On September 16, 1995, Nebraska beat Arizona State 77-28 in Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. Sitting in the south stadium seats on a glorious sunny day, my 12-year-old daughter, Julie, saw her first Husker football game.
The team she saw that day would go on to win its second National Championship for coach Tom Osborne. Led by quarterback Tommie Frazier, that team is considered to be the finest college football team in history.
Even though Julie was already a Nebraska fan before the game, that day was a total explosion of sensory overload for my young daughter. The smell of Valentino’s Pizza and Runza’s filled her nose. Her eyes were overwhelmed by sight of red-clad fans winding their way into a stadium the size of which she had never seen. Wearing her brand new Nebraska shirt, Julie and I finally emerged through the entrance in the south end zone to find our seats. From that moment, as we sat there looking at the sea of fans, the love of red was forever bonded into Julie’s heart.
The Huskers certainly didn’t disappoint us. Monster linemen opened gaping holes allowing swift backs to run free. Touchdown after touchdown had us on our feet cheering wildly. The equally impressive defense made life miserable for the Sun Devils until all the starters took their seats on the bench to enjoy the rest of the warm afternoon.
Looking at my daughter that day, I saw in her smiling face the same joy and delight I’m sure my mother saw in mine when she took me to my first Nebraska game as an eight-year-old in 1959. The only difference was that while Julie saw a huge Nebraska victory, I saw KU defeat Nebraska 10-3. Nebraska was not a very good football team at the time. The stadium was so much smaller. The fans were not as fully devoted. Today, I can’t even remember that many details of the game.
What I do remember is that I loved every minute of the day. That same love for the Cornhuskers, as they were called then, was just as permanently bonded in my heart as it was for Julie.
In the years since, we both have far too many Husker moments to share than space allows. Every one has been recorded for life in our hearts, and I am thankful that Julie and I have been able to share so many together.
Last Saturday night might just have been our last. We both hope not, but we never know. I also never thought I’d see Steve Pederson and Bill Callahan run Nebraska football so deep into the ground that recovery is still ongoing. With Nebraska’s move to the Big 10 next season, my annual KU game against Nebraska is officially over.
While Julie’s and my first game together was a thunderous success, Saturday’s game was more of a thud. The spectacle of the stadium filled with red-clad fans was darkened by the evening start. The usually boisterous crowd fell surprisingly quiet. The red balloons released after every game’s first score took longer to lift off than anyone expected.
From the first Nebraska possession it was evident that talented freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez was still not 100% after suffering an ankle injury two weeks ago. There would be none of Martinez’ lightning-strike runs Julie had hoped to see. The NU defense would dominate. The offense would do just enough to assure a victory.
Of course, the opposing coach was, and always will be, one of the most beloved players and assistant coaches in Nebraska history – both on and off the field. Turner Gill’s early record at Kansas, which is sure to improve, meant nothing to his devoted fans in Lincoln. This was a homecoming for someone truly loved.
From the moment Gill set foot on the turf, photographers and videographers followed his every move. The fact that the Nebraska media far out-sized the Kansas group made it clear Gill was still very special in Lincoln. At one point, Gill jokingly called us a “pack of bees” and asked, “Do I have honey all over me?” Once the obligatory photographs of Gill with Nebraska coach Bo Pelini had been made the “pack of bees” departed to let the game play itself out.
The rest of the evening was filled with the joy of sharing one more game in Lincoln with my daughter. I’ve tried to instill in both my daughters the importance of passion and conviction for whatever it is that they choose to do. The fact that Julie has become just as passionate as I am about Nebraska sports and Kelly the same about politics and the environment is a personal delight. Laura’s love for Oklahoma is just as important.
Trying to list the many blessings bestowed on me, for reasons I still can’t fathom, would take an eternity. It is just this simple though. The love of Husker football shared with my daughter Julie is one of the greatest I’ll ever know. Thank you, Lord.