Photo by PRANGE Aerial Photography

99-Year-Old is Proof There's No Place like Nebraska

By Randy York

When Nebraska launches its football season Saturday night against Akron, the reverberation of Memorial Stadium will be as loud as ever.

Nebraska native Scott Frost, the quarterback who engineered Nebraska’s fifth national championship in 1997, will be welcomed home with a thunderous roar for Frost, who will start his own quest to restore a program that Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne combined to coach five national championships.

One of the ultra-happy 90,000 Husker fans will be Phyllis Winquest Johnson, a cheerful, joyful Nebraska season ticketholder. The 99-year-old diehard Husker fan can hardly wait for Frost to launch a coaching era that parallels Devaney and Osborne.

One thing is certain before Nebraska unveils its innovative bells and whistles, designed to light the fire of a fan base that includes Phyllis, who will attend a Nebraska football game for 72 consecutive years.

Phyllis has two football seats in the north stadium, seats 5 and 6 in row 7 of section 34. “We’re in the first row of the handicap area, east of where the football team runs out on the field,” she said.

“There really is no place like Nebraska,” Phyllis told me on a long-distance call from Bellevue, Washington, before returning to her home in Lincoln for Saturday night’s season-opener.

“Football has been a big part of my life, and I’m confident that Nebraska is going to make a big comeback that begins Saturday,” Phyllis said.

“I had two late husbands who were extremely interested in Nebraska football,” she said. “My stepson, Ed Johnson, worked two years as a senior manager for Coach Devaney’s teams.

“We’ve always been extremely interested in Nebraska football because it makes everyone proud from across the state to around the country,” she said.

Through the years, Johnson watched her Huskers well beyond Memorial Stadium. “We went to many out-of-town games,” she said. “We also went to a lot of bowl games. We loved attending big games at Oklahoma. We also went to places like New Orleans, LSU and Miami.

“I was raised in Arkansas and went to the University of Arkansas, so I loved it when we played them in the Cotton Bowl,” she said. “That was when I knew I was a true Cornhusker fan.”   

Count a knowledgeable 99-year-old who knows what Nebraska has produced since 1970.

Alabama has won 11 national championships in the last five decades, followed by Nebraska and Miami with five national titles each in the same timeframe. USC and Oklahoma share fourth and fifth with four national titles each in the last 50 years.

“Like everyone else, I can’t wait to help welcome Scott Frost back home,” Johnson said. “Everyone is so excited, especially after a 4-8 season. I am not expecting a miracle right away. We can win more than we lose, but 6-6 is much better than 4-8. I’m expecting Scott to help us return to the tradition we have.”

At 99, Phyllis is thoughtful and eloquent. “There really is no place like Nebraska,” she said. “Husker football has been a big part of my life. It’s so special and so spectacular for all of us.”

Johnson plays bridge three times a week. “I have seven grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren,” she said. “I keep up with a lot of things, including football. I tell them that Nebraska is going to get back on the path that we have always had, so we can be a winner again.

“This is Scott’s first year as our head coach. You can’t put too much on him,” said Johnson, who will be sitting with Julie Sand, her oldest daughter, in the season opener.”

Family members share tickets with each other throughout the season. Nebraska football has been a tough ticket for most of its 72 consecutive years.

Let the record show that Phyllis Johnson will be 100 years old on July 4 2019. “I was born in Washington, D.C.,” she said. “Every holiday is important. I have a great deal of faith. I see the good that god provides and I have a life of gratitude through my heart. All the good parts of life keep me going and bestow my life of love and gratitude. I am so grateful.”

Phyllis Johnson attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. “God’s country, just like Nebraska,” she said. “I have so many people who are so special to me.”

Living in Lincoln has inspired one of the Huskers’ greatest fans, who has learned to share her tickets when the weather gets bad.

Smart woman, who was born in 1919 when Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States.

“I don’t know how much we will achieve in Scott’s first year as our head coach, but I feel we will be getting back to our old self, winning quite a few games,” Johnson said. “I also think we’ll probably go to a bowl game, so we can get back to where we belong.”

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