As Nebraska football fans prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, thoughts turn to family and loved ones. But not far behind that for the scarlet and cream faithful are the reasons why those fans have such an affinity for the team that takes the field in Lincoln on autumn Saturday afternoons.
So as you prepare your family and your feast for the Thanksgiving holiday, here are a few things that fill the hearts of Nebraska fans with holiday cheer.
Yes, Tom Osborne is one of the greatest coaches in college football, and in large part the architect of all that we know Nebraska football to be.
But there would not have been a Tom Osborne, at least as we know him, without Bob Devaney coming to Lincoln.
Coming from Wyoming in 1962, Devaney arrived in Lincoln to find a Nebraska football program in dire straits. NU had suffered three losing seasons in a row prior to Devaney’s arrival, spelling the end for then-coach Bill Jennings.
Devaney took charge and went 9-2 in his first season, including a win in the Gotham Bowl (which really, really needs to make a comeback) against Miami. He went on to a record of 101-20-2 at Nebraska, winning eight Big Eight conference titles and national championships in 1970 and 1971. He handed the reins to Tom Osborne (whom, of course, he originally hired as an offensive coordinator) in 1973.
So if you’re looking to give thanks to one of the Husker legends of history this year, thank the man who really started it all.
So what is it that separates Nebraska from other programs?
Why does the school in the middle of flyover country in a state of 1.85 million people get put on the same stage as programs with much more prestigious locations and wealthier alumni bases?
Much of it comes from the legacy of Nebraska’s success. Five national championships. Forty-three conference championships. Three Heisman trophy winners. That legacy is not only something to be proud of for Nebraska fans in its own right. It is a platform from which future glories can be launched.
The Grey Lady at 10th and Vine in Lincoln may not look quite the same as she did when Bob Devaney was prowling the sidelines. Construction projects have all but completely shrouded the facade completed in 1923, increasing its seating capacity to over 90,000 people.
But when you walk through the building, you can see the grey concrete spires holding up the seats in the South end zone. You can see the narrow, winding cement staircases and walkways leading fans up into the heavens to look out over their beloved team.
And you can feel the history. Generations of fans have walked through the gates, cheered for glorious victories, grumbled about coaching decisions, and smuggled in oranges and flasks of whiskey on cold November afternoons.
Although the original facade is now hidden behind new brick and mortar, fans still can see the inscriptions that graced the southwest corner of the stadium and inspired generations of Nebraskans.
Not the victory but the action; Not the goal but the game; In the deed the glory.
Don’t ask me how this works. But somehow on a football Saturday in Lincoln, particularly as the temperature starts to drop, things change in the palates of Nebraskans (or at least of this Nebraskan). Suddenly strange amalgamations of food—like, say, beef and cabbage in a freshly made pocket of bread—become an irresistible staple of life.
So enjoy your turkey and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. But as you do, give thanks for the Runza you’ll get to eat.
(See also: pizza, Valentino’s and hot dogs, Fairbury)
If there is any one thing that makes Nebraska unique among college football programs, it is the connection between the team and its fans.
Nebraska doesn’t have warm beaches or breathtaking mountains to lure the best recruits in the country. What it does have are some of the most passionate and loyal fans in the nation, following and supporting the team and providing a game-day atmosphere second to none. They have sold out every home game since November 3, 1962.
All the while, Nebraska fans have maintained a unique balance of strongly supporting the home team while respecting the opposition.
I am unaware of any other program where the fans, win or lose, applaud the opposing team off the field. It is a responsibility that many who sit in the South stands (such as a certain smart and particularly handsome analyst) take very seriously, and it is something that Nebraska fans can be rightfully proud of—and thankful for—this holiday season.
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