Approaching the stadium from the north, a fan gets swept away by the current, surrounded by the sounds of the eager faithful, helping to strengthen this river of red.
The chants that started hours ago have only strengthened as game time nears. They are being shouted by the young and old alike. A ten-year-old screams the question and the swarm bellows back the answer.
On this particular afternoon a crowd of 85,426 is making its way toward Memorial Stadium, turning the iconic landmark into the third-most populated entity in the state.
I make a comment to no one in particular: “This is going to be epic.” Everything about the atmosphere, everything about the ambiance and anticipation gives me a feeling that this one is going to be special. This one is going to be a game to remember.
The tension rises as the rain begins to fall. The lights are on and the once-empty bleachers are turning into a solid mass of humanity. The same chants from the parking lots and side streets are now louder than ever, echoing in a monastic tone.
Entire sections of the stadium have joined in on the answer, prompted by the lone instigator. The question and the answer are the same. Go Big Red.
This game is different. It feels different. The implications are massive, the opponent revered. This Saturday is not like any other I have been a part of in this old ball park.
It starts out business as usual. There is not a gap in the bleachers, not an empty seat to be found. This is consecutive sellout No. 315, a streak that has gone unbroken since 1962.
It is almost too much to comprehend—in almost fifty years not a seat has gone unsold, a testament to the dedication of a faithful following that has weathered some storms and come back time and time again.
On this particular evening they would have to weather two more storms. One was falling from the sky. The other was about to march down the field wearing Scarlet and Gray.
The Ohio State Buckeyes have struggled early in 2011. Their offense has been anemic, plagued by round after round of suspensions for off-the-field issues. Despite a talented freshman quarterback, production has been limited.
So overwhelmed by the Spartans of Michigan State, Braxton Miller was sacked nine times. This was a redemption game for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, whose Blackshirt defense was torched by Wisconsin to the tune of 48 points and 486 total yards.
With a bye week to follow, a loss to the Buckeyes would linger over the state of Nebraska like a fog.
The rain is falling. The faint sounds of The Alan Parsons Project's “Sirius” are beginning to grow. The crowd, already electric, has just been given the extra shot of adrenaline it needs to make this place one of the greatest college football venues in the country.
HuskerVision, the 117x33 foot video board, shows the players coming out of the locker room, touching the lucky horseshoe and beginning the tunnel walk, a Nebraska tradition that guarantees goose bumps, whether you cheer for the Huskers or not.
The crowd is ready.
Ohio State receives the opening kickoff and after a touchback, begins their march down the field. This doesn’t look like the same offense that gained 178 total yards the week before.
This doesn’t look like the defense whose black practice jerseys have become a symbol of pride and dominance, not only in the state of Nebraska, but across the nation. Something is going horribly wrong.
The offense looks even worse. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez can’t seem to get anything going. The offensive line can’t seem to open up a lane. The slick turf is looking like it is going cut off the home run threat upon which the offense relies.
The big play. How does the saying go? Eighty yards and a cloud of dust? Something like that. Something is going horribly wrong.
And so it went for the first half of the first Husker home game in Big Ten history. After a late second quarter interception that led to an Ohio State field goal, I heard something that, to be honest, startled me.
Growing out of the north stadium was a chorus of boos, a sound familiar to most sports fans, but these aren't most sports fans. Something had gone horribly wrong.
Then it got worse. By the time anybody could understand exactly what was happening, the Buckeyes had opened up a 21-point lead. Known only to the most astute, and perhaps lonely, fans in Memorial Stadium, no Husker team had ever overcome such a deficit.
The rain continues. Nebraska again is stopped on third down and is forced to punt. The Buckeyes start another drive with positive yardage. Third and one. The Nebraska faithful is past the point of restless; they are mute.
The roar that consumed the air in the first quarter has been replaced by the unmistakable clamor of pins crashing to the floor. I don’t know from where the spark needs to come, but nobody is feeding off of anything at this point. Something needs to happen. We need a play.
Third and one. Lavonte David decides to take over.
With Miller squeezing through a hole on the right side of his line, David steps up and wrests the ball out of his hands. The defense indicates that it is Nebraska’s football. They are right. The crowd erupts.
In short order Taylor Martinez keeps a zone read and dashes 18 yards into the endzone. The crowd is re-energized.
On the ensuing drive, the Husker offense does the marching, covering 80 yards on seven plays, capped off by a 36 yard touchdown strike to Quincy Enunwa. The crowd can feel something special—a game, a season being resurrected before their eyes.
Rex Burkhead, the heart and soul of the Nebraska Cornhusker football program, has decided to take over the offensive burden. He fields a dump-off pass from Martinez, breaks off a move that should only be possible in the world of XBOX and dashes 30 yards for the score.
Extra point good. This game is tied. The crowd is beside itself.
The score is secured with an incredible interception by Stanley Jean-Baptiste and the victory is sealed with a 17-yard touchdown run by Burkhead. The Nebraska Cornhuskers have just pulled off the impossible. The greatest comeback in the history of this storied program. They have beaten the Buckeyes 34-27. The stadium explodes.
Something special happened that night in Lincoln, Nebraska. No, the Ohio State team that came to town on Saturday was not the team that has been a dominant force in the Big Ten for the past decade. Yes, their offense lacks an identity, their quarterback is young and as we saw, his backup inept.
But the Huskers showed something. So did the Husker faithful. Despite the boos and despite the chirping crickets, it was tough to find an empty seat indicating that someone had had enough, had thrown in the towel, had gone home.
We all wanted to be loud. We all wanted to be a part of something special. We, like the team, needed a spark. And when that spark came, that stadium was as loud as any I have ever experienced. That place was on fire. That game was epic.
As I walk away from Memorial Stadium I am part of the same sea of red that escorted me there. The oscillating crowd is jubilant, its spirits sky high. And for the walk I am treated to the chants that began on the streets and echoed throughout that hallowed park. A lone instigator and a powerful response: Go Big Red.