Two years ago, I’d never heard of Ryan Tweedy, but David Max, the author of 50 Years of Husker Memories, tried to sell me on his skill sets. Max introduced me to Tweedy, the director and producer of Through These Gates, a documentary that made its worldwide premiere Saturday, August 10, at a popular Californians for Nebraska hangout in San Clemente.
Tweedy sent me clips for glimpses of the film in its early stage, and they were good, but isolated and without context. When Tweedy said he wanted to capture the essence of what it is to be a fan of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, I jumped off the bandwagon before ever climbing on. Why? Because I’ve seen a whole heap of brilliantly produced films focused on Nebraska football, and I simply could not get past the idea of another documentary in search of the same difficult to describe definition. When Max and Tweedy left that day, I remember thinking to myself: Good luck, kid … know you’re talented and live in LA now, but how are you going to connect with the heartbeat of the Cornhuskers from there?
Well, here we are 18 months later with the curtain ready to go up on this 90-minute documentary, and I’m making a personal confession. I could not have been more off-base, and Tweedy could not have been more on target with his two-year commitment that compared and contrasted life in the big city to the lives of those of us who grew up in the back roads and byways of rural and suburban America. He helps us understand why we all can see football as a metaphor for life and a consistent source of inspiration, whether you’re a farmer or rancher, a native Nebraskan or an adopted Husker, an astronaut or a comedian, a coach or a player or a superstar or a walk-on. Yes, even a guy who dresses like Herbie Husker for two decades can be the spiritual equivalent of the president of Northwestern University, who claims he’s a Husker fan for life after his first experience inside Memorial Stadium.
The Berringer Legacy Still Stirs the Heart
Watch this documentary and you’ll see a mother whose late son greets Big Red fans at the North stadium entrance in a double-bronzed statue with Tom Osborne, a living legend. That mother, Jan Berringer, was planning an NFL draft party one minute and then planning a funeral the next after learning of son Brook’s tragic death piloting an airplane.
Through all that and Through These Gates that Pass the Greatest Fans in College Football, Ryan Tweedy proved himself a worthy filmmaker and gets not just one thumbs up from The N-Sider but two – one from me, the doubting Thomas, and the other from Chad Chiesa, an athletic department IT specialist who just might be the biggest football fan in our entire athletic department. He’s a knowledgeable, discerning fan who majors in information systems and quantitative analysis. Because he was once a lead video technician, Chad is a bit of a perfectionist, so getting his thumbs up on this documentary is no easy accomplishment. Chad took the film home, watched it twice, and together we surprised each other with our separate but equally overwhelming endorsement. When we made that discovery, we felt like our own version of two Chicago film critics agreeing on a Saturday afternoon session of At the Movies.
By exploring fundamental aspects that make up Husker Nation, Through These Gates searches for the answer to a simple but complicated question: “What does it mean to be a Husker?” Gordon Wilson, a walk-on, non-lettered safety from Bayard, Neb., in the late 1980s was the only kid in his class for a year-and-a-half while growing up in the Panhandle. He dreamed about wearing the Big Red uniform and being able to own conference championship rings. He insists there is no easy way to describe what it means to be a Husker fan. “If you’re from Nebraska, you can’t explain it,” he said, “and if you’re not from Nebraska, you can’t understand it.”
Weaving Together Film’s Main Themes
With that, Chiesa and I agree to take on the role and share what we see as the staples that keep Tweedy’s theme consistently moving and substantively intriguing. Those staples include the contrast between city life and Nebraska life; the nostalgia of listening to games on the radio, the Huskers’ fabled walk-on program; the art of tailgating; a traveling sea of red at every road game; the fans who still make those road trips, even though they’re pushing 80 and 90 years old; the loyal core fan base; the Huskers’ remarkable model for sportsmanship; the emergence of and the love for Team Jack; the understanding that football is a business; the Berringer legacy that will never be forgotten; and the ultimate bottom line for Big Red fans everywhere – Nebraska is still “home” wherever they might be living, visiting or vacationing.
In the weeks leading up to the Huskers’ season-opening game against Wyoming on Aug. 31, the N-Sider will use Through These Gates as catalysts and eye-openers to Open Your Hearts in what promises to be a magical experience to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Memorial Stadium and the 50th season of another important staple – the Nebraska Blackshirts. The premiere of this documentary is perfectly timed to heighten the interests of Nebraska fans everywhere, so please stay tuned, become more enlightened and find the time to see this film whenever it comes your way.
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