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100 Things Nebraska Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Sean Callahan
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2013 Sean Callahan
All rights reserved.
The Sellout Streak
Nothing defines what is great about Nebraska football more than the sellout streak. Heading into the 2013 season, the Huskers have sold out an NCAA-record 325 consecutive games at Memorial Stadium. The streak dates all the way back to November 3, 1962 when the Huskers took on Missouri in front of a crowd of 36,501 during Bob Devaney's first season.
On September 29, 1979, NU reached the 100-consecutive sellout mark when it played Penn State. The Huskers hit the 200 mark on October 29, 1994 against Colorado and 300 straight on September 26, 2009 when they played Louisiana-Lafayette. They are on target to hit 400 consecutive sellouts some time in 2024.
Each milestone was a celebration — a celebration of the greatest fans in college football. The sellout streak is a true testament to Nebraska fans. The sellout streak is what bridges the past and the present together.
The amazing thing about the streak is Memorial Stadium will have a seating capacity in 2013 of just more than 91,000. On Husker football Saturdays, Memorial Stadium is the third largest city in the state. Nebraska's population is just 1.86 million, which means one out of every 20.4 people is in Memorial Stadium on gameday. "The greatest fans in football history," former rival and Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer said in Memorial Stadium during NU's 300th consecutive sellout. Added legendary ABC broadcaster Keith Jackson: "The whole nation of college football stands in admiration."
Former head coach and fullback Frank Solich even commended Huskers fans during the 300th consecutive sellout. It was the first time Solich had done anything like that since being fired from NU in 2003. "Keep filling up Memorial Stadium, keep winning football games and championships, and go Huskers," Solich said. Through the streak NU has seen their stadium capacity increase by big numbers. Memorial Stadium went from a seating capacity of 31,000 in 1962 to nearly 74,000 by 1972. The original stadium only had seating on the east and west sides. A four-series project that began in 1964 enhanced the stadium by adding seats above the north and south end zones, which brought the capacity to 74,000.
In 1999 NU added skyboxes and club seating on the west side to bring the capacity to 78,000. In 2006 Nebraska expanded its seating in the north end zone and added more skyboxes to bring the capacity to more than 85,000. In 2013 NU added skyboxes, club seating, and another balcony to bring the stadium capacity to 91,000.
Very few teams can continue to expand their stadium at a rapid pace like the Big Red. When schools like Florida State or Florida play lower profile games, you will see thousands of empty seats. The fans just don't care. "It's easy to be a fan when you are winning national championships. Anybody can be a fan," Husker fan and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said. "I've been to some Southeast Conference games, and the thing that really jumps out to me is just how empty the stadiums are when people aren't interested. The thing I love about the Huskers is we could be playing a high school, and we show up."
The challenge for NU in keeping their sellout streak alive is to continue to evolve the gameday atmosphere. "The social aspect of Nebraska football is vital to our success in keeping the sellout streak," associate athletic director Paul Meyers said. "You have to make sure your ticket is in high demand. Otherwise people start cherry-picking games."
As for growing the stadium to more than 100,000, Meyers doesn't see that day coming any time soon especially if it would put the sellout streak at risk. "You'd have to really convince me to go higher," Meyers said. "We've done a lot of homework on that number and we're pushing it to the limits to go where we are at. I suspect you'll see that number for a long time."
Putting the Streak into Perspective
Here are some fun facts to chew on about Nebraska's sellout streak, which began on November 3, 1962.
There have been 10 U.S. Presidents since 1962. John F. Kennedy was in office when the Nebraska sellout streak began.
In 1962 actress Marilyn Monroe died of a drug overdose at the age of 36.
The price of gas in 1962 was 28 cents per gallon. A postage stamp cost four cents.
The sellout streak began just one day after the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved, which took the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war.
The average price of a house in the U.S. was $12,500.
Heading into 2013 Nebraska's home record over its 325 straight sellouts is 282–43 (.868 winning percentage).CHAPTER 2
To say retired Nebraska head coach and athletic director Tom Osborne had an illustrious career is to put it mildly.
Osborne was part of all five of Nebraska's national championship teams and captured three as a head coach in 1994, 1995, and 1997. He won 255 games in 25 years and finished with a .836 winning percentage. He reached both 200 and 250 wins faster than any other coach in college football history. His teams captured 13 conference championships and appeared in 25 straight bowl games, including 17 major bowls. Over his 25 years, Osborne never had a season with less than nine wins. Under Osborne's watch the Huskers won 11 national rushing titles, six Outland Trophies, three Lombardis, one Heisman, one Butkus, and one Johnny Unitas Award.
