The Cornhuskers Did Battle, But I Won the War
Thoughts on the Way to Lincoln
I woke up early, put away laundry, made banana pancakes, checked emails. I thought about how I was going to get to Lincoln, checked maps, considered possible GameDay bars. Then, I did the most logical thing I could think of: I drove over to my landlord’s workshop and watched him butcher a road kill deer.
Nebraska football is in the air! Can you feel it?!!?!
Would the doe’s early demise, its chest cavity splayed open haphazardly with tree branches, portend a bad day for NU? Was this death, its blood and entrails dripping down the hind quarters like grisly motor oil, a bad pigskin omen? Is it possible that my landlord’s decision to acquire a free lunch from the road kill found on the highways of this great state has no relation to my football plans?
Yea, I guess it’s possible.
My landlord, who doubles as a friend, his girlfriend, and I piled into an oversize diesel pickup truck, Lincoln bound. Daytrips take all forms, and this was perhaps, in truth, more of a night trip. Unlike my normal approach to travel, which involves a lot of walking, and the attempt to see it all in the chance that I never come back, this trip would be slightly more focused.
“Why might someone go to Lincoln?” I asked my friend, as we barreled west on route 80.
“You mean other than football?” he quickly interjected.
His tone pretty much answered my question. This trip was all about one thing: Cornhusking us some Kansas State Wildcats in a game that would decide the Big 12 North title.
O Street in Lincoln, Football’s Main Street
As we pulled off the highway and drove into the city proper, I thought, you know one thing that’s nice about downtown Lincoln? You know when you’re there. You know two things that are nice about downtown Lincoln? Uh…I’m not sure, let me get back to you. Like I said, I was here strictly for the game, and the buzz surrounding downtown, where one can see the University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium looming in the distance if the sight lines are right, was pretty clear from the moment we entered the city.
I tend to forget how many mid-Western cities are arranged in easy to navigate grids. They all look unique, yet comfortingly similar. Lincoln’s wide streets, brick accents, and not-quite-Europe-but-not-Las-Vegas-new-either sense of age reminded me of Omaha. Only bigger. And more populated. Which of course makes very little sense.
The university, and its attendant network of bars, eateries, and services, surely makes the city feel more happening. And the game, which marked the 304th consecutive sellout at Memorial, a record which dates back to the Kennedy administration, clearly swells Lincoln beyond its normal capacity. If you have a reason to go (i.e. football), it’s really a happening place to visit.
Aside from multiple strangers exhorting me to “Go!” (apparently I was supposed to respond “Big Red!” but usually I just cowered meekly at their crazed eyeballs), I found the people friendly and gregarious. The atmosphere, which vacillated somewhere between convivial and booze-o-licious, was really a pleasant change from Omaha, which is often more of an insular car city outside of a few select neighborhoods. Here, the people were taking to the streets, and the Sea of Red, as the fans are known, were out in full force. With every breath in of oxygen, energy was being exhaled.
As it became closer to game time, I looked into scalping options, as the University had gleefully denied my request for media credentials. Omaha.net, was apparently not on their radar. That’ll change (please help). As the Omaha.net’s lavish budget did not line up with ticket seller’s expectations, I scurried around snapping photos for you, Dear Readers, and generally soaked up what was a sweet atmosphere.
Take the food, for example: between the pros with food trucks and the amateurs with grills, the smell of at least seven different meats wafted through the air. It was a Kosher nightmare, as pork of all kinds mixed with beef (likely reducing the Hindu fan contingent), mingling with the smell of fried chicken, and a hint of what must have been lamb. And did I mention that I’m a vegetarian?
Muslims can take their pick of whether they’d like to be scared off by the gelatin in the Jell-O shots (pork product) or the copious amounts of vodka. Basically, it’s a wonder anyone is allowed to see this debauched food and drink spectacle. Not sure if there’s any truth to the rumor that they’re thinking of renaming themselves the Sea of Booze (with Little Red Human Boats Floating on Top of the Waves).
