On Sept. 14, 2019, 89,593 loyal Nebraska fans packed Memorial Stadium to watch the Huskers take on Northern Illinois. While many of these fans have strict and often superstitious routines regarding their Husker game days, most have never experienced what life is like behind the scenes for those involved in the game day process. For the thousands of onlookers who pack the stands every Saturday, many others contribute to football Saturday in their own unique ways.
Among those are Austin Oerman, a student broadcaster for 90.3 KRNU, Logan Skrabal, a member of the Cornhusker Marching Band and Ilum Hansen, a faithful part of the Boneyard — the Husker football student section. Together, they represent perspectives of game day not often seen by the general public.
What follows is a rundown of their experiences on this football Saturday, focusing in on Nebraska’s contest with Northern Illinois.
Everyone is up for the day and ready to start the long haul toward the evening’s game. Logan is heading back to Lincoln from Omaha somewhere along I-80 listening to the morning radio report while Austin is already in the capital city communicating with family about what the day holds. Across town, Ilum is heading to a family brunch at a local spot called the Hub Cafe. All three are experiencing what is the calm before the storm.
Austin Oerman: By 10:30 a.m., I’d received seven texts from my family about the upcoming game. By the end of the night, there would be 103.
Logan Skrabal: I am prepping for band rehearsal, which will start in about an hour. Making sure that all uniform parts and equipment are ready to go is essential before heading to Westbrook Music Building on the southwest corner of campus to drop things off. I set off from my dorm on foot with a trombone, uniform, hat box and other game day essentials in tow and arrive at my destination around 12:45. From there I head straight to Memorial Stadium to listen to a handful of memorization callbacks for my section. As a rank leader in the trombone section, I am in charge of ensuring that the trombones adequately know their parts for the upcoming show. This duty often extends to game day. I had a few members play the Northern Illinois fight song for me so that I could give them the OK to march later that day. Those who do not pass memorization checks on all pregame and halftime music risk not marching that day. Luckily, all of those who were called back passed, and I was able to affirm to the section leader that we were all eligible to march later that day.
LS: Talk about hype. The energy of game day has quickly set in by this point, and marching band members are on the field ready to practice one more time before kickoff. Hundreds of spectators are in the stands enjoying what the band has in store. The practice starts with stretches and a “dynamic lap,” which is never a dull moment for the Cornhusker Marching Band (CMB).
For the rest of rehearsal, it is repetition, repetition, repetition. We have prepared our music and drill all week, and this gives the band one last opportunity to lock things in.
At the end of rehearsal, we collectively hear the familiar “Meet me on the ‘N’” proudly uttered by Professor Tony Falcone, Director of the Cornhusker Marching Band, signaling that our preparation for the week had been a success and that rehearsal was over. He gave us a few more reminders before setting us free for an afternoon break. However, the fun doesn’t stop when the huddle breaks, as “Band Song” breaks out and band members scatter in every direction. This tradition is one that often catches new members off-guard as it is completely unspoken of and just happens at the end of game day rehearsals. However, with the home opener a thing of the past, even the freshmen are prepped for the run, which eventually ends in a wild rep of “Hail Varsity.”
After we settled down, the trombones circled up and sang our version of the “Hokey Pokey” before finally packing up and heading out.
AO: I showed up to Andersen Hall about an hour and a half before the rest of the crew arrived because I had some additional work to do. I needed to record music beds, put them under the already-produced liners and upload them to SystemPlaylist, the audio system used by KRNU. That meant it was time to roll up the sleeves of my gray dress shirt, take off my navy tie and get to work.
Game note preparation was easy, involving only filling out a few last details and printing the sheets. You know, the stuff you’d prefer to save until 3 p.m. instead of staying up until 1:30 a.m. the night before and having the papers get either crumpled in a backpack or accidentally thrown away because you’d rather lose a limb than buy a folder.
