BY Art Thiel 06:28PM 09/12/2011

Thiel: Huskies will learn no place like Nebraska

In all of college football, there’s no place quite like Nebraska, where fans kill you with kindness, and the players, well . . .

Even at Husky Stadium last year, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez had a sea of red at his back. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

In 10 years, when college football is one giant 64-team superconference (The Optimus  Prime League), playing one team three times in a year won’t seem like a big deal. In fact, the TV networks, who by then will have purchased the industry from the universities, will probably have best-of-seven series between, say, Southern Cal and Miami (the Criminole Bowl).

But this week, Washington vs. Nebraska, Part Trois, is kind of quaint.  The Huskies and Cornhuskers have become like jealous teenage cousins at family reunions, pounding one another in the backyard until adults run out saying, “What’s all this, then?!”

After getting pantsed 56-21 a year ago in Husky Stadium, then returning the embarrassment at the Holiday Bowl in San Diego 19-7, the Huskies travel Thursday for a game Saturday to the series’ third venue, Lincoln, Neb., where there is very little else — making Huskers football like nothing else in the country.

“Tremendous environment,” said Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian Monday. “Great fans. It’s what college football should be.”

That is not hyperbole. Unlike the over-amped frat boys in Eugene, or the no-lifes in the Southeastern Conference or the who-cares in Los Angeles, the Huskers crowd is so into the whole college-football culture that they actually care about the opponents and their traveling fans.

Ask anyone who traveled to Lincoln the last time the Huskies played there, in 1998. Like me. It was like being at an all-day Nordstrom sales training session.  Everyone was polite, courteous, shook hands firmly and made eye contact directly, seemed interested in your welfare and offered to do most anything to help your visit. By the time I left, I was hoping to be adopted. I guarantee I wasn’t the only Seattle visitor so affected.

Which is not to say it wasn’t weird. It’s almost a law that Big Red is injected into every newborn and newcomer, maybe even travelers changing planes at the airport. A lot of college towns get wrapped around the axle of the high-profile team, but Lincoln residents, as well as the entire state population, seemed linked at the cultural cerebellum to the thick-necked boys of the corn.

Yet fans somehow retain the perspective that the visiting team is, in fact, the visiting team, not the Taliban. After the Huskies were walloped 55-7, Nebraska fans surrounding the visiting team’s tunnel exit stood and applauded the vanquished purples. No mockery, no name-calling, no meanness.

As with so many other things, football life in Nebraska might have changed. But I doubt it. If I read that a Nebraska fan poisoned trees that a rival fan base cherished, as that knucklehead Alabama fan did to Auburn, I would take it as a sign of the apocalypse far more than a collapse of the Dow Jones industrial average.

As to the ardor, there is no mystery. As one fan put it to me, probably for the thousandth time to the same line of inquiry, “It’s all we got.”

Without pro sports, another rival college or even hills, the state and the team are unto themselves. They know it, aren’t ashamed of it, and don’t feel the need to defend it.  A lot of Huskies fans feel the same way about their team, but the intensity’s breadth and depth just isn’t the same.

“One of the great things about playing in Lincoln is you go out an hour before kickoff for pre-game warm-ups and it’s packed,” Sarkisian said.  “The stadium is full. They love pre-game warm-ups as much as the game. It’s a unique setting that way.

“You can really feel the energy in the stadium. And just about everybody in the stadium is wearing red.”

The virtue of politeness does not diminish the passion for victory. It’s just that there is minimal compulsion to use the word mother as an adjective. Sarkisian has plans to enlighten his team this week with a travelogue.

”I’m not going to send them in there without them knowing anything about it,” he said. “We try to paint a picture and give them a history lesson of Nebraska football and that stadium, and some of the games of the Huskies (there), so that they get an idea.

“But the reality is I’m not here to coddle these guys, either. They are here for a reason and we will make sure they are mentally tough enough to handle the environment.”

For all the freshmen, the game is the first one on the road. For the entire team, it’s the first trip to Nebraska. The closest comparable is Eugene, where Ducks fans combine success, passion and hate for the Huskies into an often-lamentable stew of personal contempt.

In relief of an injured Jake Locker last year, quarterback Keith Price made his first start in Autzen Stadium, where the Huskies were drowned, 53-16, through little fault of Price’s. He said Monday he remembers little about the atmosphere.

“I can’t worry about fans — I got enough to think about,” he said. “I know what to expect.”

