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College Stadiums Through a Prism

In my travels, I’ve passed many college stadiums, and have endeavored to keep a photographic record of them. I love seeing them when they’re empty, because you can tell so much about their character, and what kind of fans go into them. Here’s a few of them, on game days and other days.

Uppers...

Uppers…

This walled-in construction lot this is Cal’s Memorial Stadium during its renovation in 2011. Literally, they tore it all out except for the walls. You couldn’t even go up next to it with all the construction fences, but you could still see inside from up on Tightwad Hill.

Closest I'll get to the Blue Turf

Famous Turf…

As I’ve shared before, this photo was taken through the chain fence at Boise Stadium. That strategy was not as ingenious as the one I utilized below…

My Secret View of the Badgers' Home Turf

My Secret View of the Badgers’ Home Turf

..where I actually snuck into Camp Randal Stadium and found a window. Looks like a snow globe.

Spartans lying in Wait...

Spartans lying in Wait…

If you look close to the left of the tree, that’s the south side of Spartan Stadium. At the time, I was on a short time table, and there was not an open parking space close to the stadium, so I ended up with this crappy, obstructed picture. The stadium has some dazzling windows, and fits with the summer greenery.

Hawk Nest...

Hawk Nest…

This photo was taken on an early morning in September of 2009, you know, way before Nebraska and Iowa would be shoehorned into a rivalry. At the time, I was just moseying through the lazy Iowa cornfields, wanting to capture a great stadium in the most glamorous college league in America. I’d have a different attitude about it if I were passing by it today.

Corner...

Corner…

This is stadium on a game day. The Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan to be exact. The flag is the Nebraska flag that flies in the northwest endzone. Pretty simple for such an important college football venue. (More photos from last year’s Nebraska-at-Michigan game.) I don’t get why people criticize it for being a high-brow stadium. As a visiting fan, I’ve been to both high-brow and low-brow stadiums, and Michigan Stadium was much less threatening stadium for a visitor.

DSCN1025

Sunny Days…

This is Jack Trice Stadium, through the fence at the south end zone. I’ve been to two Husker-ISU games there, in 2006 and 2010. Even though it’s a bit of a band box, it’s noisy as heck, especially at night, and the trees and greenery in this end zone are an unique feature. That dazzling scoreboard at the other end got installed in the first year was Nebraska out of the Big 12. Sigh.

Window Dressing...

Window Dressing…

With Nebraska’s move to the Big 10, the away trips have gotten longer, like our family trip last year to Northwestern. This is the scoreboard that watches over the north exit from the stadium. It’s in desperate need of upgrades, much more so than Jack Trice. Still, it’s great to think that migrations of Husker fans will continue to Evanston over the next ten to twenty years.

Decks of Concrete...

Decks of Concrete…

Technically, Qualcomm is an NFL stadium that happens to host a college program and two college bowl games (shown here before the 2009 Holiday Bowl), so I guess I can count it. While its sun-worn concrete sags away, it is nowhere near being the dump that its northern California doppleganger, the Oakland Coliseum is. Oh, why I am being so hard on it, it is a throwback to a money-saving time when football and baseball stadiums where single venues.

November 29th, 2013

November 29th, 2013

Did you not think I wouldn’t put in a picture of the stadium of my heart?

Good Show: Huskers Ahead of the Curb, & a New Trophy Game?

Kickoff after Huskers had taken a 31-0 lead in the third quarter.

When I was out on the street looking for a ticket to the Nebraska-Minnesota game yesterday, I disciplined myself. I told myself to wait up until the last possible minute, going against every instinct in my being that screamed “Secure your seat now!” My restraint paid off, and I paid only twenty to a cool guy who sold me one of his season ticket, ones that had been in his family since the early 1980’s.

In spite of the excitement of seeing Osborne lead the team out on the field one final time, the game was a wash. BTN might as well have shown the replay of last years’ Nebraska-Minnesota game, although they would have had to take some of the shimmer of the field from the Minnesota sun. Even though Minnesota managed to win the games they were supposed to this year, they still aren’t in the same class as the top of the Big 10 as athlete-wise. But this one of Nebraska’s two regional series, and that’s a good thing, even if it’s one-sided. Like Iowa State, I feel a more personal connection to the Nebraska-Minnesota game because I spend a lot of time traveling in that state. If these two schools end up playing for a trophy, I would suggest the trophy be named the Siouxland Prairie Dog and be a mounted prairie dog common to the region of southwest Minnesota, southeast South Dakota, and northeast Nebraska.