As an administrator Osborne helped restore stability to the athletic department when he took over in 2007. He hired head coach Bo Pelini and played an instrumental role in getting the Huskers an invite to join the Big Ten in 2010.
When you talk to Osborne about his career at Nebraska, however, it's not the individual achievements or team accomplishments he remembers the most. It's the relationships he's made with so many of his former players and the process of developing young men for life. Osborne said he cherishes those friendships and relationships more than any championship ring. "I would say not a week goes by where I don't hear from three to 10 players, and so those relationships continue," Osborne said at his retirement party in March of 2013. "People forget about the championships and the wins and the losses. If you were to name the Heisman Trophy winner 10 years ago or the national champion 15 years ago, it would probably be pretty hard to name them, but the relationships persist. I guess that's one of the great things about coaching I'll always appreciate."
Osborne even shared a story at both his retirement party and the 2013 Nebraska Coaches Clinic about being with former head coach Bob Devaney during his death in 1997.
As Devaney and Osborne shared their final words together, they didn't talk about football. Instead they talked about family, and Devaney asked Osborne to say a prayer for him as a tear rolled down Osborne's cheek. "We didn't talk about games or championships or awards. We talked about relationships," Osborne said. "At the end of things, that's really what it all comes down to and whatever impact it might have had on players. So often times players will bring up stuff that seemed to be really important to them that they still remember from 20 to 30 years ago, and I have no recollection of that conversation or that comment, but it tends to stick with them, and I guess that's important."
What former defensive coordinator Charlie McBride remembers most about Osborne was his unique gift to remember names and faces, which made each player over the years feel important. "If you asked Tom during the season to write down every person on the team's name, their parents, and where he was from, he could probably do that," McBride said during Osborne's retirement party. "Tom used to go into the freshman locker room all the time when they were new. We would all go on occasion. He'd go every day to see how the kids were doing. He was always checking on them. He knew everybody's name. That manner I think brought a lot of his players closer to him by the fact every time he'd see them he would use their name and things like that. It doesn't sound like a big thing, but when players are young and they don't know if they're even being noticed in a program like this, they appreciated it. I think that was kind of the start of things."
McBride also said what made Osborne successful was his extreme attention to detail in every aspect of life. "I don't know if I know a more disciplined person than Coach Osborne in every facet," McBride said. "It goes from if he tells you something, that's what it is. There's no messing around with it. If he tells another person he's going to do something, he does it. He's one of those people that I appreciated immensely because he let you coach."
Even Osborne's biggest rivals had an extreme amount of respect for him and how he ran his program. "What I want to say about Tom and what he accomplished in his career at Nebraska in 25 years is it's the greatest 25 years any football coach has ever had in college football," former Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer said at Osborne's retirement party. "He cast a shadow longer than anybody that's ever coached the game. You don't win like what he won and not be the best."
"Tom set the standard for everybody," legendary Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder said. "I can't think of anybody who spent 25 years coaching the game and never won less than nine ball games in any of those 25 years. That's an unbelievable statistic, and he always did it the very, very right way. That's what everybody appreciates — to be successful the right way."
Some feel that as great as Osborne's accomplishments were as a head coach that what he did during his time as an athletic director from 2007 to 2012 was equally as impressive. Under Osborne's watch, Nebraska built an $18.7 million basketball practice facility, a $4.75 million indoor baseball/softball practice center, a $8.7 million renovation to the Nebraska Student Life Complex, a $63.5 million renovation to the east side of Memorial Stadium, and a $20.5 million Devaney Center renovation to configure it for volleyball. He also helped lead the charge to get voters to approve the $160 million dollar Haymarket Arena in downtown Lincoln.
"As good as he was and as great of a football coach as he was, he might have been a better administrator," Nebraska alum and Wisconsin athletic director and former head coach Barry Alvarez said. "The program was in shambles, and I think people around the state were very alarmed with what was going on. With Tom coming back, he put everybody at rest and everybody at ease and righted the ship. I think you could look at him as a great football coach, but you could also look at him as somebody that stabilized and got the athletic program back in order."CHAPTER 3
When head coach Bob Devaney arrived in Nebraska in 1962, the Huskers had only experienced three winning seasons over the previous 21 years. From 1941 to 1961, the Huskers' highest number of wins in a season was six. Previous head coach Bill Jennings left the program in shambles with a 15–34–1 record over five seasons. Before Devaney got to Nebraska in 1962, the Big Red had only played in two bowl games — the 1941 Rose Bowl and the 1955 Orange Bowl.
