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That Guy's Wearing Red, Too!

Exploring the State of Nebraska and its unique football tradition

Cold Comfort in Santa Clara

“We agree with you. We’re about to switch to wine” said Gary. He too had noted the absence of both Foster’s and Stella Artois from the pre-game tailgate party, and sympathized with my plight. I had earlier spoken with an ex-Nebraskan living in Montana who told me that he thought that the sponsor of the Foster Farms Bowl had something to do with chicken and not beer. Of course I didn’t believe him – I think all that cold weather in Montana must have formed icicles upstairs for the poor guy. Everyone knows that farms have chickens, and naturally a farm where the beer grows on trees would also have a few chickens.

Even though Gary seemed to make sense, I was a bit perturbed by the details of his background. It seems he was born in Iowa, studied law at Mizzou and then lived 30 years in San Francisco before moving to the Sonoma Valley 14 years ago. His saving graces are that he married a lovely lady from Broken Bow, NE and he is a Big Red fan. I would imagine that when his wife’s parents first heard about Gary from their daughter, they were so pleased to hear that he was a Husker fan that they were able to forgive him for being a lawyer.

As I moved around the room and met Anthony I figured I would also see him during the game on the big screen. He is originally from Page, NE but now lives in Lincoln, CA where he is currently stationed in the Air Force. He tries to watch every Husker game at a local watch site but his rule-of-thumb is to drive to any live Nebraska game within 8 hours of where he is living or visiting. Anthony has found during his travels, just as my wife and I have done, that there are Husker fan clubs all over the country and in many overseas locations. No-one could doubt Anthony’s devotion to the Big Red but I didn’t have the heart to ask if he dresses the same way for televised games as he does for the games he watches in person.

I also met another active duty serviceman at the party. I didn’t catch the name of Steve’s Nebraska home town but he told me he now works in the Mojave Desert with the US Navy. I didn’t ask him about the name of his ship because I was too busy trying to recall from my high school geography class the name of the ocean that borders that part of California. The Mirage Sea perhaps?

But before I could make further sense of the conversation, we were interrupted by a line of shiny gold tubas that snaked its way into the building and made its way to the segregated blue end of the room, followed by drums and a flurry of cheerleaders. We soon realized that a section of the UCLA band had taken a wrong turn while making their way to the stadium. But before we could point out the error of their ways, the cheerleaders had formed a couple of pyramids and were throwing scantily-clad girls in the air and catching them again before they landed on the dessert table.

Turning back to the red end of the room it wasn’t long until I was joined in conversation by an extended family group. “2001” they said almost in unison, the father and son. I had asked the red-clad pair about their favorite memory of Nebraska football. They went on to explain a road trip they had made from their home in Reno, NV to watch the pivotal game of that 2001 season when the two top teams in the country clashed in Lincoln: Nebraska vs Oklahoma. The visitors were riding a 20-game winning streak and the Huskers entered the game at 8-0. Pat, who had been born and raised in Omaha had spontaneously decided that his son Pat Jr, aged 13 at that time, needed to see for himself the Big Red spectacle that he had heard so much about. And what an exciting game it promised to be, with potential implications for the national championship.

The main problem was that in October 2001, airline schedules were not yet back to normal following 9/11 and so it was impossible to find a pair of plane tickets for the 1,200 mile journey. The other problem was that Pat had no tickets for the game. But with the spirit of resourcefulness that seems to flow abundantly in the veins of those of Nebraskan stock, the two simply jumped in the car and set off for a 22-hour journey across the country. With no tickets for the game.

After arriving at the stadium early on the day of the game, with some difficulty Pat was eventually  able to obtain tickets for himself and his son whom I imagine by that time was very excited to see Eric Crouch and his team. The game was a hard-fought affair but the crucial play came towards the end of the 4th quarter when Crouch sealed the 20-10 win by scoring a touchdown on a trick play pass from the aptly-named freshman Mike Stuntz. I could see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices that both men regarded that weekend trip as the ultimate father-son experience.

And now 15 years later, another family event was taking place as Pat and his family had driven to the bowl game from Reno while Pat’s brother and family had flown in from Omaha. Their wives Pam and Karen had come well-prepared for the event with their Nebraska accessories as well as ample coats and blankets for the family to protect against the cold weather predicted for the game. The two ladies admitted they are not big fans of watching football in the cold, and confessed that they had bailed out of the Iowa game during the half-time break and watched the second half in front of a large screen in a comfortably warm Lincoln bar.

It was at that moment that I realized the UCLA band had not been lost at all – they were simply looking for a warm place to go before the game started. It’s just a pity there was no Foster’s on hand to warm them up!

Next up: My report from the game.

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