You’d get fired up to play for this, right?

At least, Jerry Kill  has given his fan base hope by going with freshmen quarterback Phillip Nelson, a lesson the some of the most experienced coaches in the Big 10 can’t figure out. Remember back in spring and summer when we kept hearing about how groomed Andrew Maxwell was to take over at Michigan State for Kirk Cousins? Now the fourth year junior who can’t beat a BCS team at home will have to fight it out with Goldie next week to get bowl eligibility. How about James Vandenberg at Iowa? The senior wasn’t even pulled when the Hawkeyes were out of the reach of the Wolverines. Mark Dantonio and Kirk Ferentz, at some point over the next two years, will again have to replace the stiff, two-year, punch the clock starters. Meanwhile, Kill rolled the dice in starting Nelson, and with the extra bowl practices this year and another year as the starter, he has hope to develop Nelson into a good starter by his third year.

Not unlike the decision Bo Pelini made in 2010 to go with Taylor Martinez over the incumbent Zac Lee.

Besides the fact that Nebraska has better players, Nebraska beat Minnesota because they had more ways to. Not wanting to rush back Rex Burkhead or burden Taylor Martinez or Ameer Abdullah, Tim Beck lined up a fullback out wide and threw wide receiver screens to Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner. Yes, Nebraska puts their offense on a running back, but today it was time to set up the rotation. Bucking Big 10 conservatism, Bo Pelini went for a score on the goal line with two seconds to go in the half. It didn’t work, but the point was made: I take situational chances. It’s not as great as Osborne’s glory days. If you watched Braylon Heard struggle behind the second-string offensive line and Ron Kellogg has passes clank. Like a lot of teams, Nebraska’s a couple of huge injuries away from disaster. Thankfully, a running back who gains four yards a carry consistently is easier to replace than a quarterback.

Right now, Nebraska’s at a different level organization-wise than other programs in the Big 10. They average 30 points per game versus BCS level competition pretty consistently, and most programs can’t get that unless their running back carries the ball thirty times a game. For the record, I do think that Nebraska will struggle against Iowa more than people expect. Not greatly, perhaps just a second quarter stretch where Nebraska can’t get the field position it needs in 14-6 game. But all Martinez, Pelini, and company have to do is set up the rotation, and they have enough weapons to do that.

Insides of the Stadium

Huskers vs. Nittany Lions: The Goal Line Fumble Dissected, Frame by Frame. Almost There…

Free

While it occurred with more than seven minutes to go, Matt Lehman’s goal line fumble was critical to the outcome. The immediate outcry was obvious: many Nebraska fans brought up Penn State’s McCloskey reception in 1982 that appear to be out of bounds and were complaining that ABC kept showing the play. (That controversy generates big advertising dollars, Husker fans.) Then this morning, the Penn State sites were full of articles claiming conspiracy and saying that the Big 10 doesn’t want Penn State to be successful because of the Sandusky scandal. Given that many Penn Staters read the Sandusky report and said we needed to “wait for the facts”, it is hardly a surprise that even Penn State journalists rushed to play the conspiracy card.

When I watched the play live, I couldn’t see what happened, although I thought that it was more likely than not that Lehman had scored judging by where the ball came loose. When I watched the replay the first time, I wasn’t as quick to think it was a touchdown, which admittedly was what I wanted to hear. After watching the replay a few times, I judged a couple of things. Lehman moved the ball within his hands from where he caught as he extended toward the goal line. If you watch his hands from where he caught it to the goal line, he carries it loosely. While his hands and the ball seemed to be moving forward, the ball seemed to jiggle and rotate in a way that was not consistent with the way his hands were moving, as if he was fumbling the ball forward. It seemed that Lehman’s grip on the ball was on the back third of it, and you could see a lot of the rotating ball outside of his grasp. The image of the ball was before his hands, not in his hands. I wouldn’t have argued had the call been overturned, but as I sat there and watched the play, I feared the overturn, but I feared that the evidence to overturn the call was not complete.

To me, this is an instance where 98% of the evidence to overturn a call was there, but it just wasn’t enough to change the call because of the slight bobble. The right call was made, if a fumble begins at the first bobble of a football and if the bobble continues through to the ball’s dislodging via contact with another player. I will concede something else: if the play had been called a touchdown on the field, it likely would have stayed a TD as well. Let’s not forget something else: when a fumble occurs, officials more often than not will swallow the whistle, because it’s harder to make a non-fumble a fumble than it is to make a fumble a non-fumble. Nebraska got a huge break, as the official were erring on the side they were trained to air on.

