Attending a Husker football game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln is an experience to be relished. It’s also not for the faint of heart. Below are some handy tips for those planning on going to their first game.
Arrive early. A lot of the fun of going to a Cornhusker game is getting there when the stadium gates open 90 minutes before kickoff and claiming your small, tiny dot on the bleachers called a “seat.” The amount of space allotted for the fan buttocks has shrunk dramatically over the years which is ironic considering that studies have consistently shown that the human ass has roughly doubled in size in the past three decades. Fans who arrive late and have to squeeze into a seat will have decidedly less heinie room.
Tailgating. But first, before entering the stadium, to fully appreciate the University of Nebraska game day experience one must participate in tailgating, a part of Husker lore that consists of guzzling warm malt liquor in a parking lot and then puking under the nearest tree.
Note the students. Up until September, 2017 UNL kids used to carry large backpacks crammed full of cheap liquor from downtown Lincoln stores with names like “Al’s Booze, Keno, ‘N Snuff.” But last year the school implemented a clear bag policy for everyone entering the stadium which means you can see who’s carrying the good condoms, “medicinal” marijuana and feminine products.
The students are mostly stuck in bad seats in the southeast corner of the stadium, which probably makes sense to somebody.
Season ticket holders. You will frequently spy groups of elderly people clustered together in the East and West stands. These are season ticket holders many of whom have held their tickets for decades. They sometimes spout things like, “Is Tagge back in at quarterback?” and “Do you think Devaney will get it done this year?” They’ve been known to leave tight games after the third quarter so as not to miss the early bird special.
Skyboxes. High above the stadium are fans who lease skyboxes A.K.A. luxury suites. They look down on the rest of the people in attendance, both literally and figuratively. These folks are afforded many privileges including being allowed to bring alcohol into the stadium without having to sneak it in inside “insulin pumps” like the rest of us.
Sometimes fans will refer to “Larry” up in his plush skybox. They’re referencing comedian Larry The Cable Guy, who attends every game and is from Nebraska. You know how they call Illinois the Land of Lincoln? Well...
Social butterflies. Some fans don’t go to Memorial Stadium to watch the game and are mostly there to socialize. They chat, gossip and take selfies while almost totally ignoring the on-field action. Once when Nebraska had fourth and goal with two minutes left in a tie game vs. Penn State a social butterfly tapped my buddy Vic on the shoulder and asked him to take a photo of the butterfly with her friend. He grabbed their cellphone and threw it onto the concrete runway adjacent the sidelines. It wasn’t nice but was effective.
Bolievers. Another type of fan still clings to the notion that former Husker coach Bo Pelini was the greatest thing since sliced bread. A couple years ago I heard a Boliever shout “Bring Bo back!” while the widow of a revered former Husker assistant coach was being presented an honorary Blackshirt. The number of Bolievers has shrunk dramatically in recent years and they are now considered endangered which makes hunting them a felony, except in the Sandhills.
Video Boards. The high tech Memorial Stadium video boards cost an awful lot but money was no object. If you’re seated in certain end zone seats you can’t actually see the video boards, but take my word that they are very impressive.
Inclement weather. In event of dangerous weather, say, lightning, relax in the knowledge that quick thinking stadium officials will make a decision on calling the game within days after checking with their weather consultant, Punxsutawney Phil.
Sideline burlesque. On the sidelines between breaks in the action you’ll notice the half naked University of Nebraska dance team. Dance team members wear risque outfits and gyrate in a manner that would probably get them arrested if they moved like that in downtown Hastings.
The pep band. The Husker pep band is fantastic and members take one for the team. Imagine being a young person asked to play a fight song that contains the lyric “Where the girls are the fairest, the boys are the squarest at dear old Nebraska U.” roughly 695 times during the course of a game? How many young people would do that in public?
The marching band. The University of Nebraska marching band is a national treasure, according to the parents of band members. These parents like to turn around and tell you, a complete stranger, “That’s my kid on oboe!” When this happens just nod and say something polite like “What the hell is an oboe?” (Fun fact: the oboe could be banned tomorrow and nobody in the entire world except oboe players would miss it.)
Actually, the Husker marching band is one of the best around and even the kid on cymbals, who is to the marching band what the third string PAT holder is to the football team, is adept at his or her craft.
In-stadium music. The music blasted over the stadium sound system during pregame warmups and timeouts is mostly hip hop featuring artists like Drake, Logic and Future. Occasionally a Miley Cyrus or a Taylor Swift song will sneak in. Swift’s “Shake It Off” frequently plays after something goes wrong for the Huskers. If you hear “Shake It Off” more than seven times in a game it’s safe to say that Nebraska lost. But hip hop dominates. It’s exceedingly rare to see 90,000 mostly older, white people from rural America bogeying to Logic. (I’m defining “bogeying” as holding their hands over their ears and going “Has that noise stopped yet?”) If the choice of music was left up to fans instead of Drake and Future nothing but early Merle Haggard would play on the sound system.
Celebrities. Celeb sightings at Husker football games have included Warren Buffett, the aforementioned Cable Guy, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Gabrielle Union, Dwyane Wade, Rush Limbaugh and astronaut Clayton Anderson. In contrast the biggest celebrity to ever attend a Husker men’s basketball game was an extra on “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
The Tunnel Walk. The Tunnel Walk is the most sacred thing about attending a game. It must be paid the same amount of reverence as the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. More attention was probably given to the new Tunnel Walk than to the Keystone Pipeline running through Nebraska. I’m pretty sure this year’s heavily produced Tunnel Walk was choreographed by Paula Abdul or Michael Flatley.
The balloon release. Nebraska is the only school left in the country that still releases helium-filled balloons after the first touchdown. Although this has taken place for five decades there’s no clear policy on whether balloons should be released if the first score is a field goal so when the first score is a field goal roughly half the fans let go of their balloons as people glance around, confused. This looking around, confused, when the first score is a field goal is a fifty-year tradition.
A few more tips: Before the game hit up the student union and wait for the pep band to march through playing the school fight song. You’ll be close enough to get drenched every time a freshman trombone player uses his spit valve. This is called “Husker Saliva” and should not be washed off. It’s also fun to walk around the UNL campus and marvel how it hasn’t changed at all over the past century, sort of like Stonehenge.
Prohibited items. Finally, before leaving home for the game it’s best to memorize the long list of prohibited items that cannot brought into the stadium. The list includes large purses and clutches, umbrellas, fanny packs, rabid poodles, liquor (wink, wink), vuvuzelas, arsenic, most signs, photos of Mike Riley, all weapons NOT reading “Go Big Red,” oranges, Oklahoma sweatshirts, anything fun, and, water, which apparently the human body doesn’t need to survive after all