Last year's Holiday Bowl event included a flag-raising re-enactment of Iwo Jima.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Five Husker Stories Explain Why Donating Tickets to the Military is a Good Idea

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York's N-Sider

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If you've thought about buying Holiday Bowl tickets and donating them to active military members in the Huskers for Heroes program Monday, Tuesday or beyond, we have five stories that will help you make and reinforce that decision.

The first story is from senior Tyrone "Sarge" Fahie, Nebraska's oldest walk-on who spent 3½ years supporting the U.S. Navy's elite Sea, Air, Land (SEAL) teams that train for special missions at the Coronado Amphibious Base in San Diego.

The second story is from Brandon Rigoni, a former Husker walk-on, captain and now assistant strength coach who vomited more than once trying to navigate the Navy Seal obstacle course at last year's Holiday Bowl. He's eager to give it another try next week.

The third story is from Anthony West, a senior who was born in San Diego and lived his whole life there. He's worn a Blackshirt and knows what it means for active military members to get the chance to see Nebraska play Washington in the 2010 Holiday Bowl.

The fourth story is from Nebraska Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson, whose daughter has been married to a Navy Seal, Marcus Capone, for 10 years. Marcus and his family of four live in San Diego, and he has Navy teammates who love the Huskers.

The fifth story is from Dave Sundberg, who spent five years in the U.S. Army. His son, Craig Sundberg, was NU's 1984 Tom Novak Award winner and the Sugar Bowl MVP 25 years ago. Dave and his wife, Linda, have decided to donate tickets to this cause.

Let's hear from each one:

Tyrone Fahie: San Diego Sparked Big Red Intrigue

Earlier this month, Tyrone Fahie was the only player in America who played in one game this season (Colorado) and won a national award - the Lott Impact Trophy, which was presented in California to someone who "represents the best of America."


Next week, Fahie will suit up for his last game, one of 23 Husker seniors who would like to become the first school in bowl history to pitch back-to-back shutouts.

As disappointed as he was that Nebraska did not win the last Big 12 Championship Game, the loss enables Fahie to return to the place that sparked his interest in becoming a Husker.

"I met a guy in the military from St. Paul (Neb.), and he kept telling me how wonderful Nebraska was," Fahie said, explaining how he met his friend while supporting communications for the Seal One Team in San Diego during his last 3½ years in the Navy.

"I came out to Nebraska and saw first-hand how wonderful it was," Fahie said. "I fell in love with the atmosphere and fell in love with the university, and that's the only reason why I'm here."

Now, he hopes Big Red fans can help someone else experience what he did. "If buying a ticket can turn someone on to this program, then that seems a small price to pay for a lifelong fan," Fahie said.

"There will be a lot of demand, especially for a game like this," Fahie said. "Nebraska travels well, and I've learned that lot of people have respect for Nebraska, wherever they live. I think it's because growing up, you see Nebraska on TV so much. I know of several locations in San Diego that order in the games, and when you get inside every one of those places, it's a complete red out."

Someday soon, Fahie will be among the loyal followers. Next July, he will be married. A month later, he will receive his MBA. I've lived a couple of dreams," he said. "I guess it's time to wake up and grow up."

It's time to find a job, pay the bills and get his own chance to buy tickets for the military. "I'm pursuing opportunities in Southern California, but my fiancé would really like me to stay here. So I'm sure I'll stay here," he said. "Nebraska has great infrastructure for someone with a degree in Information Systems. Plus, it would have to be a phenomenal opportunity for me to leave this state."

Brandon Rigoni: It's Nice to Help Those Who Protect Us

It was a sight to behold last December ... an assistant strength coach who built his reputation as a fearless gunner on Nebraska's special teams trying to emulate a Navy Seal - something he once aspired to be and still has not written off completely.

Brandon Rigoni "got a little sick" when he tried to do the physical tasks a Seal does on a regular basis - sprint to various obstacles on a beach, hang from high bars, climb awkward heights and complete a series of stations he wasn't quite ready for.

Rigoni took on the famed "O" Course that Seals tackle throughout "Hell Week" - a challenge that is part of the process of becoming a member. It is not unlike trying to climb your way up the Nebraska football depth chart. It's just much more grueling.

