|All Points West: Born a fan|
|September 04, 2014 Frank Marquez|
I feel fortunate to have been born in west Nebraska just prior to a golden age of Husker football. The date was June 20, 1965 on Father’s Day. I poked my head into this world on the cusp of Boomers and Gen-Xers just like many other children of the corn.
On Thanksgiving Day 1971, I watched as my father, uncles and male cousins gathered around a four-legged console TV in the living room (a man’s domain before being driven to basement caves) to yell at the black and white fuzzy images of the No. 1 Huskers take on the No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners for the Big Eight Championship—one of many, many clashes. Flanker Johnny Rogers’ 72-yard punt return—a signature moment according to news reports—was the first big stab at drawing blood. The play set the tone, and as they often say about historic sports contests, it was on. During the back and forth and the highs and lows of the game, conference rivals left everything on the field in what was later called The Game of The Century.
I don’t remember many more details as a mere six-year-old tyke whose dad was a farm hand in Morrill, Nebr., but one thing I do remember is how grown men jumped around the TV like little kids on Christmas Day. News reports were few and far between before the age of Google. So reading headlines about Husker wins was gold. I was struck by how the game made them feel, that when Nebraska fell behind or fouled up a play, they cursed Head Coach Bob Devaney, or when Nebraska pulled ahead, they quickly turned around to praise him. “We’re lucky to have him,” they’d say. Little did we know, standing on the sideline, there was more glory ahead with Assistant Coach Tom Osborne.
Fast forward to 1997 just after moving to Southern California, not too long after coming off active duty with the Army in Japan, I was an amazed and excited witness to Husker mania and the sea of red. It was the first time I had seen the live reaction to Nebraska winning national titles in ’94 and ’95 and hitting a dip—if you could call it that—losing two games in ’96. Our state’s brethren had converged on a watch site in droves, gathering on the edge of Fullerton, Calif., and keeping the spirit alive so far away from Lincoln. Keep in mind this was before big HD flat screens. We regularly packed into a pub with standing room only; we might as well have been listening to radios. Some of our fans, who couldn’t squeeze in, did just that, their car radios blaring with the Pinnacle Network’s play by play.
In that small crowded bar, fans proudly displayed Californians for Nebraska and Big Red banners. I lost my voice during several games that season with other fans sitting shoulder to shoulder. That year was special. Nebraska ran the table for a 13-0 record and a National Championship, even trouncing Barry Switzer’s Oklahoma, 69-7 on Nov. 1.
Because of my travels around the world, I didn’t actually attend a Husker game until Jan. 2, 2000 when I was 35. That year, Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch faced off against Tee Martin and Tennessee in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Again, the sea of red dwarfed the number of the volunteer faithful that showed up on a cool night in Tempe, Ariz. Our hardcore fans had said it had the look and feel of a game at Memorial Stadium. Nebraska triumphed 31-21, fueled by pride and the fact that is was Defensive Coordinator Charlie McBride’s final game, capping a 37-year coaching career. It ended up being a great night to break in my new seat cushion.
I also have the team to thank for a rare reunion with my brothers—our last one to date. Nebraska played the USC Trojans at the Coliseum in Los Angeles on Sept. 16, 2006. We had caravanned from my new home in Las Vegas with car window pennants flapping. Yet, another sea of red showed up including a few of the faithful from Scottsbluff-Gering area, who remarked on how we are the few and proud outside of Lincoln and Omaha. My brothers and I were part of the welcoming committee that stood on the curb where the formidable Husker players emerged from busses. The Trojan’s 28-10 victory over a Coach Bill Callahan team wasn’t much of a birthday present for my youngest brother Jesse. Though, we made it up to him at a Hooter’s celebration after the game. Were these dark days for the Huskers? You’ll find little argument. Yet, one thing remains certain; we vowed to stick by our Huskers. Nebraska later lost to rival Oklahoma 21-7 in the Big 12 Championship game.
After Nebraska’s move to the Big 10 Conference in 2011, the Husker-Sooner clashes continue to be replayed on ESPN Classics. But have no fear, the rivalry is set to write a few more chapters, first in Norman in 2021 and again in Lincoln in 2022. As a long-time fan, I can guarantee you I’ll be at one or both of these games.
So far in the Big 10, the Huskers have delivered and not disappointed with the characteristic heart that is Nebraska. In 2013, Nebraska showed some old school magic when Jordan Westerkamp hauled in a 49-yard Hail Mary pass from senior QB Ron Kellogg to squeak by Northwestern, 27-24. My brother Fred was at that game and he said the stadium rocked and that no one wanted to leave.
That same season, Penn State fans welcomed us to Beaver Stadium in Happy Valley for PS’s senior day—the third live game for me. Cold and blustery, the wind whipped snow flurries over this ill-prepared fan. High flying pennants kept stiff by 60 mph gusts told the story. Despite the cold, Nebraska fought to a 20-20 tie with the Nittany Lions, taking the post-Joe Paterno Cats into overtime, when the Huskers found enough gas to win on a field goal, 23-20. Chants of “Goooooooo Big RED!” echoed from gleeful Nebraska fans filing out of the stands, the only thing that seemingly kept us warm. It was pure joy, especially for all us Virginians for Nebraska who made the trip. Although there was no Oklahoma on the schedule, conference officials pitched the development of a new rivalry with neighbor the Iowa Hawkeyes, who beat the Huskers soundly in its Big 10 finale. Nebraska ended the season on a positive note though with a 24-19 win over the Georgia Bulldogs in the Gator Bowl.
Now living in Alexandria, Va., and working in D.C., the 2014 season opener came and went. Visitor Florida Atlantic was sent home, tail firmly tucked after a 55-10 thrashing. Thanks to the magic of the Internet and social media, I can watch Westerkamp’s behind-the-back catch over and over. I can’t help but watch the highlight reel of a new Tommy Touchdown Armstrong under center, knowing a heady season should keep faux Coach Bo Pelini and his cat fairly busy on Twitter.
With Hail to the Huskers firmly ingrained, I still get goose bumps every time I hear it played. Butterflies attack my belly before every game. Every touchdown, and really, every hustle play, gets a vigorous high five. But let’s not talk about fumbles.
Born a fan, I know there’s no place like Nebraska, and folks need to know it’s more than a refrain.
And, it doesn’t matter how far away from home, I know I’ll live and die a Husker FAN. And wherever I end up watching the games, I’ll stay true to the tradition of jumping up and down in front of the TV.
Goooooo Big RED!!!
Editor’s note: Watch for All Points West for your weekly Husker fan fix.