The Big 10 is not out to get Penn State. The NCAA leveled severe penalties against PSU, not the Big 10. Given the conference’s lack of quality (and depth of quality teams behind Ohio State), they need Penn State to be viable so that all the TV screens in Pitt and Philly keep watching Penn State and the Big 10 and not ACC or Big East football, aside from the fact sports conspiracies just don’t exist (NBA included).

To Penn State fans who are arguing, I’d point out that you lost more on that play than Nebraska gained. If Penn State had scored, Nebraska fans don’t panic. There’s seven minutes to go, and the Huskers have the wind at their back, only needed a field goal to tie, and a team that’s built to come from behind. The game wouldn’t have been over for them. In addition, Penn State got two more possessions when they were behind by only a score. This wasn’t the final decision maker in a game you lost by 9. This was game between two teams that were pretty evenly matched and swung on many key moments. That play wasn’t even close to the only deciding factor, and it just happened late in the game.

Matt McGloin’s behavior in the post-game press conference was horrible, as well as his actions on the field. He should have been flagged for taking his helmet off on the field after he was called for the safety (he also took his helmet off after the Lehman fumble). Couple with his tweet of the play, I’m guessing there are a lot of NFL teams taking him off there draft boards.

Unfortunately, this may not be the final officiating controversy Nebraska finds itself in this season. While I don’t think the Big 10 will put in the fix for the Huskers in the Big 10 Title Game, consider the following: Wisconsin looses their last two games and is 7-5, a reasonable assumption, given that Brett Bielema may save Montee Ball’s carries for the Title Game. Everyone assumes the Big 10 wants Nebraska to win as the conference has had enough bad publicity and doesn’t want to see a 8-5 team in the Rose Bowl. Not saying it will happen, but fans will put the dots together.

Compared to what we’ve seen, this Nebraska comeback wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the ones on the road at Northwestern or Michigan State. When Nebraska’s offense took the field after Penn State turned the ball over in the end zone in the fourth quarter, I had to remind myself that this was the first time Nebraska had lead in regulation since the Michigan game two weeks ago, other than the six most important seconds against Michigan State. As the teams went in at halftime, there were some signs that hadn’t been there in the previous weeks. There was the argument on the sidelines between Pelini and Stafford; another exchange showed a despondent Will Compton talking to his head coach on the bench. It’s no wonder that Pelini said at halftime that he thought it might take until the fourth quarter for his team to make up the deficit.

This win wasn’t a comeback for Nebraska so much as it was a series of little moments between two pretty evenly matched teams. Nebraska won because, quite simply, Nebraska had more ways to win, was at home, and forced Penn State into poorly timed mistakes. In a way, this may have been the most important of Nebraska’s come from behind wins because you know that the crowing from Columbus will start the second Ohio State beats Michigan. At least Penn State can’t claim they beat Nebraska, in spite of the fumble that may not have been.

As we saw last year with Penn State, this series is bound to be a chippy affair year in and year out. After their comeback came up short in Happy Valley, Penn State has to be steaming about letting the Huskers off the hook. Three out of the next four years, Nebraska and Penn State will met in their penultimate games of their seasons, except in 2014 when Nebraska will open their home conference schedule against the Nittany Lions.

Nebraska burned through a lot to be 5-1 after a daunting stretch of conference games: Ameer Abdullah’s 35 touches today were a lot to ask, and Rex Burkhead may have to come back. But Pelini deserves a lot of credit for going to Imani Cross in short yardage situations, and bringing Braylon Heard off the bench. Burkhead was ridden into the ground last year, and let’s hope there’s still something left with both him and Burkhead. But Abdullah does do a better job of getting out of bounds; part of Burkhead’s physical breakdown now was that he sought out contact, a death knell to a running back’s career in the Big 10.

So Nebraska’s through with the toughest part of their schedule. All they have left are Minnesota, who already has their bowl eligibility in hand, and Iowa, still reeling. We’ve seen Pelini stub his toe against teams like this before, so yes, there’s some reason to be cautious, especially playing at Iowa on a short week in an early game (I do know it’s Iowa). This team has relied on magic for the past couple week, even when they’ve been good. Perhaps for the next couple of weeks, they can just be good.

Go Big Red vs. Go Blue: Why We’re Here

Charging Toward Indy?

