It was my favorite kind of day. A cool, crisp fall morning that was going to warm up later in the afternoon. The combines were in the fields all around us but my grandpa took the day off and came to pick me up instead. He was taking me “down to the ball game.” My first Husker football game.
I remember hopping into his truck, dressed in red and white from head to toe. I don’t remember the exact year but judging from the poof of my bangs and the fact that I was wearing my favorite Husker barrette, I’d guess somewhere in the range of 1993-1995. The glory days.
As we neared Lincoln, I saw the sower on the top of the state capitol building. We were almost there! We parked in a lot by some railroad tracks and joined a throng of people walking across a huge bridge. It seemed like every single person in the crowd was wearing red. I could see the façade of Memorial Stadium in the distance. At one point, I glanced up and saw these 4 words inscribed in the stone: “Courage; Generosity; Fairness; Honor…” At the time, I didn’t fully understand what these words meant or what they had to do with Nebraska Football. Unbeknownst to me, I was about to see these attributes on full display.
Grandpa had insisted that we arrive early so that he could show me the campus of his alma mater. We wandered the paths crowded with red people, leaves scattering as we went. He told me stories of his college days and reminisced.
We happened upon a tailgate and started talking to someone I didn’t know. Maybe grandpa knew him, maybe he didn’t. But this guy gave us hot dogs right off his grill and invited us to help ourselves to whatever we wanted at his tailgate feast. He introduced us to his family and treated us like we were invited to his party all along. Even at a young age, I knew this doesn’t happen everywhere. Generosity.
As we headed to our gate, we listened to the band warming up and watched them march into the stadium. When we got to our seats, the band took the field and the pre-game pageantry started. Finally, it was time for the National Anthem. Every capable person was on their feet. Hands were saluting or over hearts, hats were removed from heads. Thousands of voices joined the band to sing along. I got chills as a perfectly timed flyover zoomed overhead in a spectacular salute to our country and those who defend it. Honor.
At one point in the game, a visiting football player went down with an injury. The crowd got quiet as the trainers rushed onto the field to evaluate him. A couple of Husker players who were involved in the hit that hurt him took a knee on the sideline and waited respectfully. When the injured player got up and was helped off the field, all of Husker nation clapped for the opposing player. Fairness.
At a timeout in the game, the announcer directed our attention to the sideline, where some veterans and active military were gathered. All the fans were on our feet, clapping and cheering. Thanking them for their service and honoring them for their courage.
I don’t remember if we won or lost that day. I don’t remember who we played. Of course, I remember the atmosphere, the pageantry, and the tunnel walk! But, it was the character of the people (the athletes, the fans, and of course, the coach) that left a memorable impression. Nebraska’s values made me want to be a part of it. From that moment on, I was hooked. My grandpa passed the love of his alma mater on to me and I dreamed of being a Husker myself someday.
You see, as Husker fans, we love our team. We want to win. But it’s so much more than that. I’m a fan because of what Nebraska stands for. Courage, Generosity, Fairness, Honor.
And tradition. Traditions like a little girl going down to a football game with her grandpa. Year after year.
“Courage; Generosity; Fairness; Honor; in these are the true awards of manly sport.”
-Hartley Burr Alexander, UNL professor of philosophy