"Everything they do, their times have to improve little by little," Rigoni said. "You have to complete the course physically and mentally as quick as you can. You have to think while you're going full bore. It definitely wears you out. They're really good with strength to weight. They whip around and jump from obstacle-to-obstacle like monkeys."

Rigoni said he's glad there's no video of him dragging behind the Seals and losing his cookies.

Fatigue is a challenge, so Rigoni went to the same course the next day and tried to improve his times.

"I definitely learned why the Seals always refer to one of their favorite sayings: 'The only easy day was yesterday,'" he said. "They go hard all the time, and every day is difficult. That's the way they think, and that's the way they train."

No wonder Bo Pelini and James Dobson were so enamored with getting an inside view of Navy Seal training.

"We all look at Navy Seals as the cream of the crop. They're a really special, elite group in every way," Rigoni said. "But when we went out there last year, we found it interesting that they look at our football program the same way we look at them. They wanted to know all about what we do, how we train and what the guys are like. They were every bit as curious about us as we were about them. There was great mutual respect.

 "They've been so generous with us, it only seems fair for us to open up our doors and let them see what we're all about as well," Rigoni said. "They love football. The game is completely consistent with everything they do. It's all the same mentality."

So yes, if Nebraska fans buy tickets for active military personnel, it would please Rigoni no end. "They would really get a kick out of attending a game," he said. "I look at it this way. The Christmas that we're all able to enjoy and the freedom to live our lives the way we want to live 'em is all because of those folks. Everyone knows that, so this would be something really nice for us to do for them."

If the Seals become the benefactor of Nebraska tickets, "they'll wear red," Rigoni predicted. "There is absolutely no doubt about that."

Anthony West: The Military 'Deserve Everything They Get'

Anthony West grew up and lived less than 10 minutes from San Diego's famed 32nd Street Naval Station. "The Navy has such a huge influence in San Diego, whether it's downtown or up the coast all the way to Point Loma and beyond," he said. "The entire city of San Diego has huge respect for the Navy, and it's so obvious why - they work so hard and do so many great things for our country."

Consequently, any tickets Nebraska fans can donate to the Navy or the Marine Corps "are well earned," West said. "They deserve everything they get. They are so dedicated and so appreciative."

West knows what a hassle tickets can be. "When we went to the Holiday Bowl last year, I think I ended up getting something like 54 tickets," he recalled. "I try to get as many tickets as I can, but it's so hard."

The San Diego native is asking friends and extended family to pursue their own tickets, but is excited about Nebraska reaching out to the military.

"This game is meaningful to me in a lot of ways," West said. "It's the last game of my career, and I get to play my last college game in the same stadium that I played my last high school game. We lost the state championship in high school. It's really important to finish off my last home game with a win in my hometown."

Shawn Watson: Navy Seals are 'The Best of the Best'

Shawn Watson's daughter, Amber, is married to Marcus Capone, a member of the Navy Seal special commando force since 2000. Nebraska's offensive coordinator calls the Seals "a unique group of people because of the way they make 'em and the way they train. They're the best of the best."

Watson says almost all Seals are college graduates with many working on master's and doctorate degrees. "A lot of them are former athletes," he said. "They're very committed people to our country, and I'm glad they're on our team, that's for sure."

When almost all of Nebraska's football team took advantage of last December's opportunity to visit the Seals on their beachfront training ground, Husker players were in awe. The inside look not only showed them the rigor required to be a Seal, but also demonstrated how committed they are to our country.

"They have great pride, and it doesn't take long for you to understand that they're all in," Watson said. "They're all in so much that they put their lives on the line for us every day. They're the ones who chase the bad guys. They do things that no one else really wants to do, but has to be done. Any way we can help this special group and all other military groups would be awesome."

Thanks to Watson's son-in-law, Rigoni said Nebraska's strength and conditioning staff has been invited to continue an expertise share on the art of physical training with the Seals. "He's such a great guy, as tough as they come," Rigoni said of Capone. "We all see him as a class act and everything a Navy Seal should be."

Dave Sundberg: Husker Family Supports 'Heroes' Program

Dave Sundberg went to this year's Big 12 Championship Game with his son, Craig, a former Sugar Bowl MVP, and two grandsons, Husker senior golfer Brett Sundberg and older brother Aaron, another former college golfer.

Nebraska bowl games always have been important in the Sundberg household and not just because Craig threw three touchdown passes and scored another on a 9-yard run in a 28-10 win over LSU on Jan. 1, 1985.