I was excited to go watch Nebraska play against Michigan yesterday. Not in the same way I was before Nebraska played Texas in the “Red Out Around the World” (let’s not remember how that went), but because this was the biggest conference/division game of the season. If Nebraska lost, they’d have very little chance to win the Legends division. Unlike 2009 or 2010, the face-off for the division race wasn’t against the upstart Missouri Tigers, but a duel with the Michigan Wolverines, a program with a tradition and history equal to, and exceeding Nebraska’s in some areas. This was, after all, why Nebraska came to the Big 10, to annually go toe-to-toe with traditional powers for titles.

Observations of Michigan fans who made the trip to Lincoln: I saw so many #2 Charles Woodson jerseys , I could have puked. Even though Nebraska fans live in the past, you don’t see them wearing #15 Tommie Frazier jerseys. The best accessory by far was a couple of maize-striped, old football helmets I saw. Really, most Michigan fans geek it up in a classy way, without looking like the Notre Dame wannabes I observed last weekend. Of course, there was one fan who was clearly a Chicago stockbroker, who came in an overcoat and a 1930’s style hat, as if he were attending one of those baseball games that we now see on black-and-white reels.

In light of the reports of a ticket scam during the Wisconsin game, I pressed my luck in this game and bought my ticket on the street. Yes, I had a nervous moment when it took a second to scan at the gate, but it did scan. I have principal for buying tickets on the street: recognize the sharps. There are people who are selling tickets just to get rid of them, and there are people selling tickets to make a buck. The older and more tired the seller looks, the better the price. And this ticket happened to be two rows up from the 35 yard line on the Nebraska side, so it was my lucky day.

In this game, I observed most plainly what I saw in the season opener against Southern Miss: a team that executes on offense so different from the rest of the Big 10, it changes what fans demand. It was like watching a business forty years ago versus a business today with the benefit of technology. Throughout the first half, Michigan went up and down the field and dominated time of possession as they did a year ago. Meanwhile, Nebraska was getting nearly as many yards in less time and kept having the Wolverines rush to the line of scrimmage.

That leads me to ask: will it be good for the Big 10 if Nebraska rolls through November, winning four straight and ultimately taking the Big Ten title, zipping around Indianapolis as if they were the greatest show on turf? It might be. Of course, we’ll hear a lot of gripping about how the no-huddle isn’t fair to the defense, but eventually, it will just force schools like Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin to go hire offensive coordinators from SMU and Houston to install quicker attacks and play more exciting football. Remembers, it’s not just Nebraska running this, it’s Ohio State, and they are trouncing Penn State and Nebraska with lesser personnel. Quarterback recruits want to play in passing offenses where they’ll get reps, and the no-huddle will give them more reps in-games.

Which leads to another quarterback observations: I get that guys who are number two quarterbacks transfer all the time, but seriously, both Ohio State and Michigan can’t do better? Last year, it was Joe Bauserman winging balls into the tenth row, this year Russell Bellomy. Due to my lack of twitter in Memorial Stadium (come on, Verizon), I missed some great Bellomauserman tweets. The Buckeye’s predicament was understandable last year, but seriously, Michigan, Dennard Robinson is a senior and runs all over. You shouldn’t have that for a backup quarterback.

As the seconds ticked off the clock, I left the flock of Husker fans leaving Memorial Stadium with a box of free popcorn under my arm, hoping to find a TV with the Notre Dame-Oklahoma game on it, and I settled on Jack’s in the Haymarket. Nebraska has just beaten every power team in the Big 10, and can be claimed among the best teams. They won’t be extremely disadvantaged in any game yet this year. This team isn’t great, but in 2009, Pelini took a team that had no offense that was 4-3 and won six of his last seven in an offensive league. This team has improved on defense much more than that team, and as long as they can not make a huge mistake at the wrong time, they’ll be on their way to Indy. Watching Sports Center in the middle of a chaotic post-game bar crowd, I think I can finally say that Husker fans are getting close to what they expect from their coach and team.

Nebraska vs. Wisconsin: Game of Shadows

Throughout Nebraska’s game against Wisconsin on Saturday night, there was one constant flowing through my head. Both when Nebraska was down and when they were coming back, I kept wondering to myself, should a veteran team be struggling at home against a young Wisconsin team at home?

It goes back to the same issue that I raised after UCLA: Nebraska is a weak team psychologically. Wisconsin came in with a freshmen quarterback and built a seventeen point lead. Reading some of the comments by Dan Gilbert and by some of the things Wisconsin coaches told Todd Blackledge, they didn’t take Nebraska that seriously.