The task for Devaney was no doubt tall, but the fiery Irishman from Saginaw, Michigan, was up for the challenge. In 14 seasons as a high school coach in Michigan and five years as a coach at Wyoming, Devaney had never experienced a losing season. Devaney was a winner and he immediately brought that mentality with him to Nebraska. Little did anyone know at the time Devaney would be the man to take Husker football and the Nebraska athletic department to places they've never been before. "[Devaney] put Nebraska on the college football map," said Walter Bingham, former college football editor for Sports Illustrated.
Immediately within his first season, Devaney led the Huskers to a 9–2 record — the most wins Nebraska had won since going 10–0 in 1903. Devaney caught the eyes of everyone when he took the Big Red into Ann Arbor and beat Michigan 25–13 in only his second game at NU. The Huskers would go on to lose to both Missouri and Oklahoma in 1962, but they did manage to qualify for the Gotham Bowl and beat Miami 36–34 for the first bowl victory in school history.
Devaney followed that up with a 10–1 record and a Big 8 title in 1963 capped off by a 13–7 win against Auburn in the Orange Bowl. The next three seasons the Huskers would go 9–2, 10–1, and 9–2. They played in the Cotton, Orange, and Sugar Bowls. Within Devaney's first five seasons, NU was 47–8 and they played in five bowl games.
Adversity, however, hit in 1967 and 1968 as the Huskers had back-to-back 6–4 seasons and failed to qualify for a bowl game. After NU lost to rival Oklahoma 47–0 during the final game of the 1968 season, a group of boosters actually circulated a petition, trying to get Devaney fired. In 1968 fans didn't have message boards or talk radio shows on which to vent their frustrations. Instead they circulated silly petitions.
Two things, though, would happen by 1969. No. 1, assistant coach Tom Osborne would convince Devaney to switch to the I-formation on offense. No. 2, Osborne also convinced Devaney to implement college football's first known strength and conditioning program by hiring Boyd Epley to head the operation. These two moves by Devaney changed college football as we know it.
By 1969 Devaney had the Huskers back on track again. That same OU team that beat Nebraska 47–0 the previous season got embarrassed in Norman, Oklahoma, by the Big Red 44–14. The Huskers qualified for the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, and beat Georgia 45–6. This started an NCAA record streak of 35 consecutive years of playing in a bowl game.
Devaney had a unique ability to motivate players and a gift to work the room with boosters. Everybody was now on board. He was a perfect fit for Nebraska, and little did anyone know that the best was yet to come. "Bob had the ability to get along with any group of people from the working class to the higher end and he had a presence about him ... He was just a real special man," former Nebraska linebacker Tom Ruud said. "He knew how to deal with people and get the most out of them."
In 1970 the Huskers would go on to win their first of two straight national championships, going 11–0–1 after beating LSU 17–12 in the Sugar Bowl. Devaney's 1971 team followed that up with a dominating 13–0 record, winning a second consecutive national title. During that magical run, NU beat No. 2 ranked Oklahoma 35–31 in the "Game of the Century" and No. 2 ranked Alabama 38–6 in the Orange Bowl. Many consider the 1971 Huskers as one of the greatest teams of all time.
During Devaney's final season in 1972, he brought Nebraska its first Heisman Trophy winner in wide receiver Johnny Rodgers. Defensive lineman Rich Glover also captured the Outland and Lombardi Trophies that year, and defensive lineman Larry Jacobson won the Huskers' first Outland Trophy the previous year.
In 11 seasons Devaney's teams won or shared eight Big 8 championships and were invited to nine bowl games. Devaney finished with a 101–20–2 record over that period. In 30 years of coaching, he never had a losing record.
During his time at Nebraska, the University of Miami tried to woo Devaney in 1965 as did the NFL's Los Angeles Rams, New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, and Pittsburgh Steelers. Never once did Devaney consider leaving, and he eventually moved into a dual role of head coach and athletic director in 1967. He held the athletic director title until 1993.
In 1973 Devaney would name Osborne his successor, which was another legendary move that changed the history of Nebraska. Osborne was the complete opposite of Devaney in terms of personality, but the two had an extremely close relationship until Devaney's death in 1997. "[We] always had a healthy respect for each other," Osborne told the Omaha World-Herald after Devaney died. "I've always supported Bob; I've always been loyal to him. In return he's done the same for me. Our relationship was very unique in that respect."
When Devaney passed away on May 9, 1997, his funeral was aired on statewide public television. It was a day that touched all Nebraskans because Devaney changed the culture of the state.
Excerpted from 100 Things Nebraska Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Sean Callahan. Copyright © 2013 Sean Callahan. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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