Nebraska's Sea of Red awaits Huskies' fans Saturday
Posted by Tony Guadagnoli
Editor's note: Tony Guadagnoli of The Seattle Times will look at a unique or famous college football tradition each Thursday in Take 2.
Red. Everywhere you look. From flannel pajamas to onesies on babies to the T-shirts on men with fake corn foam heads. Red.
From the airport to Stadium Drive, it's a monochromatic nightmare for the opponent.
When the Washington Huskies and their fans walk into Nebraska's Memorial Stadium in Lincoln on Saturday the red will engulf them, just like it engulfs the state. For the 314th consecutive time, 81,091-seat Memorial Stadium will be sold out, a streak dating to 1962. The next longest sellout streak is Notre Dame at 221.
The string of sellouts becomes even more remarkable when you consider Nebraska ranks 38th among states in population at 1.8 million. Memorial Stadium becomes the third-largest city in the state on home games. Even when you consider the success of Cornhuskers football, which has produced just two losing seasons since 1962, almost 50 consecutive seasons of sellouts is remarkable.
Nebraska has traditions that stand out. The Tunnel Walk and touching the lucky horseshoe before entering Memorial Stadium is the most famous. But it's the collective passion of the Nebraska fans that makes the place special.
Sure, every school has passionate fans, but Nebraska's really never appreciate what they have until they leave. And they do leave, traveling by the thousands to see their team on the road.
Former Nebraska running back Roger Craig once said of Cornhusker fans, "If someone ever decided to play a game on Mars, I know Nebraska fans would find a way to get up there and watch it."
The Sea of Red has had many opponents seeing red. Nebraska is 381-115-13 (.761) in Memorial Stadium and has had 42 straight winning home seasons.
In my few trips there it never ceases to amaze me just how much red the Cornhuskers pack into the stadium. An hour before kickoff it looks like there is not an empty seat. Yet another 10,000 red-clad fans are at the gates waiting to get in.
Every entrance at Memorial Stadium welcomes Huskers fans with the following phrase: "Through these gates pass the Greatest Fans in College Football."
Disproving that statement is kind of like trying to tie knots with wet spaghetti. It probably can be done but not very easily.
What is also striking is that Nebraska fans didn't start calling themselves the greatest fans, they earned the title through sportsmanship and respect.
Nebraska fans like to think they are the best on earth and the salt of the earth. They take their cues from athletic director Tom Osborne, the even-keeled native from Hastings who brought most of the glory to Nebraska as coach. Now 74, Osborne's last five Nebraska teams were 60-3 and won three national titles (1994, 1995, 1997).
"I think almost every opponent that comes into Memorial Stadium has a sense that the fans here are fairly knowledgeable and that they are respectful of opponents," said Osborne via email. "Nearly all opponents are treated very well here and their fans also are treated well. We hope that this is the experience of the Washington Huskies this week.
"Often times our fans will applaud the visiting team as they leave the stadium if they have played well, even if they happen to be victorious."
While Cornhusker fans have hardly suffered in the past 50 years, the 19th century was unkind to Nebraska in terms of nickname. The team was called Bugeaters (most prominently), Rattlesnake Boys, Tree Planters and Antelopes, among others. In 1900, sports writer Cy Sherman, who later helped originate The Associated Press football poll, starting using Cornhuskers, and the name stuck.
The simple "N" on the side of Nebraska helmets has been used since 1971 and the source of derision from opponents who claim it stands for "knowledge." Nebraskans like to say it stands for national champions -- five of them -- or point to the NCAA-leading 99 football Academic All-Americans.
"Nebraska lived up to everything I thought it was, but the older I get, the more I realize what made Nebraska more special than anyplace else -- it was the fans," Craig is quoted on the school's website.
No need to ask them to paint the town red, though. They have been doing that for decades.
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