Today, I was sitting at my computer looking around my Los Angeles office (don’t be impressed, its the extra bedroom in my apartment) and I pulled out my autographed football that I took around with me to all the interviews I did for “Through These Gates”. As I started looking at the names: Tom Osborne, Larry the Cable Guy, Jack Hoffman, Charlie McBride, Tommie Frazier; I got a little choked up. The last three years have been the most exciting, emotional and proud years of my life. I made a movie. People watched my movie. My friends bragged about the movie. I traveled Nebraska and both coasts with Husker Max. I have so many stories to tell now, I catch myself saying things like “Well, Tommie Frazier told me…” and I’m not lying, he did actually tell me!
Tomorrow is the first Friday before the first game and that day will always be a special one for me. Last year we screened to a sold out crowd at the Rococo Theater in Lincoln on that day. I wore a bow tie. I never wear bowties. Hell, I never wear ties. Jason Peter showed up and Milt Tenopir did too as well as 400 plus of my new best friends. I tried not to cry as I stood at the microphone and looked out at a mini sea of red. I was so afraid that they would hate the film, that they would think it was cheesy or heavy handed. Most people didn’t know that I quit my job to make this film. That I produced, directed, filmed and edited the film myself obviously with the help of others mind you. Most people weren’t aware that we had a hundred bucks to make the film in the beginning or that I borrowed my friends film equipment so that I could try to tell our story. At that time in the whole process people didn’t understand that this film didn’t exist without the culture of Husker fans that helped create it. I was given so many opportunities to make our film because of the people in Nebraska lending me a hand. Thats the thing that I took away from all of this, people will still help you if you ask. Thats all you have to do is speak up, work like you mean it and give it all you got.
Lets be honest, not very many people have seen my movie. Maybe 20,000 – and that’s a guess. Thats not very many, thats about 1% of Nebraska. This movie will never win awards or accolades. It didn’t get into the “big” film festivals. No one has heard of the first time movie director who made a movie about the fans of Nebraska and his hometowns culture. That wasn’t why I made it. I made it because I love Nebraska and I’m proud to be a Cornhusker. I can say this with 100% certainty – I am more proud of where I’m from than anything else about me. I’m proud of growing up with dirt under my fingernails and calluses covering both hands. I’m proud of falling off of roofs, jumping from hay bail to hay bail and swinging on rope swings in my cousins barn. I’m proud that I learned to run a jackhammer when i was 14. My dad taught me to work hard, speak your mind and always be a Husker. Los Angeles won’t change that.
When I look at that football on my shelf thats what I see. I don’t see a bunch of college football players autographs, I see a state that understands me because somewhere inside they are just like me.
Oh and One last thing, Tommie Frazier told me, “Win or lose, if you gave it all you got thats all that matters, that’s what they care about.” Well, for what its worth, I gave it all I got and as we start the 2014 season I hope that, more than just winning, we play hard, we play right and we give it all we got because thats all that really matters. the movies tag line is: “Being a husker is bigger than football” and I believe in that more now than I ever have.
Go Big Red,
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.
- Published in Fan Perspective
Heres the thing, maybe I’m getting a little sentimental with age or maybe I’m a little home sick or maybe I miss being as busy as I was a year ago but this time in 2013 I was wrapping up the edit and preparing to take my movie all over the country. The only thing was – I didn’t know it was going to be all over the country. I thought I’d be showing it all over Nebraska. We actually ended up showing it in 63 cities in 15 states, all the way from California to Florida to New York City. Yep we showed our movie everywhere. I’ve even shipped copies to Germany and Japan.
I met so many people that I couldn’t begin to talk about them all. I met the coach of the Ainsworth high school football team. In his first season, he coached them their first win in 6 seasons. Full of energy, he convinced me that they were on their way to winning state. He believed in his kids and he believed in himself. I got reacquainted with a classmate from my elementary school who set up the screening in the middle of Manhattan. 20+ years later and she still helped an old friend. I drank beers with every local in every small town: Scottsbluff, Alliance, Seward, Grand Island, York, Papillion, Kearney, and so many many more. I had the best steak I have ever had at Tim Jorgensons house in North Platte. I doubt that I’ll ever have the opportunity to do something as amazing as that tour ever again. I owe Dave “Husker” Max so much for setting it all up.
The greatest night I’ve ever had was the screening at the Rococo in my hometown, Lincoln. I can’t even begin to type out all the great things that happened. I got to watch my film with 400 of my new favorite people. The Husker Elvis’s were there and the Real Life Herbie Husker also made an appearance. Milt Tenopir and Jason Peter showed up to watch with us. Jason was kind enough to ask me to speak at Larry the Cable Guys annual golf outing the following month. I made Larry laugh. It was a cool moment for me.
So the reason that I’m writing this article is to ask everyone that came to a screening to send me there stories for my blog and also just so I have them to take out on a rainy day in 2032. Please tell me what you thought. Did we meet? What do you remember? Why are you a Husker? Do you view the whole thing differently now? If you can share a story with me please do. I want to keep this community feeling going because I have missed it. If you don’t have anything to add then please share it with someone who might.
- Published in Uncategorized