Late Thursday afternoon, a chancellor, a vice chancellor, an athletic director and
a construction company owner were wearing hard hats when they signed a
545-pound, 25-foot steel beam. Then they watched that historic beam rise seven
stories above them. A second or two after the beam was hoisted into its final
placement atop Nebraska’s East Stadium, those four leaders heard a bell tower
ring out a song that not only commemorated the occasion, but made them all
smile at once.
Perlman, Prem Paul, Tom Osborne and John
Sampson are seasoned professionals, but even they would admit there is no “topping off” story like Nebraska, just like there is no place
almost demanded that the chimes play from the Mueller Tower a half block down
the street. Even though the Carillon Towers didn’t move into the neighborhood
until 1949, 26 years after Memorial Stadium was built, it was the only logical
local resident to throw out a welcome mat and play Nebraska’s familiar fight song
at the same time.
has its own charm,” said Sampson, whose construction company also expanded
Nebraska’s West Stadium and North Stadium suites and seats before taking on the
East Stadium. “The designers (from The Clark Enersen Partners)were very sensitive to the campus from the start.
They wanted the East Stadium to join the neighborhood. From the
first look at the renderings, you could tell this was going to fit right in.”
Tree, Flag: Symbols for Topping Off
The fight song
was a bonus in a ceremony that included the two most popular customs in a
topping off event that celebrates the final beam in a construction project, a
tradition that traces its roots all the way back to immigrants placing a tree
on completed structures in barn-raisings and housewarmings. “Topping off” is a
milestone marker, so Sampson Construction attached a spruce tree to the
last steel beam to symbolize that no iron workers had been injured and added an
American flag to salute freedom and patriotism.
Osborne pointed out Nebraska was celebrating 50 straight consecutive home
football sellout years. He drew a laugh from 60 "topping off" witnesses with the acknowledgement that he was on the coaching staff when the
streak started against Missouri in 1962 and still remembers that game, "which means I'm getting old." That game drew a capacity crowd 36,501.
athletic director kicked off the ceremony, recognizing a number of official
guests and relating that a survey helped Nebraska determine there was a need for 6,000 to 7,000 additional season ticketholders. When Perlman followed Osborne at the podium, the first person
he thanked was his hand-picked athletic director. If Bob Devaney and Osborne had not turned around
Nebraska’s football fortunes, Perlman said, Nebraska’s capacity might still be
36,000 instead of the 92,000-seat stadium it will become 11 months from now.
signal of exciting things to come,” said Paul, UNL’s vice chancellor for
research and economic development. “We’ve been working together for several
years on this project, and now it looks like it’s going to happen very soon. We
only have 11 months left, so now’s the time to finalize the research projects
and the equipment we need in the labs so we can pursue the grants we want to pursue.
When you see a house get built at this stage, you can actually think about
moving into it.”
a Breath, Recognizing Hard Work
Ingram, NU’s associate athletic director
for construction and capital planning, said the East Stadium project will
include about 6,200 additional seats, 2,000 of which will be in the club level,
as well as 38 new suites and more than 3,000 reserved seats in the 15 rows
above the suite level that will stretch from one end zone to the other.
“I think it was
good today to stop, take a breath and recognize all the hard work that’s been
achieved by the construction and design teams and the project team that’s
implementing Coach Osborne’s vision right on schedule,” Ingram said. “I think
they’ve done an incredible job of recreating the essence of Memorial Stadium
and integrating all of it into the academic community. That’s what we did. This
building stair-steps into the campus. There are different elements to every
construction project, and the bold statement we're making with this one is the
space we’re building for academic research. What we’re saying is: 'We’re not just
athletics or just football ... we’re education, we’re science and we’re looking
for great achievements that require collaboration.'”
more than concrete, columns, cranes, steel, bricks and mortar. It’s academics
and athletics coming together like no other time in history. Dr. Dennis
Molfese, the UNL psychology professor who will lead the proposed Center for
Brain, Biology and Behavior in the East Stadium research area, attended
talking to Doak Ostergard 2½ years ago when the Athletic Department’s
director of outreach asked Molfese if he thought an expanded football stadium
would be a good place to build a research lab.
Thing Led to Another, Then Another
“It was great
vision,” Molfese said, pointing out that Paul called him three days later
expressing his excitement about the idea.
Ostergard discussed the need for concussion research “and everything just
clicked after that,” Molfese said. In April of 2010, David Hansen, chair
of UNL’s Department of Psychology, asked one of his professors to write a business
Molfese was among those smiling when he heard the bells ringing to the tune of
Nebraska’s fight song. “It’s taken tons of people and lots of hours,
and we’re moving ahead,” he said. “We have 22 schools trying to do what we’re
already doing here, so we’re looking forward to pulling it all together.”
appears destined to become an epicenter for collaborative research related to
health and performance. Most Ivy League schools and seven fellow Big Ten
Conference institutions have shown equal interest in joining Nebraska’s
20: The Past, Present and the Future
When the tree
comes down and the flag moves elsewhere, the spotlight will shine on Nebraska’s
renovated East Stadium.
“It'll be an
iconic facility,” predicted Maggi Thorne, who assists Ingram.
Underneath the topped off steel beam will be a
three-story glass façade entrance to Gate 20. Thorne sees that
area as a symbol of the past connecting with the present.
already declares that “Through these gates pass the greatest fans in college
football,” Thorne said. “It’s going to be iconic because that gate will be just
like a full-size picture frame of Gate 20. It will just light up, especially at
night. This probably will be the last major expansion of Memorial Stadium, so
we’re bringing the past and the present together. It’s all about tradition and
history and Nebraska fans.”
Big Red fans are,
after all, the ones who connect the past with the present. And thanks to this likely
final major stadium expansion, Nebraska will influence the future like college
athletics has never seen, or even imagined, before.