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That Guy's Wearing Red, Too!

Exploring the State of Nebraska and its unique football tradition

End Zone in the Twilight Zone

At precisely 2.35pm yesterday my wife and I with our friends Kathy and Bill pulled into the parking lot at High Point Solutions Stadium and encountered a typical pre-game scene filled with red-clad fans enjoying themselves with their usual tailgating activities. Bean bags were being tossed, smoke curled upwards from portable grills, the occasional football bounced across the ground between the parked pick-up trucks, and a group of animated fans were enjoying themselves near a converted red school bus as they maintained their hydration levels. The sun was shining and families were having fun together on a sunny afternoon during the football season. Red flags adorned with a single white capital letter fluttered overhead and the faint sounds of upbeat music occasionally drifted across from a distance.

We sat in the car for a few minutes, taking in the scene and enjoying the ambience as a handful of 30ish men set up folding chairs near us while they talked about the coming game and continued the all-important intake of fluids in preparation for the 10-minute walk to the stadium. In short, it was an idyllic scene typical of many that I had witnessed during the past few months.

The first hint of trouble came when one of the nearby men turned towards us and I noticed that his red cap was adorned not with the letter N but with a large letter R. My eyes quickly scanned his friends and found that they too had the same letter R emblazoned on their shirts. In panic I turned and saw that the nearby red flags waving in the breeze also had the same inexplicable R. There was only one explanation for it – we had entered <dramatic pause> The Twlight Zone. <Cue music: dee-de-dee-dee, dee-de-dee-dee>

The only possible explanation was that we had landed in a parallel universe where many things looked very familiar but differed in key details. Upon getting out of the car we realized that although the sun was shining, it was projecting almost no heat. As we walked towards the stadium, we at first thought we heard people shouting “Go Huskers!” but they were really saying “Go Rutgers!” Once inside, we found the stands filled with good-natured and friendly fans dressed only in red yet most were wearing the ever-present R. We knew that some of our Nebraska comrades must also be present but they were indistinguishable from a distance. Husker fans were indeed sprinkled throughout the crowd, but how to find them? Whatever happened to the orderly certainty of Memorial Stadium where the visiting team’s fans in their contrasting colors are summarily herded into two small islands in opposite corners of the stand amidst the sea of red? We could see Herbie Husker on the other side of the stadium, bravely executing his usual shenanigans along the sideline in front of the fans but where was Li'l Red? (We would later find out that he had been detained by Security at the airport in Nebraska for refusing to remove his red cap for the TSA agents.)

After finding our allocated seats we were comforted to find that they consisted of the satisfyingly cold and hard aluminum planks that we were so used to enduring, but they also included something called a backrest. As if the built-in backrest were not enough unaccustomed inconvenience, we were also disconcerted to find that the seat width allocated to each person was several inches wider than in Memorial Stadium. How could we possibly focus on watching the game if we were comfortably seated without knees in our backs and neighboring elbows jabbing into our ribs? Gosh Herbie, it looks like we’re not in Nebraska anymore.  

Coming back to the game at hand, both teams had much to play for in the 49-degree conditions at kickoff, with the winner keeping its hopes of a 6-6 season alive and the loser consigned to doing no better than 5-7 for the year.

Early in the game before the sun disappeared behind the video screen at the western end of the stadium and gave way to the twilight and plummeting temperatures, Huskers tight end Cethan Carter took a handoff from Armstrong 32 yards down the sideline for a touchdown and an early lead. Not only was this the first-ever rush by Carter during his college career but it was also the first rush attempt by a Nebraska tight end for the last four years. I told you we were in the Twilight Zone!

Later in the game Carter would score a receiving touchdown, one of three thrown for the day by Tommy Armstrong. Nebraska stayed in front throughout the game and ran out 31-14 victors, even in the face of a trick play by Rutgers during the third quarter when wide receiver Janarion Grant threw the first touchdown pass of his career to his quarterback Chris Laviano.

It had been a day filled with firsts, as Nebraska won its first-ever game at the home of Rutgers in Piscataway and for the first time I saw a pair of penguins in the stands as they danced happily around the ice-blocks that used to be my feet.

The performances of the past two weeks by the Huskers have shown that they are clearly capable of beating Iowa at home on November 27 and going to a bowl game. My vote would be to go to the Pineapple Punch Bowl in Honolulu – I like the Tropical Zone much better than the Twilight Zone!

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