Pigskin Pursuit

An eight year odyssey across the backroads of America during the ultimate College Football roadtrip.

Tag: Nebraska

Nebraska vs Colorado – Go Big Red!

Nebraska Football. The mere mention of it conjures up images of Tommy Frazier running the unstoppable option rushing attack, rugged corn fed fullbacks steamrolling unsuspecting linebackers and stalwart, bone crushing defenses. They claim three Heisman trophy winners, over 800 total wins (4th in NCAA History), and five national championships – three of which occurred during the 1990’s. By any measure, Nebraska stands as one of the most storied programs in College Football, and I wanted to make the journey to Lincoln to experience it first hand.

This would be the second game of my three day Thanksgiving rivalry weekend extravaganza, and I made the quick morning drive across the fallow plains of I-80 from Omaha to the Star City of Lincoln. A crisp late fall morning snapped some color into my cheeks and I hurriedly broke out my best bright red sweater to bundle up and blend in with the Husker crowd.

 

To say that Cornhusker football is a religion in the state would be an understatement. They are the only game in town (in State for that matter), and on Saturdays in Nebraska you are either attending the game or watching the game. The 80,000 plus capacity behemoth known as Memorial Stadium boasts the longest consecutive sellout streak in College Football at 306 games, which, for perspective, dates back to 1962. In fact, Memorial Stadium by itself is the third largest city in Nebraska on any given home football Saturday.

Lincoln is a quintessential smaller Midwest town, bisected by one way streets and flanked by old brick and limestone clad buildings. The University of Nebraska sits right in the middle of downtown, and due to the limited parking space, tailgating isn’t quite as robust as one would expect. You simply don’t have the vast oceans of grass surrounding the stadium that you will find at other schools with more tailgating notoriety. The fans at Nebraska make due, however, occupying all nooks and alleys of downtown Lincoln. The Cornhusker faithful are widely reputed to be among the most welcoming, and ardent fanbases in the country.

One of the most notable features of the crowd at Nebraska is their sheer energy when the Huskers go on defense. Nebraska, as a program, has a rich tradition of stifling defenses and the last few years have yielded some of the stingiest defenses in the College game. The pride of the Husker defense lies in a tradition known as the “blackshirts”. Since the 1960’s black shirt practice jerseys have been awarded exclusively to the defensive starters, and are a revered honor among Husker players. The fans respond in kind in the stadium, rising and cheering loudly when the Cornhuskers go on defense. Now most stadiums get louder on defense, which is hardly remarkable. At Nebraska, however, the crowd becomes absolutely deafening on defense, and their exuberance for a “three and out” is the most energetic I have witnessed in my travels. This, coupled with the tight quarters of the field (the grandstands are packed extremely close to the sidelines and endzones) make Memorial Stadium one of the most imposing places in the sport for visiting teams.

The opponent on the day would be the Buffaloes from Colorado, whom I had recently witnessed blow a 28 point 4th quarter lead against Kansas down in Lawrence only a few short weeks ago. That collapse cost head coach Dan Hawkins his job, and interestingly the Colorado program has sported a 2-1 record since the firing. Thickening the plot, this would be the final regular season Big 12 games for both of these squads as Colorado departs for the Pac 10 next year, while Nebraska leaves for the greener pastures (and fatter television contracts) of the Big 10.

 

The game itself was predictably one sided except for a slow start through the first quarter. Once the Huskers got warmed up, however, they never looked back despite missing their starting quarterback Taylor Martinez. Running back Rex Burkhead picked up the slack for the missing quarterback by amassing 101 yards of rushing and a touchdown on the ground. Burkhead, the Plano, Texas native, also demonstrated remarkable versatility by passing for two touchdowns on the day as well. Additionally, the stifling Nebraska defense lived up to their reputation by forcing three turnovers and holding the Buffaloes to a stingy 262 yards of total offense, many of which came late in the third quarter once the contest had already been decided. In the end the Huskers pulled away to a hearty 45-17 win.

