Wednesday, September 28, 2011

There Is No Place Like Nebraska

When we got married, we never thought that college football would come between us. In fact, I would wager to say that Jon liked the fact that I am a football fan. However, for the third time in the span of a year, we found ourselves at odds with one another.

Last September, my family descended on Seattle with thousands (I'm not exaggerating) of Nebraska Cornhusker fans. The sun shone down on a healthy mixture of purple and red as my beloved Huskers laid a beating on Jon's Washington Huskies. Thankfully we did not sit with each other, and I was free to display my exuberance at each sucessive Husker touchdown and Blackshirt hit.

Fast forward to December. Due to a loss in their final Big XII championship game (and because they were jumping ship for the Big 10, I think), the Huskers slipped in the polls and were invited to play in the Holiday Bowl...against Washington. While it is absolutely no excuse for such a shoddy performance, Nebraska played like a team that oozed disappointment from every pore. They had been hoping for a more prestigious bowl and were playing a team they had trounced several weeks prior. Not exactly where they envisioned their season ending. Washington, on the other hand, was a team heading in the opposite direction. Their conference season had been successful enough to make them bowl-eligible for the first time in years. Their coach had brought a new excitement to the team and to the fans, and when taking all this into account, it is really no surprise that Washington won (or rather, Nebraska lost) the re-match.

I know I can't blame him for supporting his team, but it was beyond annoying to hear that Husky Stadium siren Jon played from his iPod as he snarfed down stinky smoked oysters. All this while at my mother's house surrounded by loyal Cornhusker fans. At least he had the decency to stay out of the "Red Zone," a family tradition involving a red Herbie Husker blanket in front of the TV that no one is allowed to walk through.

So, needless to say, I was ready for redemption this fall. My grandpa has had season tickets at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln for as long as I can remember, and while he and my grandma stopped going years ago, he kept his tickets for my immediate family to use. I have been to several games this way, and I can honestly say that Memorial Stadium on a game day is the most special place for a college football fan to be. (Yes, I'm biased.) People in Nebraska live and die with the Huskers, and it should come as no surprise that Memorial Stadium is the third most populous location in the state when there is a game. Seriously.



Way back when we found out about the Nebraska-Washington series, we put in a request for tickets with my grandpa. Not only did he honor said request, he also played the role of host to a "T." He baked us a pie--which he tried to serve us when we finally rolled in after midnight--and even bought four different types of milk because he couldn't remember which type we preferred. Even though there is a zero percent chance that Grandpa will read this because doesn't have--or want--a computer, we would like to publicly thank him for his hospitality.

But back to the game. Saturday morning dawned overcast and chilly. Thinking back to the year previously, it was a bit ironic that the game in Seattle was sunny and warm, while the game in Lincoln was drizzly and cool. Apparently, the faithful Washington fans brought their weather with them. Undaunted by the threat of storms, Jon and I headed out early to join my cousins at a tailgate several hours before kick-off. I love my family tremendously (duh), and it was so great that the whole group was able to come out at various times during the day. Jon left for a bit to attend a Washington Alumni party but was back in plenty of time for some more good-natured teasing. Actually, I think he found all of the Nebraska fans--both related and unrelated to us--to be quite courteous.

Mmm...so good
About an hour before game time, we headed into the stadium and up to our seats. Every time I enter Memorial Stadium, I get that special feeling...and no, it's not just that my hunger is abated by the runzas and Valentino's pizza. I think Jon felt it, too, although I doubt he would admit it. I was just excited for him to experience the whole thing. I'm well aware of the fact that my vague descriptions are not doing Memorial Stadium and Nebraska football justice, but for those of you who have been there, you know what I'm talking about.


At any rate, when the game started, we both began cheering our respective teams. I confess that it was slightly awkward at times sitting next to each other, and I was conscious of not being too obnoxious. But when chants of "Gooooo Biiiiiggggg Reeeeeddddd" rippled through the crowd, I did what any self-respecting Nebraska fan would do and echoed in reply: "Go Big Red!" Other than shouting encouragement for the players on the field, though, we were pretty quiet. Our only real communication was exchanging the binoculars for every offensive possession.

The game was fairly close in the first half with each team experiencing some success. Things changed in the 3rd quarter due to some big plays by Nebraska and big mistakes by Washington. The Huskers took game three by a comfortable margin, although they didn't quite make the 17-point spread. This fact, which I tried to point out tactfully at the conclusion of the game, was of little consolation to Jon. I wisely kept my celebration in check while Jon heatedly expressed his supreme disappointment.

We returned to the tailgate area after the game where many of my cousins were still hanging out. Jon was mostly out of his "Debbie Downer" funk so we had a good time there, and later at dinner. The best part of the weekend was truly the family time, so despite the outcome of the game, we're both glad we were able to make the trip. And as much fun as I've had watching these Husker-Husky games over the past year (well, 2/3 of the time), I'm just fine with returning to a football season in which we can each cheer on our own teams and genuinely be glad for one another.

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