Well, actually, no, he doesn’t. But that’s why travel is so enlightening. The experience of unique places makes for great stories. You know, like getting smacked in the grill and being helped back up, then asked if you’d like a cookie.


YourThoughts

  • Scott Wellensiek

    You mentioned that Nebraska fans would applaud the visiting team if/when they lose.  That’s nice, to be sure but what I think is really interesting is that Nebraska fans have a history of applauding visiting teams that win.  Now that’s truly rare.

    • huska

      One of my favorite memories of all time came after a devastating victory by Texas over Nebraska in Lincoln in 1998.  As recalled by Mack Brown….

      “The highlight of my sports life in sportsmanship was in ’98, when … (Texas’) Ricky Williams gained 150 yards,” he said. He recalled telling Williams to wear his helmet out on the Memorial Stadium field for postgame interviews, only to hear Nebraska fans start chanting, “Heisman, Heisman, Heisman” for Williams

      I hope that Husker fans don’t do anything to diminish that reputation this weekend or anytime for the rest of my life.  Have fun in Lincoln, U-Dub.  GBR.

  • Scott Wellensiek

    You mentioned that Nebraska fans would applaud the visiting team if/when they lose.  That’s nice, to be sure but what I think is really interesting is that Nebraska fans have a history of applauding visiting teams that win.  Now that’s truly rare.

    • huska

      One of my favorite memories of all time came after a devastating victory by Texas over Nebraska in Lincoln in 1998.  As recalled by Mack Brown….

      “The highlight of my sports life in sportsmanship was in ’98, when … (Texas’) Ricky Williams gained 150 yards,” he said. He recalled telling Williams to wear his helmet out on the Memorial Stadium field for postgame interviews, only to hear Nebraska fans start chanting, “Heisman, Heisman, Heisman” for Williams

      I hope that Husker fans don’t do anything to diminish that reputation this weekend or anytime for the rest of my life.  Have fun in Lincoln, U-Dub.  GBR.

  • Nebstorm

     I was at the game last year in Washington and the fans up there where just great to us also. Go Big Red!

  • Nebstorm

     I was at the game last year in Washington and the fans up there where just great to us also. Go Big Red!

  • Henchman222

    Nice article.  For you Husky fans coming here bring your ponchos as there is a chance of rain.  If you have time try a nice meal at Misty’s or Lazlos in Lincoln.  You will love the game day atmosphere.  Here’s to your safe travel both ways, a great game and a great time.  I’ll understand if you still want to have Wahington as your favorite team, but after your experience maybe you will undesrtand why there is No Place Like Nebraska.  Not the victory but the action; Not the goal but the game; In the deed the glory”

    • Henchman222

      Sorry for the typos, dang smartphones.

    • Anonymous

      As a Lincoln resident, I will second everything said above.  The prime rib at Misty’s can be a religious experience for someone not raised on Nebraska beef, and I love the microbrews at Lazlo’s with their ribs.  Also – if you are a fan of buffalo wings, it’s hard to beat the grilled wings at the Watering Hole on O Street.

      Husky fans, have fun, enjoy yourselves (spend lots of money) and know that win or lose, we’ll gladly shake your hand or offer you a beer – as long as you’re not acting like jerks (i.e. your new conference mates from Boulder).

      Safe travels and good luck on Saturday!

      • Anonymous

        By the way – in addition to being overly passionate about the football team (Saturday will be consecutive sellout #314) we also have a tendency for taking over message boards.  Sorry!

  • Henchman222

    Nice article.  For you Husky fans coming here bring your ponchos as there is a chance of rain.  If you have time try a nice meal at Misty’s or Lazlos in Lincoln.  You will love the game day atmosphere.  Here’s to your safe travel both ways, a great game and a great time.  I’ll understand if you still want to have Wahington as your favorite team, but after your experience maybe you will undesrtand why there is No Place Like Nebraska.  Not the victory but the action; Not the goal but the game; In the deed the glory”

    • Henchman222

      Sorry for the typos, dang smartphones.

    • Arguing_with_Idiots

      As a Lincoln resident, I will second everything said above.  The prime rib at Misty’s can be a religious experience for someone not raised on Nebraska beef, and I love the microbrews at Lazlo’s with their ribs.  Also – if you are a fan of buffalo wings, it’s hard to beat the grilled wings at the Watering Hole on O Street.

      Husky fans, have fun, enjoy yourselves (spend lots of money) and know that win or lose, we’ll gladly shake your hand or offer you a beer – as long as you’re not acting like jerks (i.e. your new conference mates from Boulder).

      Safe travels and good luck on Saturday!