After a trip there, it’s impossible not to be impressed by a Nebraska game. There is an incredibly rich football tradition that precedes a gameday in Lincoln, but in true understated Midwest fashion the experience lives up to its lofty reputation . There is a solidarity permeating the entire Kool Aid State (look it up) that rallies around the Cornhuskers, and their red clad fans have drunk it in droves. Filling an 85,000 seat stadium for the last forty eight years in such a sparsely populated state is testimony to Husker Nation, and I certainly screamed myself hoarse in the third largest city in Nebraska on Saturdays.

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Misty’s Steakhouse – A Little Slice of Nebraska Beef

While Nebraska might not be renown for a selection of interesting regional fare, one thing they do know is beef. Good old, American corn fed beef. The kind of mustache inspring beef that fed the likes of Wade Boggs, Bob Gibson and Buffalo Bill Cody (all Nebraska natives). The same beef that many of you send away through the mail for a special holiday meal (Omaha Steaks). After a four hour game in the chilly confines of Nebraska’s’ Memorial Stadium I had hankering for the honest simplicity of a slab of beef. Misty’s, I was told, would have the kind of portions needed to quell my carnivorous appetite. Long time College Football announcer Keith Jackson used to come here, and if it’s good enough for the maestro of hyperbole it’s good enough for me.

Stepping into Misty’s is a journey back in time, as the restaurant dates back to 1964 and I doubt has been remodeled since.The interior is cavernously dark, accented by stained wood paneling, exposed oak beams and flanked by deep chocolate leather booths. The walls and display cases are riddled with all manner of Nebraska Cornhusker paraphernalia, and assorted other dusty Big 12 Football artifacts.

I slipped into a spot at the oval shaped bar, sank deep into a plush leather bar chair and promptly ordered up the king cut prime rib with a pint of house made Altbier to wash it down.My wrist thick slab of beef arrived moments later, along with some warm bread and a pile of garlic mashed potatoes.I don’t need to exhaustively describe prime rib, except to say that it was tender, thick, juicy and delicious.I made short work of my meal before getting on the road back to Omaha for an early morning flight to Columbus.

Nebraska is a beef state, and the beauty of steak is that it never goes out of style. It’s timeless. So if you ever find yourself in Lincoln with a hankering for some corn fed cow, then park yourself in a plush leather booth at Misty’s and put the feed bag on.
http://www.mistyslincoln.com

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Runza – A Nebraska Hot Pocket

Nebraska isn’t defined by a prevalence of regional or noteworthy cuisines, and outside of a hunk of beef, I couldn’t uncover any must try local delicacies in my research. The closest that I came was a place called Runza, a small regional chain native to Nebraska with about 80 plus locations scattered throughout the state. Founded in 1949, Runza specializes in a unique kind of sandwich, aptly named a “Runza”. The Runza is a bread pocket type sandwich stuffed with spiced beef or pork, cabbage and onions, and owes its’ origins to the Volga Germans that settled in the Great Plains. Though I normally avoid chains, an exclusive sandwich was something I felt compelled to try, so I put my biases aside and ambled in for a bite.

At the fast food style counter, I ordered up the Swiss Mushroom Runza on the recommendation of the cashier. Naturally, this included fries and I felt compelled to give the chocolate milkshake a run as well. The Runza can most appropriately be described as the fast food equivalent of a hot pocket. It was warm, doughy, moist and gooey inside and certainly good filler on a chilly afternoon. While in true fast food fashion the actual contents of the filling remain a bit mysterious, in addition to the cheese, mushrooms and beef I picked up notes of cabbage, onions, and some unidentified spices. The fries were standard variety, though surprisingly crispy, while the thick chocolate shake more closely resembled a Wendy’s Frosty (and hence perfect for dipping the fries).

