“I can see why kids love playing here.”
That’s what went through my head as I stood on the sideline of Memorial Stadium during the fourth quarter of the Illinois game. I’d already had a pretty good day before I walked onto Tom Osborne Field. I’d met some great people who loved the game of football, spent time talking to a Nebraska high school coaching legend and watched a Husker game from one of the best seats in the house. Nothing prepared me for what I was about to experience when I went down to the field.
The first thing I noticed was all the red. When you step foot on the field of a sold-out Memorial Stadium and look around, that’s all you will see. I was shocked by how much this affected me. I’d seen Memorial Stadium on TV and from the press box before but there was something different about looking up at the crowd from where I was standing. It was a little bit terrifying at first, as I’d never felt as small as I did when I was surrounded by 90,000 screaming fans.
The second thing that I noticed was the electricity. It was as if someone had attached jumper cables and sent shockwaves up to my temples as I stepped on the field and looked around at all the fans attempting to will the Huskers to victory.
Finally, I noticed the noise. I’ve seen the YouTube videos and listened to the crowd on TV but nothing compares to the noise I heard when I set foot on the sideline. It was as if I’d walked into a wall of sound. If I was any lighter, I might have been knocked over. As running back Terrell Newby ran 63 yards to the house to secure the Husker victory, the crowd noise swelled until it was almost deafening. It made me think of what John Riggins said about Joe Namath’s return against the San Francisco 49ers in 1971. I decided to try what he did, so I closed my eyes and pretended that the cheers were for me. For at least a moment, I felt invincible and like I could run through a brick wall like it was made of cardboard.
Now this might sound a bit sappy or overemotional to some people, but I don’t really care because I realized something as I stood on that sideline. I’d achieved one of my lifetime goals. I’d been on Tom Osborne Field during a Nebraska football game.
I grew up in Overton, Nebraska, a small town of about 600 people in the western part of the state. I fell in love with the game of football watching Eagle stars such as Eric Ryan, Orion Matthies and Josh Warren. Every season the goal for the Eagles was always the same: reach the state finals, play under the lights of Memorial Stadium and win a state title. Our town accomplished that goal in 2003 and 2004 but was unable to win eight-man football’s most prestigious prize. It wasn’t until 2006 when an Eagle team, that included my older brother, played under those lights and won Overton’s first state championship. I was in eighth grade at the time but I already had my first major life goal after that November night. I was going to work as hard as I could, reach the state title game and win a championship in Memorial Stadium just like my brother did before me.
I got close — really close — to accomplishing that goal my senior year of high school. Overton experienced its first undefeated regular season since the 1950s and reached the state semifinals. In that semifinal game, we fell to Creighton 22-20 and fell one foot short of Memorial Stadium. It’s a loss that still hurts to this day. I’ve moved on to bigger and better things in my life but I still remember the pain of falling short of that goal.
As I stood on that sideline Saturday night watching Nebraska put away the Illini, I realized that I’d finally accomplished one of my dreams in life, though not in the way I expected. For that I owe a thank you to Hail Varsity for allowing me to cover the game, Erin Sorensen for showing me the ropes of covering a Husker game and, most of all, to Memorial Stadium for being everything I had hoped it would be and so much more.