As a Chevy Traverse speeds past endless green rows, Addisyn Parks, 11, turns to her father and asks a fundamental Nebraska question: "How is it that they aren't as good as they used to?"
Cliff Parks informs his daughter that football is cyclical and that it is Nebraska's down time. They'll get back up. Parks had just driven 14-hours round trip to see a football match between Nebraska and Fordham Rams.
Why are you doing this?
The Parks family resides in Chadron in the panhandle, in a different time zone. It is near the backdrop of canyons and buttes. In six years, the Cornhuskers have won just one season. Their 2021 opener at Illinois was disappointing. An assortment of errors resulted in a loss of 30-22 and there were serious concerns that tickets for Nebraska's game at Memorial Stadium (capacity 85,000), would not sell out for the first time since 59 years.
The Parks family was placed on a waiting list 15 years ago to obtain season tickets. Cliff Parks remembers the thrill he felt upon receiving the email confirming that they had been granted the seats.
That was a long time ago. Addisyn now belongs to a new generation of young people from 20 years old to toddlers who can't remember the Cornhuskers dominance or their team embarrassing other teams en route five national championships. Cliff Parks remembers when Nebraska's quarterback, Scott Frost, won the national title in 1997. This generation has vivid memories of Scott Frost, the coach, urging Huskers fans not to give up.
Parks did what he's done for over a decade, and he sold tickets on StubHub for $11 With unwavering optimism, he left for Lincoln.
Parks stated, "It has never crossed my mind that I give them up." "Hopefully my children will take the tickets one day after we're done.
It's something you look forward too in the fall, going on Husker games. It's what you do.
The attendance at Nebraska's 52-7 victory against Patriot League opponent Fordham on Saturday was 85,938. AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz
MY earliest memories of Cornhuskers football were always about losing. The 1979 Orange Bowl game between Nebraska and Oklahoma featured a New Year's Eve party. It was filled with four-letter adult words I had probably heard on a Saturday night. It was the last time I saw my father drink. Oklahoma 31, Nebraska 24. The 1984 Orange Bowl saw the Huskers, ranked No. The Huskers, winners of 22 consecutive games, trailed Miami by 7 in the final seconds and were defeated on fourth-and-8. A third point would have tied the score at 31. But college football did not allow for overtime. So Tom Osborne, tall and redheaded symbol of Nebraska valiance went for two. Turner Gill's throw at Jeff Smith was incomplete. That night, my diary had only two sentences. They were that Nebraska lost and that Teri's mascara fell on her face.
Nebraska games were never on our agenda. That was something that we didn't do. It seemed like a privilege reserved for the blue bloods or families with four children living in a one-bathroom home. It was an amazing moment when I was offered the Nebraska football beat.
I had wondered if it would be boring covering a team that never lost, and then blew out its rivals by video-game scores. It was something I didn't know. In 2002, the Huskers had just returned from a trip to national championship. They lost to Iowa State and Penn State in back-to-back games, and were eliminated from the AP Poll for first time since 1981. They were 7-7 and marked the end of 40 consecutive winning seasons.
The milestones fell like a Nebraska November in the following years. After winning nine games in 2003, Frank Solich was fired. He had just won an emotional win at Colorado. Steve Pederson, the athletic director at that time, summarised his decision with a famous quote: "I refuse for the program to fall into mediocrity."
Texas Tech lost 70 points to them in 2004, their worst loss in 114. That season ended with a 35-year streak in bowls. This was the worst record for Nebraskans.
The home sellout streak was eventually eliminated. It began in 1962 under Bob Devaney and has been through many economic recessions, wars, firings, and even teams that might have wished they were mediocre at the end. The streak is still going strong, with 376 games. A T-shirt sums up Nebraska's tenuy on history and relevance. It reads, "Sellout Streak Champions."
Trev Alberts, an ex-NU All-America linebacker, was appointed Nebraska's athletic director last week. He admitted that there had been times in recent years when a booster or corporate sponsor would purchase a percentage of tickets that were not sold in the days before a game. Alberts stated that he is open to transparency.