Bowl games are rewards for hard work, and Dave and his wife, Linda, are eager this year to support the Huskers for Heroes program that will enable Nebraska fans to donate tickets to active members of the military.

The Sundbergs were a military family for five years in the early 1960s, and they know how appreciative they would be if someone donated tickets so they could watch a bowl game anywhere, let alone San Diego.

An Army aviator that flew reconnaissance planes in Germany for three years, Dave was fortunate to live with his wife in Europe while deployed. When he was sent to Vietnam, she moved back to Lincoln.

"We have fond memories of being a military family, and we both feel that anything we can do to thank those serving our country is important," Dave said. "We think this (Huskers for Heroes) program is a great thing, and we both want to support it."

There you have it. Tyrone "Sarge" Fahie. Brandon Rigoni. Anthony West. Shawn Watson and Dave Sundberg ... five different perceptions, but all say the same thing: Go ahead and buy those military men and women tickets to the Holiday Bowl.

They deserve it.

Respond to Randy


Voices from Husker Nation

I'm a Staff Sergeant in the Army. I love the Huskers and have always been proud of how classy a team, administration and fan base we have. This program that has been started to donate tickets to military members is just one more example of that pride. My unit is currently deployed in Southern Iraq, near Basrah, and I love the fact that you are honoring my brothers and sisters of the flag. God bless the USA and God bless the Cornhuskers. Joe Holstedt, Fort Carson, Colorado

There isn't a day that goes by that I'm not extremely appreciative of numerous American people who serve in our military. Those who contribute to protect our nation's security are America's best. Being from Omaha, and currently serving in the United States Marine Corps, I understand why the University of Nebraska and our military have a lot in common. Our Midwestern morals and values are a constant reminder of why I am proud to be from the great state of Nebraska and represented by the players and coaches you've written about in your article. Donald Funkhouser, Stuttgart, Germany, based at U.S. Marine Forces Europe

I purchased two Holiday Bowl tickets to donate to Husker Heroes this morning. My three stepsons were all in the Marine Corps, so I want to honor our brave men and women who protect our freedom every day. I know when service people are away from home for the holidays, the chance to attend an event like a bowl game will be greatly appreciated. My second reason for the donation was to honor a dear friend who passed away last Friday, two weeks to the day after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. She was a kind, gracious and thoughtful person, and I could think of no better way to honor her than to do something special for others. Cynthia Wehland-Falk, Lincoln, Nebraska

Great idea to encourage Husker fans to buy Holiday Bowl tickets to give to Marines and other U.S. troops stationed near San Diego! I have a son in the Marines, but he's in Afghanistan right now. Know how much all soldiers would appreciate the gesture. Tad Stryker, Hickman, Nebraska

As a fan who attended last year's Holiday Bowl, I have to say the appreciation for the military was apparent in the pre-game festivities. Somehow, when you experience that kind of recognition, it makes you appreciate a football game even more. It puts your thoughts in perspective and helps you understand that it's a privilege to watch competitive entertainment, surrounded by men and women who risk their lives for that same opportunity. I believe all Huskers support these American heroes, and we are reminded of that every time we walk into Memorial Stadium and see the soldiers open the gates for the Tunnel Walk and the aircraft flying over for the National Anthem. John Olson, Des Moines, Iowa

Thanks for your support of the military in the San Diego area on behalf of Huskers everywhere. As president of Husker Salute, a non-profit organization, we rely on Husker fans and veterans to make an annual event in Lincoln a reality. It's our way to show past and current military personnel how much we value what they've done for our country. Here's hoping that you can spread our message to new and different people, so they can support and enjoy our 2011 event that honors veteran troops and others who provide special support in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the past three years, we've hosted an average of 400 military folks and their families. Each year's event is held for active-duty troopers, veterans and retired personnel. We also send gift packages to troopers in Iraq and Afghanistan every year. It's our way of giving back to those who have given so much to us. Gary McGirr, Topeka, Kansas

You know what I like about Nebraska Athletics? I like the support you show for those in the military, for the Red Cross, for Toys for Tots, for Special Olympics and for everything you support and promote. Nebraska stands for a lot of things, and in my mind, they are all the right things. Thank you Huskers for Heroes -  a good program for all the right reasons. Tom Smith, Glendale, Arizona


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