“I grew up watching Nebraska football.”
This was a normal, everyday phrase for someone living in Nebraska; locals living ‘The Good Life’ wouldn’t even think much of you saying it.
“Uh, yeah, duh,” they would respond, “…of course…we all did.”
However, I was a rare breed as a kid growing up in Pullman, WA.
I remember rolling out of bed, putting on my #30 red and white jersey, and stumbling upstairs for a bowl of cereal. I would grab a few other game day snacks and then I would settle into my seat next to a recently stoked fire.
My dad and I would sit on our couch in the basement, on a cool fall day (or a snowy winter morning), and we would cheer on the Cornhuskers. It was the mid-90’s, so it was a great time to be a fan of the Big Red. They were often #1 in the country and they were winning National Championships at a historically significant pace. Names like Tommie Frazier, Ahman Green, Tom Osborne, Lawrence Phil — (nope, I can’t even say it), were the stars of my childhood.
I’ll never forget my birthday, in October of 1997, when I got the opportunity to fly to Lincoln, Nebraska for a football game. My cousin Elliott was a student at UNL and so his Dad (Uncle Dave), and my Dad, and I attended a game in the students section. I was a freshman in High School. Nebraska was number one in the country and they were playing their long-time rivals the Oklahoma Sooners. Not only that, but Nebraska was way better than OU at the time (they are always better, even when they are not) and they were striving to get Tom Osborne’s 250th win as a coach (the fastest to ever do so). Long story short – they won, there were fireworks, and I had one of the greatest memories of my life.
Fast forward to today – Saturday, September 5th, 2015. I am thinking back to all my Husker memories and I don’t think I’ve anticipated a game more than I am today. Not Orange Bowl’s against Miami. Not live games in Lincoln in 1997, 2005, 2006, or 2007. Not even day-after-Thanksgiving games against Colorado.
Today, my friend who I grew up with, my friend who knocked me down hundreds of times on a football field (typically when I was wearing a Nebraska t-shirt under my uniform), my friend who I haven’t talked to or seen in years, is making his coaching debut for the Blackshirts. Trent Bray, Nebraska’s linebacker coach, is from Pullman, WA. We went to school together. We celebrated birthday parties together by sneaking into Martin Stadium (home of the WSU Cougars) and playing tackle football on the turf. We played in Hoopfest together and won a state baseball championship together. I watched him play for the Oregon State Beavers as one of their most dominant defensive players in their school’s history. I’ve followed his coaching career as an up and coming star (my opinion…slightly biased) throughout college football. He is someone I haven’t stayed in touch with, but I’m extremely proud of.
He is currently walking on the sidelines I only dreamed of wandering someday.
It’s funny how life can come around full circle. I grew up idolizing anybody on the sidelines of Nebraska Football and I tried to convince my friends that they should, too. Nobody really seemed all that interested. But, today, I bet they are all a little more tuned in for the season debut. Today, I bet I am not the only person waking up excited to watch a Nebraska football game on TV. I think my friends still living in Pullman might be scanning the sidelines for Coach Bray. I am pretty sure people I grew up with, now scattered throughout Western Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California, and Nevada, will be interested in the happenings of Lincoln, Nebraska (at least for a couple of hours). Friends from all around the world, acquaintances with little interest in my childhood team, will be calling themselves fans of the Big Red.
It took them awhile, but I say welcome to the greatest fans on earth.
Hopefully their families will one day say, “I grew up watching Nebraska Football.”
“Uh, yeah…duh,” I will respond, “…of course you did.”
Good luck Trent! I’ll be on my couch, as usual, with my Huskers shirt and Red “N” slippers on. (I could always use some new game day apparel…you know…coaches only kind of stuff). Go Big Red.