Ilum Hansen: Following a nice afternoon workout, I head down from my house to the 50/50 apartment complex to start the festivities. I kick off the festivities with catching up on all of the day’s football games and a nice mimosa to compliment it. The game day hype is starting to kick in for me as I see the streets lined with people in red, all heading toward the same area. My friends and I hang out for an hour and then decide that it’s time we head to the weekly tailgates.
IH: If you have never experienced walking down near the hundreds of tailgates underneath the I-180 bridge, I highly recommend it. Husker fans turn from strangers to best friends on football Saturdays, and this tailgate area is a hotbed for those fans. I walk past the stadium and to the tailgates and it’s nothing but Nebraska-cooked barbecue and big tailgate rigs with people huddled around having a great time. This is truly one of my favorite things about Husker football. My friends and I arrive at the tailgate we go to each week and start our pregame talks about the game. This is the first night game Nebraska has had in over a year, so Lincoln was definitely buzzing about it.
AO: Well, this was the intended departure time. Nebraska Volleyball played Loyola Marymount in a 1 p.m. match at the Devaney Center, so KRNU sent a two-person crew to call that game. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough headsets to call two games simultaneously, so since the match went four sets, the volleyball announcers had no way of getting back to Andersen with the headsets and cords by 4 p.m., leaving us equipment-less.
KRNU’s own Will Bauer ran the soundboard for that game, arriving at Andersen around noon to prepare the studio.
Those of us who comprised the day’s KRNU Sports Staff crew, meaning myself, Will Bauer, Jake Bartecki and Jessica Blum, made the decision to take our small black box and rely on the student football announcers from Professor John Shrader’s class to snag the bag with the headsets from the volleyball crew and get it to us at the stadium by 5:30.
LS: Ah, good ol’ Unity Walk. While I was not directly involved with it today, one of our Friday Night Pep Bands was at the gig and played through a number of fight songs as the football team entered the stadium. My fellow leadership members Dan Iverson, Sydney McGahan and Austin Essman were holding down the trombone parts this afternoon.
IH: The next step for me was to move on from my first tailgate that featured great food and drinks to my sister’s tailgate that is only about 50 yards away from the previous one. They have a tailgate rig this year that they share with two other couples. It is a black trailer with Husker photos painted on it and a cutout where they put a big flat screen TV. Inside the trailer there is a bar and a fridge and other game-day necessities.
AO: After four years of setting up the little black box, it’s gotten easier. If it was my first time attempting to set it up, I would’ve been panicking. Luckily, everything worked the first time, so setting up the booth took only five minutes.
LS: After a meal break, my bandmates and I dressed in full uniform at Westbrook Music Building before heading to uniform inspection. This ensures that everyone is compliant and looks consistent with the established uniform code. This includes strict instructions on makeup and facial hair. I pass through today without issue and ensured that my fellow rank leader Sydney was able to get her GoPro hooked up to her uniform. Luckily, we received special permission to take it onto the field earlier today and took advantage of it throughout the evening.
IH: The final tailgate stop for the evening is at the infamous Railyard. The place is absolutely crawling with people in red each weekend. As I walk over there, the deafening noise of thousands of people crammed into one area slowly grows. As I walk in, I immediately start seeing familiar faces. That is one of the luxuries of being from Lincoln. You run into people you know just about everywhere you go, especially on game days. The first move at the Railyard is to find my friends and then hop in line for a quick drink before I head to the stadium. Catching up with old friends and meeting new people is a common occurrence at the Railyard. The big screen TV is showing Husker highlights and other football games to get everyone riled-up for the game. The local radio show hosts are on stage pumping up the crowd, and “Go Big Red” chants fill the air. This is what a night game in Lincoln, Neb. is all about. T-minus 90 minutes until kickoff. Go. Big. Red.
It’s now an hour and a half before kickoff, which means the gates are opened to fans. Students are always the first in, piling up like corn in a grain bin on their way up the concourse before eventually spilling out into the stands in the south and east sections.
