Randy York's N-sider
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Zac Lee had finished his video interview with the media Saturday. He had spent 90 minutes signing autographs inside Memorial Stadium for the hundreds upon hundreds of fans lucky enough to score his signature in 90-degree heat at Nebraska's annual Fan Day.
The heir apparent to succeed Joe Ganz as the Huskers' No. 1 quarterback this fall was just about done with his follow-up interviews when one writer asked Lee about the most bizarre thing he'd autographed at Fan Day.
"A boot, a red leather boot . . . it wasn't new either. It'd been worn before," Lee said.
The Huskers' junior quarterback also signed an oversized red leather purse Saturday, but at least he didn't have to do what Ganz did at the same event a year ago. "Someone actually had Joe sign their little kid," Lee said. "I scratched my head about that one. It was a little weird, but it was good fun."
Weird but fun also describes the red leather boot that kept showing up on tables for a crisp, black Sharpie signature.
What Nebraska players and coaches didn't know is that there were actually two red boots floating around Memorial Stadium Saturday - one for the coaches to sign and the other for the players to sign.
Trisha Madsen was entrusted with a left foot, women's size 6, Tony Lama red leather boot for select players to sign. Kevin Madsen, her dad, paraded the matching boot through the Nebraska coaches' tables and ended up with the most valuable prize of all . . . Bo Pelini's left-handed signature on the right-footed boot.
Yes, father and daughter was a speedy pair to watch Saturday . . . seasoned veterans who arrived early at Fan Day, waited patiently, and got what they came for.
It's Not Unusual to Go for the Unusual
"I've done the autographed footballs and pictures and all that stuff," Kevin Madsen said. "I'm into the unusual things now. I want my kids to see them as unique enough to keep and then pass down to the next generation."
That's why Madsen thinks the red boots were worth the 20 bucks he paid for them on eBay. They represent his own imagination, but no more so than last year's prized possession . . . a toddler-sized red, black and cream "Nebraska Husker" leather jacket with autographs from Tom Osborne and Bo Pelini occupying the most prominent places on the jacket. "People are still talking about that one," Madsen said. "It's not easy to come up with unique items for Nebraska football. People think of everything."
Following Madsen every year at this event is a little like opening up a box of chocolates. You just never know what you're going to get.
Madsen laughs loudest at his own idiosyncratic behavior. He is, after all, an otherwise normal assistant principal at Kearney, Neb., High School, where he's worked for nine years. His daughter, 27, is a registered nurse at a heart lab in Kearney.
The family has amped up on unique collectibles since they bought four season tickets to support Nebraska's North Stadium expansion project.
Wearing Husker-branded sunglasses and a red shirt that says "I BLEED HUSKER RED", Kevin "is the one who's more into the memorabilia than the rest of us," says his son, Aaron, an athletic trainer at Concordia University in Seward, Neb. "My mom (Christy), my sister, my wife (Natalie) and my in-laws (Don and Amy Danekas, who live in Milford, Neb.) are more into the games. We rotate the four tickets among the seven of us. We all love Nebraska football."
Kevin Madsen, though, is the most impassioned. "I was born in Nebraska, educated in Nebraska, work in Nebraska, will die in Nebraska and will be buried in Nebraska," he said. "Nebraska truly is The Good Life! The Huskers simply make it an even better life."
Lee: Nebraska Fans Are Truly Amazing
Madsen can't think of a better way to start the season than Fan Day. "The players are all so welcoming and so accommodating to us fanatics," he said.
Mebraska's No. 1 quarterback doesn't seem to mind. "Fan Day's kind of a blast," Lee said. "It's fun to get out there and interact with all the fans because they're there for you through thick and thin. They're something special. It's not like that everywhere else. When they said, 'There's no place like Nebraska', it's true. The fans are amazing. I don't have enough adjectives to describe how great they are. I just know they're there for you no matter what."
Nebraska fans are as unique as a Kevin Madsen merchandise creation, and judging by Saturday's enthusiastic turnout, they are sold on the positive direction of their favorite program.
"Bo Pelini is a no-nonsense coach who tells it like it is every day," said Adam Lenzen, a Lincoln loan officer who brought his 5-year-old daughter, 2-year-old son and 5-year-old niece to Fan Day. "To us, this is a perfect family outing. There's nothing better than going to the Mecca of college football and being able to see all these players and their coaches."
Lenzen's wife, Nicole, was every bit as motivated for Fan Day as her husband. "Bo Pelini knows Nebraska and what we stand for," she said. "He's all about tradition, family values and hard work."
Todd Parr, a sales manager who lives in Elkhorn, Neb., holds his 3-year-old daughter while his wife and two sons, including an infant, stand in line to get autographs from Nebraska running backs in general and Roy Helu Jr. and Quentin Castille in particular.
"We're big Nebraska fans and big fans of Bo," Parr said. "You can just tell he's bringing back the spirit of this program. He has the players buying in, working hard and having fun. That's what Nebraska football is and what it should be."
Jumbo-Sized Hat Rivals Big Red Boot
At least the fans represent two-thirds of that equation. They're buying in and having fun while keeping track of the Huskers' extraordinary work ethic.
The only item Saturday that drew as much attention as the red leather boots was the biggest Husker hat you've ever seen.
Josh Krivanek, a contract painter who lives in Wahoo, Neb., not only brought his family to Memorial Stadium, but also his jumbo-sized Nebraska baseball-style hat for autographs.
"I've had at least 100 people come up to me today and ask me where I got this hat," he said. "I tell everyone the same thing - a customer in Arkansas gave me a check and this hat after I painted his house."
When Krivanek took the hat through the autograph line of Nebraska's defensive linemen with his eight-year-old son, Tyrone Fahie told him he "could fit a whole receiver in that hat."
A Husker defensive end, Fahie then quipped that there was only one head on the team that could give the hat a run for its money - the one inside the helmet of Jared Crick, Nebraska's 6-6, 285-pound sophomore defensive tackle.
Actually, the hat was so big it probably could accommodate three Jared Cricks, and that triggers a thought.
Maybe the Kearney assistant principal should track down the Wahoo painter to get the name of the Arkansas customer who once owned the biggest Husker hat known to mankind.
Forget the toddler leather jacket and the red leather boot. If Madsen locates one of these high-in-demand but short-in-supply hats, the first signature on it should be from Jared Crick.
Then, to be truly unique, the only signatures thereafter would be ones from Husker players every bit as "big-headed" as he is.
Voices from Husker Nation
"Kevin Madsen is one of my assistant principals at Kearney High, and I can attest that he truly is a died-in-the-wool "Cornhead"! He even showed up to one of our semi-final football playoff games a few years ago straight from a Husker game at Memorial Stadium still sporting his stick-on "N" on one of his cheeks and his Husker coat and hat with his ever-present Husker sunglasses. He usually is a big blue-and-gold Bearcat booster, but on that day he had just enough time to get back from Lincoln to Foster Field decked out in his RED! (I think we played a team with red in their colors!) That was a great article on Kevin and Trisha. They epitomize "Husker Nation"! Steve Wickham, Principal, Kearney High School