Nebraska Football Game – Lincoln, NE
We’ve already told you about the awesomeness that is collegiate football and tailgating when we detailed our Boise State experience, so with our second college football game within a 3 week span, we decided to make this a fact finding mission. Obviously, we watched some more football and partook in some more tailgating, but we also found out more about the team that totes “one-who-harvests-my-favorite-
Before arriving to Lincoln, something of personal importance to both of us was to determine whether or not the Nebraska Cornhuskers fit into the Big Ten Conference, and moreover if Lincoln rivaled all of the other spectacular college towns of the Big Ten. Why would we care about this you ask? As two Big Ten alums, we were looking for something that “fit” our expectations of what a Big Ten school and team should be. First of all, the Big Ten is the OLDEST D-1 conference (which is pretty bad ass to us), a Big Ten school is always in the Rose Bowl (The Grandaddy of them all!), and all of the school are strong institutes of research (which has nothing to do with athletics, but we prefer well rounded human beings). While we feel we’ve come to a conclusion, our questions to the local community also beared some interesting sociological and psychological findings that told us more about the city of Lincoln and the Nebraska Cornhusker fans than we were intending to find out. While not attempting to turn this into a scientific research paper, we here at Couple of Sports are determined to enlighten even the most knowledgeable of our great followers.
So what did we find out in Lincoln, Nebraska that had us putting our thinking caps on? Well, for starters, sports can do so much more than just entertain the masses. We know you already know this from every “Behind The Line” ESPN story. But sometimes you need to be in a place where they can inspire, distract, give communities a sense of self, and even heal. And as we’ve seen already, different sports become popular in different regions of the country for all sorts of reasons. Weather, history, and sometimes just plain luck can have an impact on a sports popularity. So what is it about Nebraska Football that has led to it being the most popular sport in the state, with the longest sellout streak of any team in college football (around 85,000 per game since 1962)?
“We don’t have any professional teams, so it’s all we really have”, said our tailgate host Doug, as well as the countless other
Nebraskans we asked. This was also evidenced by the Nebraska vs. Michigan volleyball match we took in on Friday night, where the 4,500 seat coliseum was sold out, and there were scalpers selling tickets to a volleyball game. People are clearly seeking an athletic outlet, and anything Nebraska Cornhusker is at the top of the list.
But that doesn’t quite tell the whole story for us, as Lincoln is only 3.5 hours away from Kansas City, MO, which has both an NFL and an MLB team, and is closer than tons of other cities to a professional team. Not to mention the fact that Omaha is 40 minutes away, and plays host to the College World Series, as well as a UFL team and a Minor League Baseball team.
What’s more telling is the second part of people’s answers when asked about Nebraska football. Nearly every single person told us, “You know, the stadium is the 3rd largest city in Nebraska on gameday”. While everyone likes a good fun fact, this one lets us know that people in Lincoln, and Nebraska in general for that matter, have a bit of a small town syndrome. People here are ready to tell you that you’re in a small town, even though Lincoln’s population tops 300,000 people. But it’s the pride in their eyes as they say it; they like thinking they’re in a small town. You can see it as they band together during football season to show that their team from little old Lincoln is supported by their community. Their collective identity as “small town” allows for a shared experience.
But that shared experience is not enough to sustain such a large fanbase. There’s another aspect that is just as important: They’re good, and they’ve been good for a very long time. Winning will inevitably bring fans, and winning for 50 years will undoubtedly create a following no matter how small the city. Look no further than the volleyball team game discussed earlier. You only need to look up at the National Championship and Big 12 Championship banners lining the court to realize why this sport had become so popular when you literally couldn’t be further away from a beach. That winning history combined with the area’s desire to stick together in their supposed “small town” has everyone from Scottsbluff to Omaha wearing red. Sports has the ability to bring people together for a common goal, and in Nebraska, that goal is to show everyone that this state is on the same page. Nebraska football is one giant outlet for the entire state to be recognized.
As for the game itself as well as our original Big Ten Conference fact finding mission, our hypotheses were confirmed, so to speak.
The stadium and game felt like every other Big Ten game we’d ever been to, and the campus and Lincoln itself fell right in line with places like Ann Arbor and Evanston. Everything from the building facades to the culture (and the cold weather) just felt normal to us. Adding to that was the fact that everyone was genuinely happy to be in the Big Ten. And not for the money the university will receive or anything like that, because how often does that really effect your average fan, but mainly because they felt like they belonged in the Big Ten all along.
Not to mention the fact that “We hate Texas” was the other mantra from the fans this weekend. “We just feel like we’re getting a fair shake in the Big Ten”, one fan told us. Losses to Wisconsin and Northwestern might be a quick wake up call for the Huskers, who are used to dominating the Big 12 regular season before heading into a big game with Texas or Oklahoma at the end of the season. But it’s that small town syndrome that again rears it’s head here. “We feel like we’ve taken a big step up, and we’re finally being considered on a higher level now”, said another fan.
As an outsider, I seem to remember Nebraska being a perennial powerhouse, nearly always considered as a national title contender. The fact that people feel that their status was in need of elevating, or that they were getting some sort of “little brother” treatment from the rest of the country plays into their small town syndrome. Whatever it is that brings people together, one thing’s fore sure: Football is more than just entertainment here in Nebraska, it’s the glue the holds the state together. Or for some it’s a way to feel bigger than a small town, and for others it’s the shared experience and shared psyche of an entire state that has them filling the stadium on Saturday. Big or small, the cities of Nebraska will always be united on one thing: Nebraska Cornhuskers.