I’m not saying that Nebraska has the wrong head coach at the moment. There’s still trying to figure out who they are in the Big 10, and how to use a no huddle spread can work. They need to get bigger and deeper on defense. Thad Randle was the first defensive lineman to get injured and won’t be the last to miss a game this year. But not taking advantage of a Wisconsin mistake until the last possession shows this team isn’t where it should be. If there’s a down year for the Pelini regime, it’s likely going to be 6-6, and we should consider if he’s just a good game coach who can’t recruit. (To know what I mean by that last statement, see this post.)

Also Husker fans, you don’t want to hear this, but Rex Burkhead is down as Nebraska’s workhorse back. No, he’ll still be an effective back at points, and he’ll get a lot of carries late in games. But he’s taken too many hits, so don’t expect him to be Superman.

It is too bad Wisconsin and Nebraska won’t met at Camp Randall in late September. Not that Nebraska can’t make other rivals, but this series is darn competitive.

Tom Osborne Exits but Remains and Why 73-7 Will Help Fans in the Long Run

I had the TV on last night when the 10 o’clock news came on and was surprised when they jumped head-first into the interviews with Tom Osborne’s former players about how they would run through a wall for him. I wasn’t quite sure a recap of Osborne’s fifty-some years serving the University of Nebraska was needed in the opening news segment after he ended his five-year run as athletic director. This is only the official end of his tenure at Nebraska, and his accomplishments as athletic director are outstanding on their own merits.

In a world where former coaches aren’t equipped to lead entire athletic departments (ask Mike Bellotti), Osborne took over an athletic department that was fraying and a football program that was loosing its way. He mended fences and found the right football coach, but those were the easy parts. In addition to restoring people’s confidence in the Husker athletics, Osborne took up a list of building projects that had started to grow under Bill Byrne and Steve Pederson couldn’t raise money for due to the animosity he’d incurred over Frank Solich’s firing and the lavish football facility he’d built. In a frugal state and during a economic downturn, Osborne got first-rate basketball and volleyball practice facilities, and soon will have basketball arena, a newly remodeled palace for one of the nation’s best volleyball programs, and an expanded Memorial Stadium.

But his greatest accomplishment was securing Nebraska’s future in the Big 10, a feat that rivals his National Titles for his greatest career feat. As John Elway recruited Peyton Manning to Denver with his start quarterback gravitas, Osborne’s status as an old-school icon trumped other school’s glitz-and-glamor presentations. Being able to overcome Nebraska’s lack of a major market for TV and recruiting shows just how valuable Dr. Tom’s quite leadership is.

One does wonder how Joe Paterno’s scandal breaking, followed by his untimely death, affected Osborne’s thinking. Relationships with coaches may be overstated, but Osborne was himself the anti-Paterno, leaving while he still had coaching years left and finding a second act as mentor, congressman, and athletic director. It’s not fair to speculate, but someone as thoughtful as Osborne likely has considered Paterno’s inability to walk away.

Past and Future

Much like when he was when he was a coach, Osborne seems to be leaving at the right time. His building projects are all close to fruition. He’s got his guys leading the basketball and baseball programs, and if Tim Miles and Darin Erstad work out, it will only add to Osborne’s AD legacy. In the next five years, the odds are a new football coach will need to be hired (whether Bo Pelini leaves under his only volition or not remains to be seen), and who could really blame Osborne for not wanting to do the whole coaching search thing all over again.

This isn’t as a huge an event as everyone’s making it out to be. Osborne may be cleaning out his office, but he’s going to keep his influence at Nebraska.

Second note: Believe it not, you won last Saturday, Husker fan. Yes, Idaho State and Nebraska played like it was the Pro Bowl, players quitting as soon as a runner got to the second level. But against Arkansas State the week prior, Nebraska (and the rest of college football) made no progress in getting body bag games off their schedule. They struggled for a stretch of third against the Red Wolves, but beat them soundly, justifying giving such a team a check

There’s a reason last week Jeff Jamrog and crew told the Lincoln Journal-Star that Idaho State was scheduled because another team reneged on a verbal agreement that had been in place for months. Coaches knew this would be 70-0 affair and wanted to say “Hey, we tried to get a better team in here.” Let’s be honest: while good FCS teams can compete against average FBS teams (witness the Dakota schools and UNI at times), the bottom of the FCS is embarrassing

If an opponent is so bad that players wouldn’t even try, then there’s a real reason to look for change. Arkansas State and Southern Miss got Nebraska ready to play Big 10 teams, Idaho State did nothing. With what happened Saturday, Jamrong and company will have to look for way to change their scheduling, and I’ll go back to the idea I floated a the end of last week: 16 team super-conference, four games, play everyone but one team. You get your seven home games, and don’t have to bother with non-conference scheduling.