AO: I haven’t attended a Nebraska football game as a fan since Nebraska defeated Oregon 32-28 back in 2016. Regardless, my buddies from high school save me a seat for as long as they can. The second part of that tradition is our version of “The Wave.” We coordinate a time to start waving; them from their seats in the student section and me from the booth. We discuss the upcoming game via phone as we search for each other. Our record is 17 seconds recorded last season. Usually, it takes longer for me to find them because picking three people out of 1,000 wearing red is harder than looking to the sixth floor and finding the doofus leaning out the window waving.
Sidebar: “The Wave” is ACTUALLY the worst part of any sporting event. People miss exciting plays because someone decided randomly throwing oneself in the air was preferable to observing the action. Lunacy. Nothing makes me happier than seeing “The Wave” fail to crest in the sea of red.
AO: Husker Countdown begins as I observe the stadium through the press box windows. The student section is approximately half-full; the rest of the stadium is … not. Fans are trickling in, but that’s to be expected with the later kickoff time. The U is undoubtedly full of tailgaters of all ages as it has been since noon or earlier.
LS: The band lines up in arcs outside of Kimball Recital Hall and plays through the halftime music in front of a sea of red. For many fans, stopping at this juncture and watching the band before continuing to the stadium is a ritual enjoyed every game day. At 6:15, the band sets up in a parade block in front of the Westbrook Music Building and starts our parade to the stadium. I am at the front left corner of the block, so my vantage point is incredible. My fellow seniors and I call commands on our way down to the stadium as thousands of Husker faithful cheer along the way. We kick into “Band Song” and “Hail Varsity” as we near the stadium entrance before heading to all four corners of the stadium to await our pre-game entrance.
IH: There is one hour until kickoff, and that means it is time for me to get to the stadium as quickly as possible. There are good and bad things about having open seating in the student section. The good thing is that if you get there early, you can get killer seats. The bad thing is that if you get there late, you won’t get a seat. I knew leaving the Railyard around 6 p.m. was a good idea because I would arrive at Memorial Stadium around 6:15, giving me enough time to find a halfway decent seat. Boy, was I wrong. The line to get into the stadium was slow-moving with everyone eager to get into their seat and see the scarlet and cream warming up to take on Northern Illinois. This isn’t just another night game for Nebraska; this is part of the revenge tour. Northern Illinois came into our stadium and beat us two years ago, and we were not about to let that happen again. The pre-game buzz was real, and I was glad to be apart of it.
AO: An announcement was made that the Nebraska TV broadcast was being moved to Fox Business Channel. For those who don’t know, Nebraska-Northern Illinois was intended to follow the Iowa-Iowa State game on Fox Sports 1. However, a pair of rain/lightning/hail delays totaling three hours pushed the Cy-Hawk game back until it eventually resumed at 6:50. That left Nebraska channel-less for the time being, at least until the decision to switch channels was made.
You can’t trust Iowa to do ANYTHING right. Not even a standard football game! I respect their commitment to pissing off Nebraska fans, but this is a step too far. Fox Business still might not even be a real channel, though my sources relay this potentially imaginary channel is indeed number 206 in Lincoln.
IH: Aha. I found my seat. Not to mention the perfect amount of room for my friends and me. There are chills in the air from the pre-game hype, and hot dogs flying every which way from the Weiner Slinger. By now, the vast majority of the crowd filled in with stragglers at the gates or in line at the concessions stand. The game hasn’t started, but the show is about to. It is just about that time.
LS: I start in the northwest tunnel of pre-game, intently watching for others to signal that it is time to take the field. It is often chaos in the tunnels underneath the stadium, so monitoring the time can be tricky! The crowd roared around 25 minutes before kickoff, and the players ran through the tunnel toward their locker room. This was the signal that it was our turn to take the field.
In a blur, I am on the field as the crowd is roaring with what is undoubtedly a mixture of nervous excitement and optimistic anticipation. After all, for many, when the marching band steps onto the field, it means that kickoff is only a few minutes away. Sydney was able to record all of the pre-game from her vantage point.
