Tradition, Goose Bumps and Front-Row Seats
Randy York’s N-Sider
A new era of Nebraska football tradition unveiled itself Saturday in the Cornhuskers’ 55-7 mastery of Florida Atlantic that featured 784 yards of Husker total offense, which ranks fifth in NU history, but set a Big Ten Conference modern-day record. In extending their nation-leading season-opening winning streak to 29 years, the Huskers rushed for 211 yards in the first quarter and accumulated 446 yards before halftime.
Ameer Abdullah reinforced his Heisman Trophy candidacy, drawing more kudos from his coach, Bo Pelini, while his quarterback, Tommy Armstrong, declared and defined Abdullah as the best running back in the nation. Saturday’s 2014 Husker debut indeed seemed like old times for countless Big Red fans, and it even could be considered a mission critical launch for the next generation of Nebraska fans who will bear the burden of extending a consecutive home sellout streak of 334 games dating back to 1962.
Even though winning football will continue to be the hallmark of extending that remarkable ongoing NCAA record, The N-Sider took the time to chronicle the historic roots of a game that broadened Nebraska’s vision of what else it will take to fill more than 90,000 seats with fans who want superior sound, social media connectivity, video clarity and traditions they can embrace and call their own. With that backdrop, we are pleased to introduce a new wave of goose bumps, a tradition that brings UNL students closer to the game and the next big push for something money simply cannot buy in the southeast corner of Memorial Stadium, front-row seats in The Boneyard, the increasingly popular South Stadium hot spot.
Roars for Bell, Abdullah, Gregory = Goose Bumps
Before we introduce you to 10 UNL students who rave about the thrill of sitting in the front row, even when they're watching a lopsided runaway, we take you first to Ethan Rowley, Nebraska’s first-ever director of fan experience. “When they announced the starting lineups, I actually got goose bumps,” he told me. “I’ve been watching those intros for eight years, and you can get jaded at times. Our new way to introduce our starters is more personal, and it was great to hear the roar that Kenny (Bell) and Ameer got from the crowd. Randy (Gregory) was right up there, too.” Students have become catalysts for fan engagement, and the Iron N group has found new ways to make The Boneyard one hip place to sit, stand, sing, and even give certain hand signals to integrate their collective contributions to the sights, sounds and soul of Memorial Stadium.
“Students are buying in, so it’s going to be awesome,” Rowley said. “They’re leading their own cheers and chants, and it’s starting to spread. You can’t force tradition. It has to happen naturally. It’s going to take a little longer than everyone wants it to take, but it’s always best when it happens organically. Look at those die-yards in the front row. They get it. They know what’s going on, and honestly, TV loves those students and their peers who make school spirit a priority. It’s far more important than you think it is. That’s why we need to make sure we show our interest in those students, incentivize what they're doing and show our appreciation for them.” I took Rowley’s advice personally, targeting five UNL students sitting in the front row next to each other in the southeast corner of the East Stadium parallel to the band. Then I climbed the mountainous South Stadium before coming down the steps to five more front-row students in The Boneyard. The experience was, in a word, fascinating. Groups of students landed in premium seats at the same time, even though they didn’t know each other before claiming their seats and camping there an additional two hours before kickoff, then staying until the end. These are their stories:
A Corncob Hat and a No. 51 Barrett Ruud Blackshirt
Guess what time the East Stadium front-row occupants arrived at Memorial Stadium Saturday? Move to the head of the line if you guessed 6 a.m., eight hours and 42 minutes before opening kickoff. The ones I chatted with above are, from left, Jacob Simnitt, Patricia Krause, McKenzie Colt, McKenzie Nealon and Trevin Roberson.
“I didn’t mind getting here so early when they made the decision to entertain the students after they let us in two hours before kickoff,” said Simnitt, a senior economics major from Lincoln. “It’s a lot better than just sitting in your seats and staring up at the clouds, especially on a day like today when there weren’t any clouds up there.”
Krause, the one wearing the corncob hat, laughed at the quip. A junior business administration major from Chicago, she raved about Nebraska’s investment in stadium-wide WiFi. “I’m extremely happy with the changes,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to stream pictures and show everyone what you’re doing even while you’re waiting for the rest of the stadium to fill up. I like the live stats in case you miss something. It’s nice when you can send pictures back home and don’t have to wait until after the game to do it.”
Colt, a junior biology major and minor in Spanish and psychology from Spirit Lake, Iowa, found the “little games” on the field while waiting for the opening kickoff a lot of fun. “There are so many more things to do while waiting,” she said. “I enjoyed watching students try to kick the ball when they were picked at random. It was a good way to entertain ourselves. Normally, we just have to sit there and wait. It made the waiting time go by a lot faster.”
Nealon, a fifth-year senior from Watertown, South Dakota, majoring in athletic medicine, “really liked having a D.J. inside the stadium,” she said. “It was very entertaining, and I liked the way they worked it into The Boneyard. It was nice and refreshing. I think it helps students build up the intensity. I’m into social media. When I’m on the road, I like to keep track of the other teams. I like to know what’s going on, not just in football, but in soccer and volleyball.”
