Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Being Part of 'Husker Nation'

Growing up in Nebraska, I learned about football early in life. Nebraska Cornhusker football is an honored tradition. It is a community builder in a state that outsiders often forgot about. It is a rallying point for everyone from Omaha to Scottsbluff. Even though I don't live in Nebraska anymore, I never miss a game. It just wouldn't seem right.

In Nebraska, we have only one team. Our loyalty to the Huskers, as they are affectionately known, is solid. It doesn't matter if you were an alum of the University of Nebraska or if you never went to college anywhere. If you grew up in Nebraska, the Huskers are your team, you are a part of Husker Nation. Occasionally outsiders will ask "What is a Husker?" We don't really know, but we do know what it means to be a part of Husker Nation. It makes strangers, become like family. People simply ask, "Did you catch the game?" or they'd proudly say, "I got tickets to the game Saturday." Everyone knew The Game, was the Huskers' game. It was the only one that mattered.

During my childhood, the football season always culminated in the big showdown between Nebraska and Oklahoma. It was a classic match-up of good versus evil. The tall, stoic, Tom Osborne looking and acting more like a Presbyterian minister than a football coach, versus the not so tall, not so quiet, Barry Switzer, whose language was as colorful as the wild stories he liked to tell. My dad hated Barry Switzer. My dad is a kind, civil, man, but bumper stickers that read Bury Barry, amused him.

This annual showdown, televised on ABC - often with the deep booming voice of Keith Jackson - was so intense that as a child, I couldn't watch. Back in the days before all-sports television networks, the Nebraska-Oklahoma game was sometimes the only game the Husker's played on TV, all year. It was the one day out of the fall harvest season that my dad, and other farmers around the state, would stop work and sit down in front of the TV. Turns out, Dad had some colorful language of his own. Clearly, this game was important. Was it possibly 'end of the world' important?

In the next room, away from the TV but within earshot of every groan and curse that signaled a fumble, or penalty on 'our side', I wondered what would happen should Nebraska lose? Surely they hadn't. I had seen the signs proclaiming Nebraska Number 1! I had visions of a bawdy crowd of crimson-clad fans storming over the Kansas prairie, led by a little white wagon pulled by two white horses. Fans were waving crimson flags with the ominous letters OU in the middle. They were all signing this awful, repetitive song - something about Boomer Sooner - while a marching band followed behind. It was a horrible image. It wasn't until years later that I learned the Huskers did actually lose some of those games. Yet the nightmare never happened. Each year, both teams went home and got ready for next year when they would do it all over again.

Those big showdowns with Oklahoma are long since gone. But every year, the Huskers still lace up their sneakers, tape up their ankles and take on whatever appointment is on the schedule. And win or lose, Nebraska is still number 1 in Husker Nation.

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