IH: The band takes the field, the students get fired up along with the rest of the die-hard Husker fans in the stands and it is almost game time. But first, the band gets in formation and plays the National Anthem. One of the coolest parts of games is when 90,000 fans go silent for the National Anthem. It is truly a thing of beauty. You could hear a pin drop on the turf on the 50-yard line from the nosebleed seats. As the song continues, the fans patiently wait for the end and hope for a roaring flyover by military fighter jets. Unfortunately, this game did not feature that. However, the roar of the crowd was loud enough itself because everyone knows what is coming next: The tunnel walk.
Ten minutes from game time, and the crowd is on its feet, 89,593 people clapping and chanting in unison. The video board above the north end zone shows the tunnel walk, Nebraska Football’s most venerated tradition.
AO: The one part of my job that makes me long to be a fan again is missing the tunnel walk. I haven’t witnessed a full pre-walk video since that day in 2016, and it’s a bit of a bummer. Alas, I shall bear my burden of making the announcers comfortable in the booth.
AO: Yo. Whaddup, MTV. Welcome to my crib!
IH: The pregame festivities are over, and the Scarlet and Cream take the field. The student section shoes go up in the air for kickoff, and it is now the moment we’ve all been waiting for. The job I have throughout the game is to remain loud and in full support of our team, along with the rest of the student section.
LS: We are finally in the stands and ready to enjoy the game, keeping an eye out for the drum major’s signals. We play after every scoring play and big defensive stop, but otherwise, playing can be sporadic. With Scott Frost’s no-huddle offense, we are not allowed to play when Nebraska has the ball. Luckily for us, Northern Illinois plays with a very traditional style, taking their time to huddle up between most plays. This gave us ample time to play.
About six minutes before halftime, the band made its way out of the stands and onto the sideline to prepare to take the field. In that time, the Huskers scored (yay!), so they played a canned version of “Hail Varsity” over the speakers (yuck!).
IH: As the band is taking the field for halftime, and the football team is leaving it, some fans head to the concession stands while I head to the tunnel. I like to go down by Nebraska’s locker rooms to support the team I came to watch and let them know we are standing behind them no matter what. Pumping them up before halftime is something I think every student should try. It is also a fantastic atmosphere down there.
LS: As the band takes the field, I can’t help but observe the crowd. At that moment, the students looked genuinely happy and the stadium was still FULL. That was a very refreshing sight. We started facing east and played songs by The Jackson 5 and the Beach Boys before kicking into “Don’t You Forget About Me” from “The Breakfast Club.” Then, in a hurry, we ran to the south end zone and transitioned into “High Hopes” by Panic! At The Disco. The students seemed to get a kick out of that!
As the game starts back up again, everyone settles back into their seats and the Huskers continue to dominate on the field. Toward the end of the game, “Our Red Burns Brighter” is read across the main HuskerVision screen and the stadium is illuminated with phones, creating a fluorescent hue over the entirety of the football field.
AO: “Our Red Burns Brighter” looks fantastic from the broadcast booth as well.
Nebraska defeated Northern Illinois 44-8 in a relatively non-competitive game. This left fans quite excited, achieving a much-needed blowout victory.
LS: The game is now over. As the team ran off the field, the band kicked into “Slow Place,” swaying back and forth while sending the team into the locker room with a victory theme.
Time for postgame. You can hear the pleadings against it — the classic “No Postgame” chant rings out from the back of the band’s section from those daring and witting enough take their usual stance. The three halftime songs are once again played as a handful of onlookers get one last glimpse of the band before they depart to celebrate the day’s victory.
The band marches halfway back to Westbrook Music Building in formation, chanting just as they had during march down, but this time with much more fatigue. I am once again at the front of the parade block, so keeping a smiling face is always a must. It wasn’t hard today, though, since Nebraska won!