Also not for nothing, but we saw one meat smoker so large that its trailer needed a license plate. When your grill needs a license plate, you are officially making meats delicious. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Eating aside, the game was soon about to begin, and with it, the famed Tunnel Walk. Any school whose players ceremoniously come out to a song by the Alan Parsons Project is clearly awesome. And very progressive – apparently Rick Wakemen will be doing the halftime show for the Huskers’ bowl trip. To be fair, though, during the Chicago Bulls Jordan-led heyday, they entered to the same song (Sirius), and the Tunnel Walk has that mythical, chills down your spine, let’s get ready for something much more important than just football feeling. It’s pure pump-up.
Best Football Bar in Cornhusker Land
After the introductory hoopla, we made our way over to the famed Sidetrack Tavern (935 O Street) to enjoy the game. Sidetrack Tavern has made its reputation on the strength of Joyce and Paul’s Sidetrack band. The band sings genuinely entertaining and completely inappropriate songs about Nebraska, their players, and whomever they might be playing that week. It’s a good time.
As for the bar? If your idea of a good time is leaving the house so you can sit in a cold, dark room, floored with sticky, hospital cafeteria grade tile, you will enjoy the place. You can really let loose, drink as much as you want, and scream violently at a TV that won’t answer you back in front of all of your closest friends. Bonus points if you like swearing in public.
Personally, the most fun I had involved placing bets on how many times the girl sitting in front of me would drop her camera/Blackberry while watching the game. After a legendary six drop performance in the first half, I set the second half over/under at a conservative 4, and went for the over. Let’s just say, her classic facedown on the table, spilling the pitcher of beer, cell phone, camera, and cigarettes troika drop got me the win. I was pleased.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the game. In short, it was sloppy, with both teams leaving points on the table, and never really in question, Nebraska claiming the win, 17 – 3. The Cornhuskers’ pass rush bothered Kansas State all night, and that really seemed to be the difference in the game. That, and the fact that Kansas State’s best player (Brandon Banks) was a receiver who looks to be about 5’ 3” tall and couldn’t hang on to the ball.
*note - the final song in this video is not for the kiddies
By contrast, Nebraska’s best player was clearly pro prospect Ndamukong Suh, whose first name means “House of Spears.” He got to Kansas State’s quarterback, Grant Gregory, all night, sacking, tackling, tipping passes, and generally causing a ruckus.
As a side note, you know you’ve accomplished something in life when you can convincingly pull off the name House of Spears. But it’s his last name, often heard echoing throughout Memorial Stadium, that I found most interesting. Suh should surely join the ranks of Kevin “Youk” Youkalis, Mike “Moose” Mussina, and The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, on the list of Famous People Whose Names Are Likely to Be Chanted By Entire Stadiums of People But Actually Sound Like the Crowd is Booing Which Can Be Very Confusing for Novice Fans. Not pictured: mediocre pro golfer Boo Weekley.
All in all, I really had a lot of fun in Lincoln. Next year, when this website has made me rich and famous, I’ll be enjoying the game from the luxury box. Until then, share this article with your friends, and share your passion for the Cornhuskers with your fellow Omahans.
If you would like to daytrip Lincoln yourself, I recommend getting their early. Sidetrack has music both before and after the game, and I spied more than a few beer gardens set up for pregame revelry (one with a band who may or may not actually have been the Alan Parsons Project!).
While your daytrip options are probably done for the season (depending on your access to a helicopter and desire to follow Nebraska to Colorado the day after Thanksgiving or Arlington, Texas for the Dr. Pepper Big 12 Football Championship December 5th), the good thing about Nebraska football is that it’ll always be around next year.
Check Huskers.com for official ticketing, or your favorite re-seller, like stubhub.com or craigslist.com, if you find the game sold out.
And if you’re from Lincoln, what should I have done? What did I miss? Leave your comments below and tell me how to have more fun next time!