Runza was an interesting stop, and I was glad to try one of the few foods native to Nebraska. At the end though, the sandwich is hardly remarkable from a hot pocket, and pretty standard fast food fare. It’s deserving of a taste from a curiosity standpoint, but hardly worth going out of your way for. I’d love to unearth a place that had a more inspired home made version of the sandwich. Interestingly, I discovered that they serve Runza’s in Memorial Stadium, and on a cold day in Lincoln they certainly make a better alternative than a hot dog.
http://www.runza.com/

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Big 12 Championship – Horns vs. Huskers

After the conclusion of our regular season, our ravenous appetite for college football had yet to be satiated.Fortunately one of the benefits of living in the heart of Big 12 country is the Big 12 Conference Championship game rolling into town a week after the end of the season.Both of us were anxious to see if the undefeated Texas Longhorns could overcome the Nebraska Cornhuskers to secure their spot in the National Championship game.I was also rather excited to be witness my first football game in the newly christened Cowboy Stadium, without having to suffer the indignity of actually watching the Cowboys play.

Coming into the contest, the Texas offensive juggernaut had run unchecked through Big 12 opposition all season, posting an average of 43 points per game, good for the #3 offense in the country.Behind the winningest QB in college football history and Heisman candidate Colt McCoy, the Longhorns were on the cusp of clinching their second National Championship berth in the last five years.

Standing ominously in their path on the other side of scrimmage, however, was the heralded Bo Pelini Nebraska defense.Nebraska boasted the stingiest scoring defense in the country, allowing an anemic 10.4 points per game. The Husker’s featured man child defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who, in addition to being named the defensive player of the year, had the rare honor being a defensive player mentioned in the Heisman conversation.Clearly, this was going to be a contest of the unstoppable force versus the immovable object.

Texas vs. Nebraska lived up to this hype, and proved to be the most exciting game that we witnessed all year.The Nebraska defense locked the Horns’ attack down all day long.Limited to a paltry 202 yards of total offense, the Texas attack was forced to punt nine times on the evening, and managed a lone touchdown.Despite a praiseworthy performance against Texas A&M the week before, Colt McCoy’s Heisman stock plummeted amidst his lackluster 184 yards and three interceptions.In fact Colt was picking himself up off the carpet for the better part of the day after being sacked nine times, including four of them by Ndamukong Suh.Suh was all over the place during the game, raking in 12 tackles alone and anchoring the Nebraska defense that kept the Huskers within a score the entire game (fortunate considering their offense barely managed over 100 yards all day).


The game got extremely nerve wracking for the burnt orange crowd with about 1:44 left to play when Nebraska kicker Alex Henery booted one through the uprights to give the Huskers a 12-10 lead.It seemed Texas would have to go nearly the length of field against the stalwart Husker defense to claim their spot in Pasadena…..or would they? The Nebraska kicker promptly booted the kickoff out of bounds, spotting Texas at the 40 yard line.At nearly midfield, McCoy then connected with his favorite receiver Jordan Shipley for 19 yards. The well disciplined, self aware Nebraska squad decided this would be an opportune time for a personal foul, so they spotted Texas yet another 15 yards on the end of the play.After a sack and a stuffed run, Colt McCoy then rolled out on a 3rd down passing play with :08 on the clock.Taking his sweet time surveying the field (and evidently unconcerned with the clock), McCoy then lazily lobbed the ball out of bounds as the final seconds ticked off.Instantly, the Nebraska bench rushed the field in victory, as throngs of red clad Husker fans erupted in celebration in the stands.A hard fought victory, and a salute to the old adage of “defense wins championships”.

But wait a minute…..”the previous play is under review”….With a collective sigh of relief for the burnt orange, the Huskers were corralled off the field to await the results of the replay trolls.76,211 stood in hushed silence, and after an agonizing five minute review, plus the requisite allowance for some atmosphere killing TV commercials, the officials determined that there was in fact :01 left on the clock.With that one second, the Longhorns BCS Championship dreams were still alive, and exclamation points would live on in facebook status updates for eternity.After a tenuous 46 yard kick by Hunter Lawrence that just eeked inside the uprights, the Longhorns were the ones celebrating under the ticker tape.Their next stop would be a trip to Pasadena to cap off a perfect season and play for the Big Crystal Football.

I somehow managed to capture the winning kick in mid air…

What a game…

Hook Em’ Horns!

Special thanks again to our friends Jared and Kimberly for helping us out with tickets to the game, and tailgating festivities.College Football is meant to be enjoyed in the company of good friends, and it is always a pleasure to hoist a few with some of our favorite ‘Horns fans.

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