary on Husker fans, I was proud. When it was finally completed (and again when I saw it), those feelings of pride grew exponentially. Not only was this a great film, this was a great film produced by a friend, someone from my college community.
This all began to feel the way the mid-1990s felt as a resident of Auburn, NE. The Huskers’ three national championships in that period made Auburn happy on their own, to be sure, but much of the town’s elation was derived from seeing three former Auburn Bulldogs on the roster at that time. Two of them, Chad and Chris Kelsay, were starters and went on to play in the NFL. But Auburn fans were every bit as proud of Quint Hogrefe, a star high school running back who could have gone to any number of Big Eight schools on scholarship. Quint instead chose to walk on to Nebraska as a linebacker, where he eventually earned a scholarship while winning four varsity letters and being a part of three national championship teams and four Academic All-America teams. He’s also the guy jumping up and down on the sideline during Tommie Frazier’s legendary run in the Fiesta Bowl.
I remember reading an article about Bubba Starling a few years back. His high school coach said that he did a great job avoiding the mess that comes with being a big-time athlete. He said that growing up in small towns, everyone wants to take the big star down a peg or two, that it comes with the territory in these rural communities. This was not the small-town life I grew to know in Nebraska. When Chad Kelsay became the town’s first-ever big-college signee, we all framed the Nemaha County Herald’s picture of him doing so. When Chris Kelsay was drafted, I suddenly saw #90 Buffalo Bills jerseys (and you have to custom order those things). When our high school speech team won a state championship my sophomore year of high school, the town threw a pep rally. It’s just what we do.
In 1998, the senior season for Quint and Chad (and the first year on campus for Chris), the town of Auburn threw a post-game party for all of the Auburn-bred Huskers. My family went to the game. The only way we could get tickets was if our family was completely separated. My dad, my step-mom, my younger brother and I sat in four different sections. The angle wasn’t great for anyone involved. Ricky Williams was as much of a beast 43 rows up as he was from the ninth row. But the disappointment of the loss quickly faded into the joy of community. Seventy miles from home, in a full hotel ballroom, were all of my teachers, several downtown businessmen, and so many of my neighbors. All to say “hi” and “thanks” to these young men who had made us proud. You know who else was in the crowd? Several other Huskers. As a newly minted 15-year-old, I had recently developed the testicular fortitude to start a random conversation with Mike Rucker. He had been amazed that day. Not by the talent of one of college football’s greatest running backs, but by the sense of community he was witnessing.
So anytime anyone asks me about Through These Gates. Not only do I tell them about the beautiful photography, the moving story and the incredible music, but I also usually tell them that story. This is my community.