In giving the media a sneak peek of Memorial Stadium’s eastside expansion before it is fully unveiled in the season opener against Wyoming, The N-Sider points Husker fans to two important truths. Both promise to keep Nebraska at the forefront of college football’s top tier over the next 50 years after finishing the last 50 years with the most wins in NCAA Division I. The Huskers have won 40 games more than Oklahoma, which has the second-best win total over the last half century.
Paul Meyers, NU’s associate athletic director for the Husker Athletic Fund, said Thursday that he views the East Stadium expansion in two ways: 1) from an athletic perspective; and 2) from what made past success possible and how Nebraska can distinguish itself in the future to recruit the best student-athletes and continue its ongoing NCAA record of 50 consecutive years of home game sellouts.
“What this new East Stadium provides is an opportunity for us to sell something that no one else has,” Meyers said, pointing to the two research centers that will take up more than 52,000 square feet of space underneath the East Stadium’s 6,000 new seats and 38 new suites. In 90 years, Memorial Stadium has nearly tripled in size, growing from 31,080 original seats in its inaugural 1923 season to an expanded stadium that will increase average attendance to more than 91,000.
Research Labs Anchor Tenants for the Future
The new East Stadium has doubled in height from the 80 feet it’s always been to the 165 feet that will allow Big Red fans the same eastside perspective that the media sees on the west side. The new grand entrance that will welcome Husker fans through the original, historic Gate 20 screams history and trumpets tradition, and we’ll get to that later, but Meyers looks beyond what dazzles eyes and stirs hearts. He sees the academic Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior (CB3) and the Nebraska Athletic Performance Laboratory (NAPL) as a combined game-changing, recruiting rich force. The key to their joint success is the 100-foot skywalk that connects the two research facilities. “It’s their bridge to collaboration,” Meyers said, “and that’s what sets Nebraska apart – a shared vision to be great.”
Wind the clock back to 1970 and ’71 when Nebraska won back-to-back national championships in football. “Beyond winning, what helped our program most was the concept of weight lifting and how foreign it was to other universities,” Meyers said. “I think this facility and the research that will be done inside provides us with the same amount of enthusiasm and when that research is teamed up with a winning program, it can really propel Nebraska to new heights.”
Meyers’ group helped lead the charge to expand the student-athlete experience. “From a donor perspective, I believe there’s an important connection between being great on the field and being great off the field,” Meyers said. “The people that give to this project are trusting. They believe in the vision, and they believe in our leadership. When you combine quality people who want to help with being great, you get the kind of synergy that will really propel us in the future.”
Loyal Fan Base Paves the Road to Success
That synergy goes well beyond the generosity of donors. It spills over to the most loyal base of college fans who buy season tickets and support the cause in any way possible. “Football may not be the most important thing in Nebraska, but we’re right up there, and our fans have filled up the stadium for 50 straight years,” Meyers said, pointing out how other programs are experiencing declining attendance at the same time Nebraska’s attendance is increasing. “We’re sold out of the season in football, men’s basketball and volleyball,” Meyers said. “Anything you do in this program and any project that you build really comes back to the backbone of Nebraska, and that’s people. We’re fortunate in every side of that equation, and we’re excited to show this new stadium to all the people who helped us build it.”
Thursday, the media got a preview of the fan experience related to a new concourse showcasing Nebraska’s championship tradition. It features major displays for College Football Hall-of-Fame coaches Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne. There's Jerry Tagge sneaking over the goal to help Nebraska win its first national title in 1970 against LSU in the Orange Bowl. There's Johnny Rodgers on his miracle punt return in the Game of the Century against Oklahoma. And there’s Tommie Frazier running through, around Florida in the ’95 national championship game in the Fiesta Bowl. Mike Rozier and Eric Crouch join Rodgers in the East displays, which include team pictures that date back to the 1890s, plus 8-foot x 12-foot program covers for Nebraska's 49 bowl games – from the 1941 Rose Bowl to the 2013 Capital One Bowl.
John Ingram, project administrator, and Maggi Thorne, assistant project administrator for Nebraska Athletics, has watched their Capital Planning and Construction team go above and beyond to bring life to important details not only in the East Stadium, but also in the Devaney Center renovation and the new Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Media Tour, Ribbon-Cutting Launch the Future
“Everybody’s been working 12-hour days, and we’ve had many staffers going way beyond that,” Ingram said. “Everybody’s focused and on task and not only ready for today’s media tour and ribbon-cutting ceremony, but working hard to be 100 percent ready for game day. The overall scale and design of the building gives people a great first impression, but I think they’re going to be even more impressed when they get inside – from the time they step through the front door to looking down on that new turf and imagining all the touchdowns they’re going to see.”
Thorne doesn’t mind the long hours and the pressure push. “This is athletics,” the former Husker hurdler said. “This is what we do. It all comes down to the finish line, and we’re going to finish strong. Even when you think you’re tired, you’re not because we know how all of these amenities are going to help our fans have a better experience, and as an athlete, what really energizes me are the two research labs doing world-class work with leaders like Dr. Dennis Molfese and Dr. Judy Burnfield.”
Thorne also oversees the graphics, the history and the touchscreens that will entertain and inform fans about Nebraska’s rich heritage. “I love to see us honor the past and create a path that lives in the present,” Thorne said. “I love fans who have been so loyal for so long and how they will walk through these doors and see that we will continue to grow in the next 50 years, too. We've documented the last 50 years, and I get excited seeing what we’re doing for the future generations of student-athletes who will become Huskers for all the right reasons.” Like Meyers, Thorne sees greatness as a pursuit that transcends winning. “We’re preparing our athletes for the future,” she said, “but we’re also giving our fans the perfect experience that they deserve, and I can’t wait to see them walk into this new, tidy, beautiful, amazing facility.”
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