A book by David Max
What does it mean to grow up as a Husker fan? My first recollection of Nebraska football was as an 11 year old in 1962 which was Bob Devaney's first year as coach. I don't have any recollections of his predecessor Bill Jennings who was fired at the end of the 1961 season. Not being able to recruit Gale Sayers from his back yard in Omaha might have been the last straw in Bill's tenure at Nebraska.
Back then there were very few chances to see the team on TV and my connection from the thriving metropolis of Page, NE (pop. 280 at the time) was the radio broadcasts of the games. Everything came to a standstill in Page and the rest of the state as we all gathered around the radio to listen to the voices of Lyell Bremser, Jack Payne, Kent Pavelka and others. Lyell was the ultimate Nebraska football broadcast voice and had more phrases than you could shake a stick at. His "Man, woman, and child, Johnny the Jet Rodgers just tore them loose from their shoes and put them in the aisle" call of that famous punt return against Oklahoma in the 1971 Game of the Century is still listed as one of the great radio calls of all time.
In 1964 my father, Carl, had the foresight to spend our vacation money on six season tickets when the south end zone was built and more tickets became available. Nebraska has sold out every game since Nov. 3, 1962 which is an ongoing NCAA record. For more than one season the games actually were our family vacation. We moved to the big city of Ainsworth (pop. 2,000) in 1965 and I quickly became popular because I could pick a friend or two each year to go with us to a Nebraska game. I can remember when we used to play Oklahoma on Thanksgiving Day. We would get up at 5 AM, leave Ainsworth for the 5 hour drive to Lincoln and get to our tailgate lot across from the stadium at the Phillips 66 station. That location is now the home of the Nebraska Alumni Association's Champions Club. We would eat the turkey sandwiches Mom made for lunch and be in the stadium for kickoff. After the game we would relive it in the parking lot while waiting for the traffic to die down and drive home the same night because we couldn't afford a hotel room. It was an 18 hour day and we loved every minute of it. At my 30 year high school reunion in Ainsworth in 1999 I had several former classmates come up to me and say "Your Dad took me to my first Nebraska game ever." Those comments were “MasterCard priceless moments” for me. I still sit in those same seats in the south end zone next to people that bought theirs the same time Dad did.
Dad moved the family to Shenandoah, IA in the winter of 1967. I didn't know quite what to expect being a Husker fan in Iowa but I was pleasantly surprised when Iowans were asking me all kinds of questions about the Huskers. Shenandoah is only 30 miles from Nebraska City and there are a lot of Husker fans there. For that matter we are all over the US and foreign countries. There is a restaurant named Nebraska in Spain. There are Husker flags wherever our military has a presence. We have alumni chapters and/or football watch sites all over the country. My brother, George still lives in Shenandoah and whenever I go back to visit I still get the “What do you think of the Huskers this year?” question from the people in Iowa.
After high school I went back to Nebraska for college but not to Lincoln. I went to Kearney State where I had relatives and wanted to go to a smaller school. While at Kearney I was involved in athletics first as a student manager and then as a student trainer. I worked under Al Zikmund who was a member of Nebraska's first Bowl team at the 1941 Rose Bowl and was the football coach and athletic director at Kearney. I didn't get to attend either the '70 or '71 national championship games but did make it to several games in Lincoln during that championship era. Mom and I did make it to all three championship games in the 1990s. Dad passed away in 1990 and Mom attended her last Husker game in 2007 thanks to the generosity of Larry the Cable Guy who provided her with wheelchair access to his skybox.
While at Kearney I had the opportunity to be the trainer for North squad for the Nebraska high school Shrine Bowl game in 1972 and 1973. That was my first direct connection to UN-L football and several of those players went on to stellar careers at Nebraska. It was also the first time I met Tom Osborne in person. He had just been named as head coach to replace Bob Devaney and came to our practice to watch some of the recruits. The thing that impressed me the most is how he would introduce himself as "Hi, I'm Tom Osborne." to people he didn't know. He is one of the most recognized individuals in Nebraska but acts like people don't know him from Adam. His persona is what Nebraska fans aspire to live up to as we do our best to police each other to be hospitable to opposing fan bases.
After Kearney the next step on my career path was graduate school at Indiana University in Bloomington where I had the opportunity to work with Lee Corso and Bob Knight while getting my Master's Degree in Athletic Training. Bill Orwig was the athletic director and was previously the AD at Nebraska. I can remember trying to impress my future wife Donna by taking her into Bill's office and introducing her to him. It must have worked as Donna and I are celebrating our 36th wedding anniversary this year. I remember watching Tom Osborne's first game in 1973 against UCLA on TV in the dorm. The non TV games were a black hole as there was no Husker radio in Bloomington, Indiana in the days before Internet web casts. You had to wait for score updates from the games that were televised.
My first job as an athletic trainer was at Cal State, Dominguez Hills in Carson, California which is a Los Angeles suburb. One of the best features about my change in location besides the weather was the fact that the Californians for Nebraska carried every game on local radio. I quickly joined the group and became their first watch site coordinator. We grew from one site in Fullerton to several all over the Los Angeles basin. You can now find a watch site for Nebraska football in just about every state in the Union. I have lived in southern California since 1975 which is more than half my life but when people ask me where I’m from I still say Nebraska. I have run different Nebraska web sites since early 1998 and now make it back to Nebraska for every home game and a road game or two each season as part of my "job" running HuskerMax.com with Joe Hudson who is an Omaha native living in Colorado. It’s a tough job being the Norm from Cheers greeter at our HuskerMax tailgates but somebody has to do it.
You can wear a Nebraska shirt or hat anywhere and someone will give you a smile and say Go Big Red! The other amazing thing is if two Husker strangers stop and talk to each other they will undoubtedly have mutual friends in common. The six degrees of separation for Husker fans is probably closer to three.
Kent Pavelka probably described it best in his pre-game radio broadcast before the Fiesta Bowl game against Florida on Jan. 1, 1996. Here is a synopsis of what he said. "If you are not a Nebraska fan you can't understand it. If you are a Nebraska fan you can't explain it." It is a special bond that lasts a lifetime that Nebraska fans do not have to explain to each other. We just know and appreciate what it is and it is priceless.
This book is a compilation of some of my fifty years of Husker memories and contains my recollections along with interviews and quotes from players, coaches, and fans associated with Husker football. The book will be ready for shipment on September 22, 2012 which is the 50th anniversary of Bob Devaney’s first game as Head Coach at the University of Nebraska.
One of the 55 chapters in the 255 page book talks about the Husker Salute. They are $6,000 short of what they need to raise to fund the fifth annual event on the weekend of the Northwestern game on October 20th. For every book sold between now and October 20th I will donate five dollars of the proceeds to Husker Salute to help them reach their obligations for this years’ salute up to 1200 books which would reach their goal.
Order your copy now for yourself and the Husker fan(s) on your Christmas list at this link.
Go Big Red!