Roberson, a junior from Lincoln majoring in actuarial science, doesn’t know Barrett Ruud, but he graduated from the same Southeast High School. “He’s the all-time Nebraska tackle leader, so he’s a role model for The Boneyard, Roberson said. “I wear his number on a Blackshirt and a skull mask to represent the crossbones and everything it stands for. He’s the man. I have 15 different signs and every time we have a sack or create a turnover, I’m hanging one up on the railing, like baseball teams do when they record a strikeout. If I’m not one of the very first in line every home game, I can’t do that.”
Five Boneyard Occupants Glad They Made It a Priority
If you think Ameer Abdullah, Imani Cross and Terrell Newby can navigate their way through a defense, you should meet the five guys who were sitting in the first row of the South Stadium’s Boneyard section. They are, from left, Aaron Steckly, Brad Shaner, Trevin Rolk, Chris Lowery, and Dakota Staggs. Here are their takes on the importance of Nebraska tradition:
Steckly, a sophomore engineering major from Milford, Nebraska, is mesmerized on game day. “This atmosphere is incredible,” he said. “We try to feel it and fuel it with all the energy we have. I just want to be here to represent the Huskers.”
Shaner, a sophomore from Lincoln Southwest, is majoring in mechanical engineering. “We did the same thing last year – came to every home game five hours before kickoff. It’s worth the wait, especially now that we have some entertainment to help pass the time. I really like the extra emphasis on social media and the photos that show up on the big screen. I’m into Facebook and Twitter. It’s fantastic!”
Rolk, another Lincoln Southwest graduate, is a sophomore majoring in Classics and Religious Studies. “Like anything else, it’s all about the other students around you,” he said. “We’re out here representing ourselves, but the Athletic Department is doing a great job creating the intensity that comes with great fun. It makes me want to come to every home game I possibly can, now and in the future.”
Lowery, a freshman psychology major from Millard South High School in Omaha, didn’t know most of the people around him, but did not hesitate to find a front row seat and the experience that comes with it. “I’ve been to some games with my dad, but this was my first as a college student,” he said. “I think Nebraska has the best fan base in the world, and I want to be a part of it while I’m here and hopefully after I graduate. I love the ability to use social media. As soon as I got inside, I sent pictures on Facebook and Twitter. This place really pumps me up.”
Staggs, a freshman majoring in biology, left Phoenix, Arizona, to experience a lifelong dream. “My mom is from Cozad, so I’ve heard about Nebraska fans all my life and I’ve always wanted to be a Husker. My whole family is excited that I finally get to live my dream. I was so excited to get inside the stadium again. I came last year for the UCLA game, and this is going to be such a great year. I couldn’t wait to post pictures and tweet to all my friends back home.”
Student Testimonials Show Their Sincere Commitment
This past week, I received four emails from well intentioned football fans who wondered why Nebraska Athletics is placing such an emphasis on student fans when Memorial Stadium might be able to fill the stadium without them. I hope these 10 student stories help others understand why their ideas and attitude are so important. Throughout the ranks of college football across the country, student interest is waning at live stadiums because venues don’t cater to a younger generation that sees sports differently than the rest of us.
If and when college students can engage in events and integrate the tools they use to expand their experience, they are more likely to become loyal fans just like their parents and grandparents have been, I think the investments in technology that caters to the younger generation is a smart move, and after huddling up with students at random on Saturday, I think that decision is every bit as strategic as it is smart. It is, in fact, a classic win-win that just might keep our incredible 334-game home sellout streak alive longer while the national trend continues to go down instead of up.
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Voices from Husker Nation
I loved the article on the renewing of the student experience at Memorial Stadium. So happy to see the students in a section closest to the field in the front rows where they belong. Certainly the Huskers play FOR Nebraska and are the team of the entire Husker Nation. Yes, donors and season ticket holders shell out some big bucks, but it really should be first and foremost about the students. They set the tone of spirit for any university and, after all, it is their university and their magical days of college. So glad to see this finally moving in the right direction after all these years. I hope they get louder and prouder with each game! Gerry Brew, Fredericksburg, Texas
I appreciate your article on the student fans. As a former student, I enjoyed many games in the Southeast corner of the stadium (albeit up high back in those days). We even had "Husker Bob" leading us in cheers. He was an elderly gentlemen, and we treated him well (May he rest in peace). I want Husker fans to understand that the football game is a part of the social life on campus...FOR STUDENTS! Any other fan is a welcomed guest on campus to share in a student's experience, not the other way around. As a former student, a torch was passed to me from prior students, which I passed on to other students after me. Now I enjoy the games in the last row of Section 32 and I love watching the students be involved. Memorial Stadium might be sold out anyway sans the students, but the environment would not be the same. Fans must realize students are in the stands watching their CLASSMATES on the field. As long as our opponents are treated with respect, the students treat each other with respect, and as long as the students have fun, then I say "Let the students reign in the BONEYARD!!!" The only catch is someday the current students must pass the torch. May God bless the students and their traditions at UNL. GO BIG RED!!!! Ed Sealack, Omaha Nebraska