Final point: I thought that Nebraska would be fighting a team at the end of the season who was looking for that sixth win to get bowl eligible. I just didn’t think that team would be Iowa. Don’t laugh, Husker fans, the Hawkeyes have two month to get better. Do you remember Colorado in 2008? The last thing you want is to go play a 5-6 Iowa team, who’s going to get a bounce when they get to play Penn State, at Northwestern, Purdue, and at Indiana all in a row.

Huskers vs. Southern Miss: So It Begins

All in all, Nebraska’s opening game against Southern Miss was about what I thought it would be last December: a young, upstart mid-major, fresh off a huge upset that lead to a conference championship, would come into Memorial Stadium week one and would hang tough with the Huskers for an extended period. Ultimately, they would make mistakes, Nebraska would capitalize, and, best of all, the game would land in a prime ABC/ESPN slot.

But Martinez’s maturity and leadership still surprised me.

I don’t know if Nebraska’s going to be able to win the Big 10, but I do know with this offense, they’re going to have a great chance. No one in the Big 10 runs an offense with this many skill people and tempo, and teams in the league are going to have a tough time defending it. Iowa, Michigan State, and Wisconsin all had to lean on their star running backs in their first games; Nebraska lost theirs, and was fine.

This is really the first offense since 1999, or maybe even 1997, that is going to be the aggressor. Defensively, Nebraska may not have the depth just yet, but if they can score at will, they’ll be gunning for the Big 10 Title. Whatever the case, if this is going to be the best Nebraska team in over ten years, it will be as much because of leadership as it is talent.

Husker Heartbeat 2012

This Husker football year marks several firsts for me. It’s going to be the first full year since I got my blog, and the first year that I will be contributing to a site that provides Husker content. I don’t think the contributions I have to write will affect how I watch Husker football, but I could be wrong. Before when I’ve watched the Huskers play in the past, I take some mental notes, and process my own opinion. While I enjoy the columns and stories in the papers around here, they do not define my full countenance on the team.

The place of Husker football changed in 2005 after I returned to Nebraska from college in the greater Milwaukee area. That fall, I worked for Valentino’s in the bowels of Memorial Stadium and had a few fly-on-the-wall moments. Having not been to a home game since 2002, I’d forgotten a lot of the passion of being at game day, and over the next four or five years, game day became the highlights of my year.

Over these seven years, players have come and gone, but the question of “when will Nebraska be back?”, hangs in the balance. Indeed, the first teams that I remember where the teams of the nineties, and as I followed the teams through my growing up years, I came to believe that going undefeated in college football easy. I’m not sure when that dream got shattered: maybe in 2002, maybe when Solich was fired. But as I followed the team more closely, I came to realize that it was college football that changed, not Husker football. So many football programs get on TV and compete now, and the internet age has brought a level across the college football world.

So then, why does this wide-eyed twenty-something still put on his hobbit hoodie every Saturday September through November and go to Memorial Stadium or sit in front of the TV? This question drives me crazy, especially when I consider that I could be seventy years old and not see a Husker team better than the one that played the year I turned twelve.

Who knows. I can’t changed where I was born and what I came to like when I was a kid. Go Big Red.

My Husker Game Day: Part 3

(This is the the third post in a piece I wrote a few years ago about my experience going to Husker games: Part 1 and Part 2)

Washington 2011-Big Picture

Tunnel Walk is where the game starts for me. Highlights from the previous years, mingled in with a few highlights from this year, or last years game against a common opponent. It has been a bit sad in recent years; looking at the glory from the 1990’s which seems a million miles away. But times in college football have changed, and Nebraska’s had a rough patch. At least now, we’re a program that the state can be proud of.

As I watch the memories, some of which I can recall as I kid and many I can’t, my blood starts to rush as I begin to think about the five year stretch between 1993 and 1997 when Nebraska won sixty of sixty-three games and three national championships. And I wonder if, in spite of the tougher conferences and the nemesis that is the state of Texas, that kind of dominance could still be possible. It is usually about this team that I see the team exit the locker room and start toward the field. And as I see the players pup themselves up with high fives from the fans, I feel the rush again, the ownership that whole state has in this team. And then they hit the field, and I know inside that anything is possible.

All games are different, depending on the opponent and the stakes. I don’t go to insignificant non-conference games anymore . The only two notable non-conference game for me were Bo Pelini’s first game against competent mid-major Western Michigan, and the 2007 season opener against Nevada, where I was lucky enough to find a $50 ticket four rows up on the forty yard line.

