This weekend my wife and I finally attended (three years into this call) our first Nebraska Huskers football game. Thanks to some good friends of ours we met and have stayed in contact with from when I served my internship in Laramie, Wyoming—friends that are BIG UW fans—we were able to get some tickets to the Nebraska/Wyoming game in Lincoln on Saturday. The occasion was a while in the making—we all had been looking forward to it for many months. This time, however, though our friends donned their gold and brown, my wife and I sported our new red and white loyalty. Exactly five years ago to the day, we were attending our first Wyoming game with them (against Texas State, which Wyoming won). Perhaps the coincidence was divine intention; maybe it was the luck of the draw. After working through a few unexpected hurdles that morning, I made it down to the game—finding my seat about three plays into the first quarter. It was exhilarating to say the least. I can see now from those couple hours what all the hoopla is about with Nebraskans and their deep pride for college football.
It may not seem like it, but this single event was a good and necessary lesson in contextuality for me. The crowds of people, the passion of each individual—from young to old and everyone in between, the dedication with each play and call—it was both a sight to behold and an emotion that yanked you into full-participation. By the end of the first quarter, I began to talk rushing and passing stats with those around me. We were making coaching calls—giving our completely amateur advice as if we had been seasoned head coaches. Though we had entered into this common space as strangers, the game—our team—bound us together for a unified goal. As food vendors walked by and the breeze kicked up, the smell of hot dogs, Runza (a Nebraskan staple), and popcorn filled the air. The Huskers would score and immediately the flares and canon shot—BOOM! Flag runners and cheerleaders covered the field during timeouts. The band performed marvelously during halftime. As we went inside to check out the merchandise, the commentators could be heard overhead on speakers—not a moment was missed, each word filled with an array of emotions. Whenever a pass was thrown up—everyone stood with anticipation and hope. If a tackle by the opposing team would end a drive—despondence and doubt washed over the stands like a rushing wave. Exiting as the game to a close, I found myself both impressed and surprised to witness fellow fans thank our Wyoming friends for attending despite the lopsided loss. The whole ethos of the game felt organic, interconnected, historical—as if it was building off of every game, every year that had come before that moment, the good and the bad, a succession or tradition unbroken, ever deepening the many shades of red which make Husker Nation.
Do I now fully understand everything there is to know regarding Nebraska Cornhusker football? No, far from it. Yet, as I reflect on that experience I find myself both beginning to piece a few things together about the people I serve and what makes them so unique and eager to go and learn more about this blessed context. Nebraskans, as I’ve come to learn, bleed red for a number of reasons—one of them is for their team. To learn and understand a people means engaging with the various aspects of what makes them them. Obviously (perhaps heretically, depending on who you ask), not everyone in Nebraska is a Husker fan. GASP! That being said, however, Cornhusker football is as huge of a shaper of the local culture as the produce from which it derives its namesake. My hope is that this won’t be our only game we attend while here, nor the last one for another five years. At the same time, realistically I don’t see myself making it out to Memorial Stadium for every home game. Time will tell how faithfully we can attend, or much less watch on the television. Nevertheless, I’m thankful for the opportunity to share a fun game with good friends (who should be praised for their great sportsmanship) and receiving an amazing lesson in my ongoing education of Nebraska contextuality. Here’s hoping we do well this week in what will prove to be a difficult test against the No. 21 Oregon Ducks. GO BIG RED!