      • Arguing_with_Idiots

        By the way – in addition to being overly passionate about the football team (Saturday will be consecutive sellout #314) we also have a tendency for taking over message boards.  Sorry!

  • TGK

    Two great programs.  Very nice article.  I have to say, after growing up in eastern NE, there are a few more Husker fans these days who do not know how to act all of the time.  Please remember there are good and bad fans everywhere.  For the most part though, all said above is true.  Husker fans will welcome you and have fun tailgating with you.  Just put your hand out to shake hands and you should have a good time.  What most Husker fans understand is that football is a game – a sport – and not life or death.  Sure, we win and lose with much passion but at the end of the day, we are all on this planet together and let’s treat each other like the brothers and sisters we are suppose to be.  Have fun UW fans – win or lose.   AND GO BIG RED!

  • TGK

    Two great programs.  Very nice article.  I have to say, after growing up in eastern NE, there are a few more Husker fans these days who do not know how to act all of the time.  Please remember there are good and bad fans everywhere.  For the most part though, all said above is true.  Husker fans will welcome you and have fun tailgating with you.  Just put your hand out to shake hands and you should have a good time.  What most Husker fans understand is that football is a game – a sport – and not life or death.  Sure, we win and lose with much passion but at the end of the day, we are all on this planet together and let’s treat each other like the brothers and sisters we are suppose to be.  Have fun UW fans – win or lose.   AND GO BIG RED!

  • KJP

    Nice piece.  It’s true, people in Lincoln are generally nice and honestly pleased that people would come visit.  Not to mention that it’s a great town with nice people, and a low crime rate.  If anyone isn’t nice to you, just tell another Husker fan, and the rude offenders will be berated and treated like the pretenders that they are.
    Also, while you’re in Lincoln, don’t forget to check out the nightlife at 14th and O Streets.  Lots of fun bars, and a super fun gameday scene (any night really).  It’s also the home of Duffy’s Tavern, which is a famous gameday venue with a big outdoor area, but an even better known music venue.  Nirvana (among others) played there, and it was rated as the best college bar in America by Complex.com earlier this year.  Everyone there is super nice.  Have fun in Lincoln.

  • KJP

    Nice piece.  It’s true, people in Lincoln are generally nice and honestly pleased that people would come visit.  Not to mention that it’s a great town with nice people, and a low crime rate.  If anyone isn’t nice to you, just tell another Husker fan, and the rude offenders will be berated and treated like the pretenders that they are.
    Also, while you’re in Lincoln, don’t forget to check out the nightlife at 14th and O Streets.  Lots of fun bars, and a super fun gameday scene (any night really).  It’s also the home of Duffy’s Tavern, which is a famous gameday venue with a big outdoor area, but an even better known music venue.  Nirvana (among others) played there, and it was rated as the best college bar in America by Complex.com earlier this year.  Everyone there is super nice.  Have fun in Lincoln.

  • HuskerT

    I was fortunate enough to treated to similar hospitality at Husky stadium in 97. I had people of all ages congradulate me after the Huskers won. Art, I grew up in central Nebraska on the edge of the Sand Hills. I would be glad to give you a tour of our hills.

  • HuskerT

    I was fortunate enough to treated to similar hospitality at Husky stadium in 97. I had people of all ages congradulate me after the Huskers won. Art, I grew up in central Nebraska on the edge of the Sand Hills. I would be glad to give you a tour of our hills.

  • Husker in Land o’ Lakes

    Very nice article. As a Husker fan, I look forward to the game and hopefully a win. I have always considered UWas a class program.Good fans, not a bunch of cheaters like SC or Oregon. Good hard nosed coaches and players. And that view from the campus and stadium is pretty darn impressive. I rate it way above Boulder. And your fans are one heck of alot better mannered.If you fly into Omaha and rent a car to Lincoln, Check out the downtowns a little bit. Lots going on. I live in the Twin Cities but I like what I see going on in Omaha and Lincoln.

  • Husker in Land o’ Lakes

    Very nice article. As a Husker fan, I look forward to the game and hopefully a win. I have always considered UWas a class program.Good fans, not a bunch of cheaters like SC or Oregon. Good hard nosed coaches and players. And that view from the campus and stadium is pretty darn impressive. I rate it way above Boulder. And your fans are one heck of alot better mannered.If you fly into Omaha and rent a car to Lincoln, Check out the downtowns a little bit. Lots going on. I live in the Twin Cities but I like what I see going on in Omaha and Lincoln.