Then there are the average conference games, against the Baylors, Iowa States, Kansases, and, since the conference switch, Minnesota. These games are nice wins, and occasionally, a very embarrassing loss. (See Iowa State 2009). These are the majority of games that I go to. Occasionally, bigger stakes make the games more important (the K-State game in 2009 for the conference title), but most of the time there’s little tangible drama. These teams may have good enough players or a good enough coach to hang with the Huskers for a while, but ultimately, the crowd takes over.

Since 2010, I only go to the significant games. That year, I only home games I went to were Texas (ugh) and Missouri, and this past year, Washington (family in town) and Ohio State (my soggy story of the night) . I trimmed back how many games because, in my memory, the tougher games are the ones that stand out: the 2006 games against Texas was the most memorable game I attended at Memorial Stadium, win or loose (read the experience here). It’s so much work to go to a game, it’s almost not worth it to go in the stadium and watch anyone but Oklahoma, Texas, or Ohio State and Michigan now.

The game, I get lost in. After the kickoff, I rarely take photos of the action, shameful I know. But for the three-and-a-half hours in the stands, it’s just me and my team, as I’ve been abandoned in uniformity. Game day is really the only time that Lincoln becomes a crowd like a crowd you would find in a major city like San Francisco or Chicago, where you can just be anonymous and no one looks at you. It’s strangely freeing.

Attending a live games pull me in ways that are almost inexplicable. Unlike when I’m at home, I have to fight the urge to curse, and I can’t just go get up and walk into another room when it gets frustrating. Everything’s out there in front of me. The turmoil within always comes from the fact that this game will stay fixed in my mind for the better part of the next couple of years, and even though I’ll watch the highlights on YouTube, the nuances from the stadium will stick with me. The views of the players on the sidelines, the demeanor of the people around me. My brain will process everything.

During halftime, I usually get up and walk. When I was younger, I liked to walk around the stadium as much as I could, but not as much now that I’m familiar with all the nooks and crannies. Often times now, I’ll just find an empty space and sit against the wall with my legs stretched out and periodically check my radio for updates on other games. But I like to take the earbuds out and sit there distant from all the senses that I’m taken in, almost as if I’m napping.

But then I go back to my seat and watch the game. If Nebraska ends up winning, I’m on a high whose high by is determined how big the win is. It’s just a buoyancy that propels the rest of my day. If it’s a loss, I feel as if I’m trapped in a painting that I can’t get out of. Losses feel more like subtractions to me, little non-events and omissions where something I can’t define has left me.

Washington 2011-Little Moment

When I leave the game, and usually I stay to the end or near end (longer than I have to), I’ll take a round-about way to get to the one of the west gates, if I’m not sitting in the south stadium, which is closed off. Leaving is always a rush for me, and I like picking my way through crowds. I feel unnoticed even though I’m with people, and once, when I was going back down through a crowd of people who were trying to head up to their seats, someone tapped me on the shoulder from behind and noted how good I was at doing so.

I have a bad habit of cutting across streets when I’m not supposed to. I’ll do it a lot at the end of the I-180 bridge at 9th street, where occasionally there will be enough breaks in traffic (no one heads into downtown at the end of a Husker game), and dart back into the Haymarket, reversing my way back through the tailgaters who are still grilling and watching games as I go back to my car. On the way, I often stop at Jack’s for a drink (they’re less crowded) or grab a tea from Scooter’s or The Mill.

When I get to my car, I’m exhilarated. I hit the streets, and try to calculate the best way to get Highway 6. Usually, it involves going down to A via minor streets, then cutting back on Coddington to get on Highway 77 North to go back to Highway 6. This helps me bypass most of the heavier traffic, and once I pass the entrances from Highway 6 to the Interstate, I’m home free.

When I get home, I usually try to go to bed if it’s a night game, but I’ll check the scores quick on my computer. If not, I crash on the couch, grab on easy dinner if I don’t get something on the way, and watch other college football games, waiting for the perspective from the game highlights. By now, I’m very content, and while working on Monday has usually started to loom, I couldn’t be happier for the experience. Except if it was a loss, of course.

Wathcing Robert Griffin III in Person: My Personal Story of Seeing RG3 face the Blackshirts

My seat on the day in consideration; thankfully it was just beyond the obstruction of west stadium.