He stated that Fordham had sent back 2,400 tickets a few weeks prior, and that in previous situations, if tickets were not sold, they were still considered part the sellout.
Alberts stated, "And I didn’t feel comfortable about it." Alberts said that he just asked, "What are we going to do?" What is our plan? Do you have any suggestions?
Dr. Lawrence Chatters was recently appointed as the senior associate athletic director for diversity equity, equity, and inclusion. He expressed interest in an initiative that would bring the Nebraska brand and experience into the lives of young people who aren't able to because of economic hardships. Alberts said to him, "Tell me more."
Alberts had been talking to a booster about his idea that weekend. Two anonymous donors offered to purchase all unsold tickets the next day. The Red Carpet Experience was created by Chatters, who had only a few days to put it together. They ended up with approximately 2,000 recipients.
Chatters stated, "These are a lot young people whose parents might not have gone to college." They might become first-generation college students in future.
"They may not be able to understand the past greatness of Nebraska but I want them to see the generosity of Nebraska through this."
Alberts stated that winning or losing has been a contributing factor to slow ticket sales. He also mentioned the COVID-19 pandemic. He anticipates that the remaining seats will be difficult to sell, even though student tickets have been sold out. On Saturday, Buffalo hosts Nebraska.
He said, "This is not a season-long announcement." To continue the sellout streak, this is a week-to–week grind.
He tried to understand why the sellout streak was so important and came up with this conclusion: Nebraska is a school that values tradition and lost control when the program and records fell. They can still control the last vestige of the past. He understands how this streak can be a factor in the school's recruiting battle against other schools. Alberts hails from Cedar Falls, Iowa and is a lifelong Hawkeyes fan. He then went on a Nebraska recruiting trip. He said, "The place was full and it was all-red." "And there was no other place like it."
Before the national anthem and after the Huskers won the fourth quarter, Memorial Stadium was full. AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz
CHRIS SAYRE sat outside Pound Hall just two hours before Saturday's kickoff and played his accordion in the vicinity of the stadium while fans streamed in. This has been his practice for 39 years. Sayre used to play many songs but his listeners preferred to hear two: "There is No Place like Nebraska" (Hail Varsity) and "There is no Place like Nebraska".
Saturday morning's sky was slate-gray, and fans were moving at a trickle. He seemed not to be too concerned about it. He said it was morning. They've had many of these morning starts because of the Huskers record over the past few seasons. Sayre accepts tips. Usually, these amounts are enough to buy his wife dinner. His accordion bag has seen fans leave $100 bills. This hasn't happened for a while.
"We're going to win today, right?" Sayre spoke between songs and people responded with sarcasm or forced enthusiasm.
He said, "Nebraskans have always been so hopeful." "But I believe that a lot people are waiting for things to change. It must get better.
The 11 a.m. kickoff was delayed because the crowd arrived late. Joel Schafer, a 42 year-old Omaha mortgage broker, was there with his father, who is 75. He said that the stadium was unusually quiet at the beginning of the game. The family occupies four seats at the 45-yard line in the west stadium. He couldn't convince anyone to take the two other tickets. His youngest son, a junior at NU, is not interested in sports. Although his older son is passionate about football, he was at work Saturday and seemed more interested in the Seattle Seahawks rather than the Cornhuskers. Schafer wonders what this means for his beloved home-state team.
He said, "[Nebraska Football] meant everything for me." Right? They won the national championship in 1997, my freshman year of college. It's sad to see what my children see compared to mine.
Schafer, NU's 20-year-old student body president, vividly recalls his first Nebraska game. It was his 10th Birthday. It snowed while the Huskers were playing Kansas State. Schafer's first memory of Nebraska was the '84 Orange Bowl. He was able to see his father cry for the first time.
They watched Nebraska struggle for most of the first quarter against a team that had been paid $500,000 to travel to Lincoln. He doesn't surprise anymore. They still keep an eye.
