Nebraska football fans saw a lot in 2013, some good and some bad. And while the bad things (the Deadspin audio, 12 turnovers in three games, losing to Minnesota and Iowa) certainly stand out, there were a lot of shining moments for the Scarlet and Cream this year.
So as we prepare to bid 2013 farewell, let’s take a look back at the Cornhuskers’ year and pick the five best moments for Nebraska fans. Champagne and silly hats are required for this slideshow...go ahead, I’ll wait.
OK, fair enough, this isn’t really a “moment” per se, but bear with me. Although a tumultuous 8-4 season was difficult to watch at times, the introduction and growth of young players on both sides of the ball may make 2013 an important building block for future glories.
On defense, Randy Gregory’s emergence certainly led the way. But we also saw Avery Moss, Vincent Valentine, Michael Rose, Josh Banderas and David Santos show the kind of playmaking ability that would earn a Blackshirt moniker in any year.
On offense, injuries forced an early appearance for redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who got a half-season leg up on what could be the most fascinating offseason quarterback race in recent memory. We also saw Imani Cross and Terrell Newby give Nebraska’s backfield options, Cethan Carter provide an exciting offensive threat at tight end and Alonzo Moore see the field at wide receiver.
Yes, this year’s Michigan squad certainly isn’t the Big Blue we all expected. But it is an objective truth that no one had knocked off Brady Hoke’s squad in Ann Arbor before Nebraska rolled in and beat the Wolverines 17-13, a win that was far less competitive than the score would indicate.
In an 8-4 year, it’s easy to lose track of the positives. But Nebraska’s win in the Big House was a big deal and, in terms of confidence, could become a real touchstone in years to come.
Everyone will remember the catch by the ‘stache that won the game for Nebraska over Northwestern, what appears to be the first regulation walk-off winning play in Memorial Stadium history. But that magic doesn’t happen unless junior I-back Ameer Abdullah pulls off one of the most amazing plays not only of the season, but also in the storied history of Nebraska football.
With under a minute in the game, Northwestern was leading Nebraska 24-21, and it looked to all the world like the Purples were going to get a second straight win in Memorial Stadium. Facing a 4th-and-15 at the Nebraska 24-yard line, quarterback Ron Kellogg III scrambled and bought time before dumping a safety-valve throw to Abdullah, leaving him 10 yards and at least three Northwestern defenders away from the line to gain.
Somehow, Abdullah juked, shook and bulled his way through the defense and got 16 yards (well, more likely about 15.1), got Nebraska the first down and kept the game alive. It wasn’t the postcard moment like the Hail Mary a few plays later, but Abdullah’s first down was easily the most impressive play for Nebraska in 2013.
Of course, the Hail Mary is on the list. With four seconds left in the game, Nebraska was 49 yards away. It was too far for NU to try a long field goal, so head coach Bo Pelini elected to give senior quarterback Ron Kellogg III a shot at glory. Kellogg moved himself in the pocket, kept the play alive and heaved the ball down to the Nebraska 3-yard line.
The ball was deflected into the end zone, where Jordan Westerkamp was waiting to make the grab. Pandemonium unlike anything Memorial Stadium had seen since Alex Henery hit his 57-yard bomb against Colorado erupted, as Nebraska saved the game and, for the moment, kept its hopes of a conference championship alive.
It’s hard to compete with a walk-off Hail Mary, but something very special happened at Nebraska’s spring game in 2013, the likes of which will probably never be seen again.
Jack Hoffman, a seven-year-old victim of pediatric brain cancer, had been adopted by Rex Burkhead and the rest of the Nebraska team. While Hoffman had received visits, well-wishes and many special gifts from the team, it was the 2013 spring game where he truly made his mark.
In the third quarter, Hoffman trotted onto the field and stood next to Taylor Martinez as the teams lined up. The ball was snapped, and Martinez gave the ball to Hoffman. After a little help from Martinez (Hoffman initially started running the wrong way), Hoffman took the ball around the right side and raced down the field for a touchdown.
Hoffman was followed by giant men in scarlet and cream cheering him on, and the team took Hoffman on its shoulders once he crossed the goal line. The stadium announcer shouted his name as the assembled crowd broke into a huge cheer (with more than a few misty eyes, as well).
The play, which had no fanfare or advance warning, became a viral sensation, winning an ESPY and landing the Hoffman family on television stations around the country. While Bo Pelini has many detractors for many reasons, the fact that under his leadership a moment like this happened should always be remembered.
Memorial Stadium has seen any number of touchdowns that have decided games, decided conferences and even decided national champions since its construction in 1923. But never before—and never in the future—will there ever be a better touchdown than the one scored by little Jack Hoffman that April afternoon.
What is even better news is that Hoffman’s cancer is in remission. If you want to be a part of Team Jack and help other kids suffering from cancer, go to the Team Jack Foundation website and become part of the fight. Happy new year!
Or, you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge.