At the podium in the final pre-game press conference of his collegiate career, edge Caleb Tannor told Husker fans how thankful he is to play for them one more time. Tannor will set a program record with 56 appearances on Friday. He’s played in every game since he arrived in Lincoln. And in every one of them he felt the love from fans.
“You see college games these days and you see half-full stadiums and stuff like that after losses,” Tannor said on Tuesday. “The fans stay the course and I cannot help but respect the love. Nebraska has done nothing but good to me.”
On Wednesday, in line with pre-Thanksgiving tradition, Tannor and the rest of the Huskers dispersed to different hospitals across Lincoln to show some love back to the fans. Defensive linemen greeted those at the Lincoln Veterans Hospital, linemen and tight ends were at Madonna, secondary players went to Bryan East, linebackers and specialists visited patients and staff at Nebraska Heart Hospital and skill position players visited St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.
Quarterback Casey Thompson’s visit to St. Elizabeth’s provided him a different experience than most of his teammates. He just completed a one-year master’s program for applied science. After football he wants to build a training facility that focuses on the mind, body and spirit, as he described it. He wants cardio, study areas, even daycare to give back to his community. Thompson delivered a 2-hour presentation in accordance with the family business plan to the graduate program and received all four approval votes. That compounds on the sport management major and business minor degrees he received at the University of Texas.
Most people ask Thompson about football and he’s happy to answer those questions. But Wednesday’s visit brought him closer to the sense of community he wants to deliver to after football.
“We’re fighting and pushing to win another game and finish out this season,” Thompson said. “A lot of these people in this hospital are fighting for their life. And they still show love and support. So I really appreciate the Husker community and fan base. It was really good to get out here today.”
Huskers across Lincoln felt the appreciation, thankfulness and community of representing Nebraska — even the smallness of the community itself. Sophomore Grant Tagge and his fellow linebackers were led by his uncle, Justin Tagge, for a tour of the Nebraska Heart Hospital. Staff members happily pointed this out and his teammates joined in. Eteva Mauga-Clements kept the good times rolling during that visit, striking different poses for different photos. He asked nurses if they were coming to Friday’s game in Iowa City and asked every visitor if they wanted pictures with the group.
At the end of their visit, just before boarding the bus, Mauga-Clements noticed a young Husker fan too nervous to stand in the group picture. The senior linebacker crouched down to the young boy holding a football too big for his arms. They posed for a picture, just the two of them.
Nick Henrich got asked what happened to his leg. He shrugged off the torn ACL. Then one of the staff members told Henrich her son tore his ACL and MCL during Lincoln Southeast’s football game against Gretna this season. “Same!” he instinctively said before catching the humor over injuries in the hospital.
Players like Anthony Grant, Elliott Brown and Mikey Pauley heard stories and life experiences during their visit. Some of those patients won’t be going home for the holidays. Some are experiencing physical low points. A visit from the Huskers, on the other hand, raised nearly every spirit they encountered. An elderly woman and her middle-aged daughter waited in the lobby of the Heart Hospital, filling out paperwork, when the Nebraska linebackers walked in. They waited until after the players visited with the chaplain before getting asked if they wanted a photo. Absolutely, the younger one said.
The Huskers thanked them and wished them a happy Thanksgiving. They got a “go big red” just before they left the waiting area.
“This is the best day of my life,” the daughter said to the few within earshot. Their laughter followed the Huskers out of the hallway.