After a quick meeting with Professor Falcone, the band kicked into one of its most polarizing traditions, “Beer Song!” Walking the rest of the way back to Westbrook is a lot more jolly now!
In Heaven, there is no beer
That’s why we drink it here
And when we’re gone from here
All our friends will be drinking all the beer
We have often wondered how long that song will stick around as a tradition! The seniority in the band is often heard most in this situation, with 4th- and 5th-year seniors shouting with more boisterous confidence than even most Colorado fans would be able to handle. On the other end of the spectrum, the faces of new members are often shocked, unaware of why exactly this is going on. I fall somewhere in the middle.
AO:The Husker Countdown crew does not sing any “Beer Song.” We just talk about football for 10 minutes and call it a broadcast.
IH: The Huskers rolled. When the Huskers win, it is much easier to walk back from the game. However, I decided to make the walk a little easier on Saturday. I found the closest pedicab to me and hitched a ride back to the parking garage. Luckily, this helped me beat the traffic. The fans are excited, and the Husker nightlife continues to burn bright. Since it was a long day for me, I decided to head home from the game to catch up on all of the day’s college football action. Many students continued to go out and hit the bars following the game. Not this student.
AO: Me, Will and Jessica Blum wrapped up KRNU’s coverage of the game with a short postgame show, consisting of our reactions and analysis. However, as that show came to an end, another was beginning.
I traversed the four-tenths of a mile from the Memorial Stadium press box to the Husker Sports Network (HSN) studios on 8th Street, between P and Q Streets. There was Papa John’s pizza waiting, so I had to book it to make sure I got some before Josh Hilkemann and Tim Curran, the HSN’s executive producers, ate it all.
People enjoy celebrating Nebraska’s wins – imagine that. I wish they chose ways other than walking slowly and packing the sidewalks. The Haymarket, as always, is packed. People are lined shoulder to shoulder, moving in unison like an amoeba. At other points, it’s more like bumper cars. Mostly, I feel like Wan’Dale Robinson trying to juke my way into gaps in the traffic.
I finally get to the studio around 10:55.
IH: Once I arrived home, I went to Twitter and looked at the articles written about the game. Seeing it from the student section, you don’t always catch everything that happens during the contest, so the writers’ perspectives and insights are helpful. I also turned on ESPN and saw highlights from the rest of the day’s action.
LS: By this point, I have finished taking my uniform off and putting all of my equipment away. Everyone is happy but exhausted all at the same time. From here, I have no greater desire than to head home, jump in the shower, grab a bite to eat and head straight to bed, which is exactly what I did.
AO: Big Red Reaction begins. I helped out with the first three parts of HSN’s postgame as needed, but mostly I ate pizza and surfed Twitter. A nice end to the long day, right? Right, but my day was only beginning.
Big Red Reaction is nobody’s favorite show to work. If Nebraska wins, you hear the same recycled take out of people from all across the state about how Scott Frost is a genius, the offense was OK but needed to be better and the defense got lucky. If Nebraska loses, that’s when you hear from all the armchair quarterbacks.
I’m not sure which is worse.
AO: Mercifully, Big Red Reaction finally ends. I’ve still got to get home and wind down, but that’s the easy part.
By 3:45 a.m., Austin, Logan and Ilum are all asleep, capping off what was collectively over 35 hours of hard work, determination and Husker spirit. Nebraska games are exhausting, not just for the players, but for the band, the radio announcers and the fans. All three individuals will move on with their normal lives on Sunday, going their separate ways and into another full week.
For the tens of thousands of fans who attended the game in their own respective ways, their view of game day includes many traditions that they hold near and dear to their hearts. For those like Austin, Logan and Ilum, though, the unique and hidden perspectives that are experienced will live on as cherished memories, undoubtedly better than whatever will lie ahead in the next week.
That is, until the next Husker game day.
Ilum Hansen, Austin Oerman and Logan Skrabal contributed to this report.