College football is the Nebraska lodestar. We all live under it and bicker about navigation. Five percent of the state population meets to celebrate its glory seven times a year...in the harvest season. It is a fact of nature and a source of myth. We take it really seriously.
This glorious game, played by young men recruited from across the country, ties the state together and provides an identity. Heterogeneity is certainly not a state trope. Politics move from dark red in the west to a shaded red in the east. The state population, which maintains an agricultural ethos throughout, is predominantly white and Christian. Keep in mind that ranchers are not exactly like Lincoln insurance executives, and North Omaha and North Loup are worlds apart. Demography is not the focus of this article, but know that there are differences – and sometimes when there is otherwise large agreement, the small issues become all the more galling.
The cross section of Nebraska fandom is unique. Justice Clarence Thomas married a Nebraskan, and he gets a sideline pass when he visits. You might see Warren Buffett at the game. Larry the Cable Guy has a luxury box. Gabrielle Union loves the Big Red, and sometimes she brings Dwyane Wade. You will find pastors and penitentiary alums in the same section. You get my point. Kumbaya. Jesus wept.
Towards Evaluating Cornhusker Traditions
To my consternation, OTE commenters (intermittently) obliquely suggest that some of my Nebraska brothers and sisters are sometimes…maybe…a little…just a wee bit…in the teensiest way…self-serving and/or over the top in evaluating ourselves, our team, and our football history.
My dear friends, I most infer through your almost subliminal tact on this point that some of you do not share in our humble (bordering on the monastic, frankly) devotion to Nebraska football. We flatlanders are a friendly and hospitable lot, so I will meet you on your terms. We pride ourselves on our humility.
I know that this is the internet, so we need to list and rate things. To that end, let me introduce a scale by which to gauge a selection of Nebraska traditions.
First, a term:
noun sanc·ti·mo·ny \ˈsaŋ(k)-tə-ˌmō-nē\
1: obsolete: holiness
2 : affected or hypocritical holiness
*Merriam Webster Online Dictionary
I think this will meet our needs. I shall rate each of the listed traditions on a scale of one to ten SANCTIMONIES. My analysis is, of course, subjective.
A visionary neurotic once said that 80 percent of success is showing up. Husker fans do not admit to watching Woody Allen’s movies, but seem to agree with his sentiment. Since 1962, Nebraska has sold out every home game. Sure, there were some close calls against the New Mexico States of the world, but the streak held up. Changing television deals and an expanded stadium tempt fate, however. Nebraskans now see television advertisements for tickets in the spring and summer - once unheard of. The streak currently stands at 354 consecutive games.
Sanctimony Scale: This is a tough one to nail down. It is sort of like church. Many people show up for all the right reasons. A show of adding to the tally is made at each game. This also shows up in an article about traditions, which might imply something. I will split the difference. FIVE SANCTIMONIES.
HuskerVision boards were installed in 1994. The athletic department took this opportunity to introduce a video open for the player’s walk from the locker room to the field. It was done to Sirius. It started out pretty niftily, and parts of it still have the power to move Husker hearts. These often celebrate days of yore: Rodgers and Frazier doing their thing; Grant Wistrom or Jared Tomich bending facemasks; Ameer Abdullah clowning fools. I eat that stuff up. But there are other parts – the focus on trophies that were won two decades ago, for example – that reinforce the “living in the past” attitude. Animated jets and rockets make my eyes roll. The honorary military guard at the gate (where players enter) tends to conflate patriotism with fandom, etc. We need, dare I say it, less corn.
Hey, I love Nebraska. My family opted to move here and I remain by choice. You do not need to hit me over the head with a Heisman-shaped hammer. We will “all stick together through all kinds of weather.” That is real. The whole production seems increasingly forced and bloated.
Sanctimony Scale: SEVEN SANCTIMONIES. I have creative differences with those who continue to expand this pageant.
This one takes me back. Growing up in the 70’s, each Sunday morning I would watch Lindsey Nelson’s delayed broadcast of the Notre Dame game while reading the Lincoln Journal-Star. Husker fans wanted to be assured that their team was not only dominant on the field, but also pure of sin. Every week the beat writer would ask a defeated opponent about how Husker players comported themselves on the field. The printed responses were almost universally positive. “He knocked me down and then picked me up.” “He congratulated me on almost making a good play.” I noticed that these stories slowed in the early 80’s, and virtually vanished by the 90’s. This subtle change was a cost of winning championships. Osborne began telling players to carry themselves with more confidence. He recruited players with some swag. Bowl victories ensued.
Sanctimony Scale: This one has changed over time. After the Pelini era, any remaining sanctimony on this matter should be considered vestigial. In the 1970’s, though, it merited EIGHT SANCTIMONIES.
Cheering the Opposition
Nebraska fans cheer the opposition when they leave the field – win or lose.
Sanctimony Scale: This varies by the quality of the opponent and how the Huskers perform. Nebby fans are genuinely kind and treat visitors well. I like everything about this tradition. ONE TO THREE SANCTIMONIES. May it ever by thus.
This Damned Sign
By way of explanation, I believe this was Steve Pederson’s idea. There is no excuse. These signs should be kindling for the fire at Lil’ Red’s immolation.
Sanctimony Scale: This one goes to eleven. ELEVEN SANCTIMONIES.
The Personal or Familial
Each person or family might have its own football tradition. This might be a seating arrangement, a tailgate, a favorite watering hole…whatever. I will give you an example of a Dead Read family tradition/ritual which started when I was twelve (1981). My father and I would leave home two hours before the game, park in the same lot at 17th and Vine, and then walk to his office on campus. Upon reaching his building, he would give me twenty bucks and tell me to get lunch, which I would bring back to the office. One day I walked off campus and bought Arby’s. Nebraska won impressively, so a pattern was set – this would be a ritual for decades.
Once in 1998, we had an obligation that messed up our routine - a pep rally. There would be no Arby’s availability. Long story short - Texas barely beat Nebraska behind Major Applewhite and Ricky Williams and a glorious home winning streak ended. The slide began. We have never been the same. Now the story can be told – it was my fault. I broke us. Apologies to all of Huskerdom.
You are almost certainly going to win. America’s Roast Beef…Yes Sir!
You are going to lose four games this year. Have a gyro with that. Eat Arby’s.
Sanctimony Scale: Put it this way, an evanescent and localized 1998 Arby’s scarcity ruined Nebraska football. YMMV.
What is your individual/familial game day tradition?
There are many communal traditions to choose from, too: Walk-ons, Runza, Academic All-Americans, Balloons, Misty’s, Fight Songs, Valentino’s, Heinous Inflatable Mascots that Legit Scare Small Children, Niceness, etc. Feel free to rate anything and everything on the Sanctimony Scale.
Please share your views in the comments. Have at it.