It was bemusing, listening to Jason Peter complain on radio about Nebraska’s sub-par performance as I walked down 8th Street toward Jack’s Pub. Peter, playing the former player bemoaning the way things change, was furious that Nebraska had only beaten a Big 12-bottom feeder by only twelve points. While I  hadn’t been thrilled by the Huskers doing enough to win comfortably and no more (“We sure like to make it interesting” Bo Pelini said in his post0-game presser), I didn’t think the Huskers had to feel shamed. This Baylor team was much improved, fueled their freshmen quarterback, whose game I thought at the time rivaled Tommie Frazier’s.

It is a bit surreal now that quarterback, Robert Griffin III is being touted as the second pick in the NFL draft. Griffin that day was a spark plug that started to get a down-on-its-luck program to believe again, but he still had a ways to go.

That game broadcasted two programs, priming for rises under first year coaches. While Nebraska was obviously morphing into a more confident team, Baylor’s turning was much sublime. Indeed, Bear Country had scored a serious coup by nabbing Briles from the Houston Cougars, but the real credibility was RG3. Given that Baylor, the Big 12’s entitled brat who was allowed to stay in college football relevance because of a technicality, had landed an elite quarterback, showed that the private school Bears could grow some teeth

From my vantage point, I saw RG3 a smooth improviser with a noticeably good arm, apt to run first. His boyish confidence was the thrust of two scoring drives that answered Nebraska scoring drives with two of his own. The most impressive play-a 4th and 1, where RG3 trapped Nebraska’s defense inside on a fake sneak, and then ran around the left end for a 47-yard touchdown with shocking ease. (See it Below). After it, I remember cursing Bill Callahan for not recruiting him

But after taking a 20-17 just before halftime, Griffin and his cohorts hit a wall. The Bears pushed Nebraska to the limit, getting a first-and-goal from the seven. But, Zach Potter and Larry Asante penetrated and stoned the fab frosh on third down from the two, and then Ben Parks missed the short Baylor field goal. Nebraska took the lead on the next drive (Nate Swift broke Nebraska’s career receptions record with the go-ahead schore), and it became one of the first times that Bo Pelini’s teams made their own luck. But RG3 would have better days.

Cody Glenn Takes down RG3

Suprisingly that day, I didn’t think that RG3 wouldn’t be anything more than a great college running quarterback who maybe became WR-RB hybrid in the NFL, ala Brad Smith. Watching him against TCU in last season’s opener, Griffin throw the ball down field with an authority and command he didn’t have as a freshmen. And keeping the Bears fighting to beat Oklahoma showed how much his ability to lead had brought the Baylor program so far. While I still think Andrew Luck should have won the Heisman, that ability by RG3 to inspire others and lift a perennially bad program made him worthy of the trophy.

But looking forward, the mix of Griffin’s energy with Mike Shanahan and the dysfunctional culture of the Redskins promises a peculiar clash of personalities. Shanahan’s gruff, perfectionist nature has lead his former quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Jake Plummer to criticize him publicly, and like RG3, both those quarterbacks were prone to run a lot. But both McNabb and Plummer were veterans who had been known for having the greatest work habits. Shanahan is getting RG3 straight off the tree, but while he can mold his habits, it won’t guarantee that Shanahan-Griffin marriage (forced because Shanahan has to win this year) will work. How patient will the coach be after putting hard work into a game plan that becomes irrelevant when Griffin takes off and runs half the time, then gets most of the credit when the team turns around?(A Tebow situation brewing?)

(Oddly enough, Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also concluded that Griffin may not be the lock others think he is. Here is his assessment of the quarterbacks in this year’s draft. Link While I think Colin Cowherd was accurate when he said there isn’t much of a chance RG3 busts, he may indeed hit a wall in the NFL where his athletic ability can’t compensate for every flaw.)

The great part for me of having that debate now was, three and a half years ago, I walked out of Memorial Stadium thinking to myself how lucky Nebraska was not to have to face Griffin as a junior or senior, which, incidentally, conference realignment made sure of. But the chance to watch RG3 perform now with a quickly improving Redskins team is an exciting proposition indeed.

(Update after RG3’s rookie year: Like many, I was surprised when the rigid Shanahan imported Baylor’s offense to Washington, but again, he had to win this year. We’ll see if it continues to work and if RG3 can stay on the field. Getting rid of the ball and not taking hits are key to quarterback longevity in the NFL; ook at Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as opposed to Donovan McNabb, and more recently, Jay Cutler and Tony Romo. McNabb became great at the same time as Brady and Manning, but washed out sooner. Cutler and Romo falter this year due to the affect of cumulative pressure. RG3 needs to learn how to slid early and often, otherwise he could have eight to ten productive years and disappear.)

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