Monday, September 28, 2009

There is no place like Nebraska

On Nov. 3, 1962, I was a year and a half old.

One month earlier, Wally Schirra took his Mercury space capsule, Sigma 7, for a seven-orbit spin around the earth.

And President John F. Kennedy had exactly 1 year, 19 days to live.

That fall day in 1962, a formerly woebegone football team, the
University of Nebraska Cornhuskers, was showing signs of life under brand-new Coach Bob Devaney. And when the Huskers took the field against Missouri in Lincoln, it was before -- ye gods! -- a full house of 31,080 spectators.

Big Red lost 16-7 that Space Age afternoon but -- Man, woman and child! -- NU would be packing them in the aisles (and every available seat) for the next 47 years. And counting.

THOSE FOUR DECADES-PLUS would include five national championships and two coaching legends -- the late Devaney and Tom Osborne, now a former coach-turned-congressman-turned-NU athletic director. Those decades also would include the Steve Pederson/Bill Callahan years, when we wondered not whether the sellout streak would end but after which embarrassing loss.

But it didn't end. Unbelievably, but there you go.

Bad athletic directors and coaches sometimes come, but Cornhusker fans weren't going anywhere. The university over the years expanded Memorial Stadium to 86,000-plus seats, and Nebraskans kept filling them all.

And the fans in the stands above the visiting team's entrance kept giving "the enemy" a standing ovation at game's end -- win, lose or Callahan Era. Because there really is no place like Nebraska.

Where they're all true blue,
We'll all stick together,
In all kinds of weather,
For dear old Nebraska U.

This is the place -- and the football program -- the Sunday World-Herald commemorated with a special "throwback," 1962-style "Blue Streak Sports Section," where readers got details of the Huskers' 55-0 waxing of Louisiana-Lafayette just like they might have back when The Streak began. I well remember when sports sections were just like that . . . and it was fun to go back.

Just like it was fun for fans to "go back" with retro fashions for a retro-themed game Saturday. Josefina Loza was there for the newspaper:

Lincolnite Mike McDannel planned a special outfit for this day. The 49-year-old wore a red velvet blazer and matching fedora, a red tie with the word “Nebraska” embroidered in white and socks with tiny N's covering them. His retro digs once were worn by his father, Donald, who passed away in 2001.

Dad and Mom Caroline introduced Mike to the passion behind Husker fans years ago. The then-Grand Island family bought season tickets with their vacation money.

Mike's first NU game was in 1968. He might have the ticket to prove it, he said as he took off his fedora and flipped it upside down. Seven ticket stubs were tucked inside the cap's sweatband. Some dated to 1971, when the admission price was $6.

Mike and his mom grabbed spots at the nearby coffeehouse patio to watch fans file in, another tradition they've kept for years.

Some fans were dressed in vintage wear — including skinny neckties; red-and-white-striped overalls; and even one red-and-white go-go dress — but mostly they wore Husker shirts.

“It's really a sight to see,” said Caroline, who has been attending games since the 1950s.
THAT VIGNETTE gets to the heart of what Nebraska football -- and Nebraskans -- are about. A son turning out for the home team yet one more time, honoring not only a statewide love affair but also a father long gone.

By donning Dad's scarlet-and-cream outfit and taking Mom to the big game.

Go Big Red!

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