He said, "I'll listen [to sports radio] and I'll get callers that try to put blame on a fickle fans base that's living the '90s." "And I'm like, ‘You've got no right to be kidding me. This thing has been kept going by the fans. There have been inept ADs and egomaniac ADs that tried to destroy the program. There were coaches who abused the fans and embarrassed the university by being horses a-- on campus.
"But the fans remain. It's hard to find college football anywhere else where Nebraska fans would have stuck around for as long as Nebraska fans endured the worst 20 years. They're still there."
Adrian Martinez, Quarterback, ran for a touchdown in quarter two and Nebraska led Fordham 17-7. AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz
MARCEL BLACKBIRD was immediately intrigued by the Red Carpet Experience and sent Chatters an email. Blackbird is a youth football coach on the Winnebago Reservation in northeast Nebraska. He figured it would be the best chance they'd ever have to see a Nebraska football match in person.
26 years ago, Blackbird was taken by a mentor to a Nebraska football match. It was his 12th birthday, and one of the most memorable days of his entire life. Blackbird's heroes, giant linemen, stopped by the stadium tunnel to give him a high-five. He was able to believe that he could accomplish anything. Blackbird stated, "It's something that I'll always recall."
Blackbird surprised him with the news that they would be able attend the game after practicing. They arrived in Lincoln at 9:15 am on Saturday in four vans. They were greeted with a hot dog and water and settled in their seats before the rest of the crowd. They couldn't miss a single thing.
Angelo Blackbird, a son of Blackbird, has heard his dad's story about the time he attended a Nebraska game several times. He was so excited Friday night that he invited a friend to stay with him so they could board one of the vans Saturday morning. They left the event with many fond memories.
Alberts stated that the university has received a flood of emails from people who wish to donate in the days following the Red Carpet Experience's announcement. Chatters, a child from Bellevue, Nebraska who couldn't afford football tickets, came up with the idea. He used to watch the games while running errands in a press box alongside his high school ROTC.
Alberts stated, "We were all sitting down there talking about future," "How do we create new fans? Our fan base is aging. How can we make Husker traditions more accessible to everyone? It just made more sense.
Scott Frost, the beloved Huskers quarterback is now at 13-21 as Nebraska's coach. Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
A HOUR FOLLOWING Nebraska's win against Fordham 52-7, beer was still flowing. Fairbury red hot dogs were being grilled under a bridge close to the stadium. It was clear that there had been a good time. A table with snacks had just been thrown over. Tom Bonnichsen, 64, put down his koozie and climbed a ladder from the back of his RV with astonishing speed and agility. He then yelled out a chant upon reaching the top.
The crowd chanted back. "Go. "Go. "Red."
Bonnichsen bought the 1996 Fleetwood Flair with his wife Meg more than a decade back. A polite way of describing the dull, beige-colored vehicle, which has chipped-away Nebraska logos, is rustic. It was bought for tailgating and took them from Ashland in Nebraska to Texas, Wisconsin, and Iowa.
A couple spends $1,100 per year to park in the spot for six or seven home matches. They consider it a good investment. You can see the scoreboard from the driver's seat. Tom was so upset when Nebraska lost to Ohio State by three touchdowns in 2011, that he fled the stadium and went to the RV to drown all his sorrows. Bonnichsen was there to watch as Rex Burkhead led an angry Cornhuskers rally.
The Fleetwood Flair is getting old, and the Bonnichsens are considering whether to retire it. There are no road trips to look forward to, and most likely no conference championship games. As they were reflecting on Saturday's sellout streak and their fandom, they wondered what it would take for them to stop coming.
Bonnichsen stared at the stadium and said, "I don’t care how bad that looks in there." We love them and we won't give up. We won't give up. This is our team.
Elizabeth Merrill, a senior writer at ESPN, is also a former Nebraska football beat reporter for The Omaha World-Herald. She can be reached at Elizabeth.Merrill@espn.com.