Nebraska Football: Ode To Memorial Stadium

October 22, 2016: Nebraska Cornhuskers band member on the field before the game against Purdue as fireworks goes off from behind the score board at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska 27, Purdue 14. (Photo by John S. Peterson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
October 22, 2016: Nebraska Cornhuskers band member on the field before the game against Purdue as fireworks goes off from behind the score board at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska 27, Purdue 14. (Photo by John S. Peterson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

This is an essay about Memorial Stadium, a truly special place for every Nebraska football fan.

It’s nestled deep in the bosom of flyover territory. Once it was a symbol of power, the lair of the beast, the home to the mightiest collective in the country, its reputation forged by fearless leadership and unquestioning loyalty. Now, some say that it is inconsequential, that it blends in with the rolling prairies, that it can never rise to its former glory.

My father’s family has a long history in Nebraska. More than a hundred years ago, they were German farmers who weren’t too crazy about the path Germany was on. And so, just before World War I, in order to avoid conscription into the army, they came over to America. I’m not sure why they picked Nebraska (maybe California was too far of a walk), but for whatever reason, Nebraska is where they settled down.

Nebraska isn’t known for much. Friends my age tell me that it’s cold and flat and boring. I suppose that is the common view of the state. But, every once in a while, I bump into a 35-plus- year-old man who has a different view of Nebraska. He talks about the state with respect, admiration, and sometimes more than a little trepidation. He talks about the Nebraska football team that went on a 60-3 run from 1994 to 1997. He talks about the three national championships in four years.

You see, my whole life I have respected hard work over everything else. Since my freshman year of high school, I’ve had a poster of Rocky Balboa, with two arms extended to the sky, hanging over my bed. Nebraska football is my real-life Rocky Balboa. They are the team that should never have found success, and certainly not to the degree they did. Everything is stacked against them, and yet somehow they have found a way to place themselves among the top ten college football programs of all time.

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Memorial Stadium, sometimes fondly called “The Husker-Plex”, is where Nebraska excels. On game day, it becomes the third largest city in Nebraska, holding 90,000 proud fans. It has sold out every game day since 1962, and since 1962 my grandfather has attended every home game, even insisting on watching the first half of the game on the day of his first son’s birth. Now that may seem a little crazy. I like to think that I would skip a football game for my son’s birth, but I wasn’t born in Nebraska. My ties don’t run as deep as my grandfather’s do. Growing up in Nebraska, Nebraska football is the only show in town. Unlike most other states, in Nebraska, there is only one division one football program and no major professional sports. If you enjoy sports and you were born in Nebraska, you’re going to like Nebraska football.

Memorial Stadium is a magical place. I know that now, but I didn’t always feel that way. My first game there, I’m sure I cried and cried. I was only two years old, yet my grandparents insisted I should have gone earlier. Had it not been for my mother, I’m sure I would have found myself in the stadium sooner, a panicked newborn, awash in an irrepressible sea of red. For my third Halloween, all I wanted to be was the Red Power Ranger. Yet somehow, I ended up dressed as Heisman trophy winning quarterback, Eric Crouch. When I was older and wanted to participate in more complex cheering that required knowledge about the players and offensive and defensive schemes, I made sure to ask any questions I had before the game, because during the game nobody had time for it. My grandfather, still to this day, watches the game with binoculars hanging from his neck, ready at any moment to enhance his vision and noise-canceling headphones that feed him play-by-play commentary straight from the announcers. I have heard my grandfather swear a total of four times in my life, and you better believe that all of those came in the confines of Memorial Stadium.

Nebraska football fans are some of the most loyal people I have met. I grew up in Phoenix, and when I am driving around in my hometown, I find myself more surprised when I see an Arizona State bumper sticker than when I see one representing Nebraska. Now it is true that Arizona is a popular place for Midwesterners to spend their winters to avoid the cold, but Nebraska fans are showing their colors all over.

As I mentioned previously, Nebraska used to be a football powerhouse. Right now, the team is struggling. It’s coming off of two 4-8 seasons. That is far below the standards of Nebraska football fans. The fans of Nebraska do not do well with mediocrity. They demand excellence! And so, consequently, last year, they hired one of their favorite sons to lead them back to glory, 2017 coach of the year, Scott Frost. Scott Frost was the starting quarterback for the Huskers the last time they won the championship in 1997.

He is from Wood River, Nebraska. Wood River has a population of 1,325. This is all to say that Nebraska is in a bad place as a program right now, but everyone is optimistically looking to a homegrown leader to put Nebraska back at the top. Even in times of struggle, two consecutive years of losing twice as many games as they won, the Nebraska fans fill every seat in Memorial Stadium. Memorial Stadium for me is a lot like a Christmas day dinner table. Life may be extremely tough for everyone in attendance, and hope may seem completely lost, but no matter what, family shows up for each other. In Nebraska, the Nebraska football team is family – and royalty. There is no one bigger. I often tell my dad that, if I were recruiting a kid to come play for the Huskers, I would start by comparing what his experience would be like in Texas. If you go play for the University of Texas, you may be king on the UT campus, but you will always be in the shadow of the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or the starting point guard for the Dallas Mavericks or the world-class centerfielder for the Texas Rangers; if you go play for Nebraska, you are not just the big man on campus, you get the keys to the state.

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Memorial Stadium for me is a metaphor for grit and determination. It proves that excellence can come from the most unexpected places, and I know that the whole state of Nebraska, and the Nebraska faithful living across the world, are hoping that excellence is just a few short months away.