Game 18: Wisconsin Badgers @ Nebraska Cornhuskers
|GAME # 18
Saturday, September 29, 2012
Wisconsin Badgers: 3-1
This game was chosen for its big game potential in a big time environment. It was a sure lock that it would be two undefeated teams opening the Big10 schedule. But it was not in the cards as Wisconsin struggled to open the season with a small win over Northern Iowa, a loss to Oregon State, and smaller wins over Utah State and UTEP. Despite the fact that the loss to Oregon State does not look as bad as the season progresses, Wisconsin has been awful on offense and has not looked very good at all. Nebraska also lost in Week 2 to UCLA but rebounded to thump Arkansas State and Idaho State. But despite the fact that I expected this to be a match-up of top 10 undefeated teams, the slate is wiped clean as this is game 1 in the Big10 schedule.
This game is another not fun early wake up call. A 6am flight equals a 3am wake up call. Let the debate begin as to whether that is early or late. There is always the option of not going to sleep, but that would make for a very long Friday night. So instead after fours hours sleep, it was onto LaGuardia airport. Southwest Airlines (“SW”) is generally a good airline, but I had never flown them out of LGA. Big mistake! SW is located in the central terminal at LGA which is the worst terminal in the worst airport in the nation. I have not seen them all, but through this Quest I will see many and I can guarantee that this will continue to be my opinion. The SW gates were small, cramped, and clearly there was not enough room for people to line up according to SW’s boarding procedure. SW from LGA will not happen again.
I must convey the truly unique experience we had on board the SW flight from LaGuardia to Chicago. Please sit for this, because you will not believe what you read. We finished boarding and I was sitting in the front row with Al a row behind me on the opposite side. Great seats for what was about to happen. After boarding, the flight attendants proceeded to count the number of passengers on the plane, something I have seen done on many occasions. After the first two counts were different, a third count was conducted, getting the same number as the second count. A second flight attendant did a fourth count and got the same as the second and third. Ok, good to go? Not so fast my friend! This count was one higher than the boarding computer had. Operations, not trusting that last three flight attendant counts, does a fifth count. Of course, this matches counts 2 through 4. So the next logical step is to have the operations manager do a sixth count. You can guess the results, same as counts 2 through 5. What to do next? Of course, let’s go through the passenger manifest one by one asking everyone their name to figure out why the count is off. During this entire process, we were joking with the flight attendants about these events and it is apparently a common issue with the new Boeing airplanes that SW has taken delivery of. The new planes are very finicky and therefore the count must be precise. Or at least that’s what we overheard from our front row view of this. Even the pilot could not resist making fun of the situation, asking if anyone knows what time the 6:00am flight to Chicago leaves.
Given the jovial spirit and joking mood everyone was in, I could not resist offering that it would be faster if they start in the front and the back and meet in the middle. The ops staff goes back to the computer and come back to do the cross check. After asking my name, the operations person informed me, “you are not on this list, you must be on the one in the back.” Really? Are you kidding? I politely informed him that this only works if you both have a full copy of the manifest. After looking confused for a minute, it turns out that my suggestion paid off in one respect, they found the difference in the back. While all this was happening, the very nice flight attendant offered us some great tips of where to go, in Omaha. Clearly she was not paying attention to the fact that we are going to Lincoln. It seems that someone booked on a flight to Baltimore and then onto Chicago, decided to just get on the flight going to Chicago. And here is the kicker, after figuring that out, they let him/her stay! I have a number of questions but foremost is how does that person get onto the flight? I certainly hope they are looking into that. At least he/she had a ticket somewhere and did not just wander in from off the tarmac. My favorite part of this entire event was when one of the ops people came onto the plane and said the discrepancy was in zone 2. I turned to Al and said how could they know that since it is open seating and they don’t know where people sit once they come onto the plane. A few minutes later, when the ops person told a flight attendant this, she laughed and said how can you know that since it is open seating. I never did hear an answer. Look at all the fun you are missing by not joining us on the Quest. I almost expected Allen Funt to jump out. Either that or we were in a SW staff training video. Please note that I did not sign a release.
Well, that took over an hour, so now our connection in Chicago to Omaha was in jeopardy. Hopefully they can make the time up in the air…fly faster…or cut the corner. Hey SW, how about a free drink or free WiFi for all of that mess. Al had to hack into the employee WiFi connection with the solid password of 1234#. Al tells me that while I was sleeping, they actually counted again while in the air. We did in fact make the connection in Chicago onto a flight bound for Omaha. In an odd coincidence we sat next to someone who works for SW. He confirms the known counting issue on the new 800’s and its sheer lunacy. After no further counting problems, we arrived in Omaha, without having seen a pair of jorts.
College apparel seen on the travel from LaGuardia to Omaha:
>Florida (on me)
>Vanderbilt (on Al)
>University of Buffalo (can I please get off your email list, I bought tickets to ONE game)
>Wake Forest (our next trip)
Upon emerging from the airport in Omaha, Al declares “It smells like Nebraska and this is what fresh air smells like.” All righty now, off to a great start. What the f*** does that mean? Anyone? We also note that Omaha does not advertise itself as an international airport unlike Lubbock. Congrats on the honesty.
After a highly inefficient Enterprise rental car experience, a long line and then another delay in the garage, Al needs to switch cars. Why? He needs a USB port to charge his iPhone. Al’s constant quest for power for his iPhone continues. After finding a suitable Chevy Malibu, we are on our way for the one hour drive from Omaha to Lincoln. Please note this quest for power has seemed to take over Al’s need to find a Starbuck’s every 3 hours or so.
The University of Nebraska – Lincoln
We arrived in Lincoln, checked into the hotel (Best Western), and head to campus. First stop, the Nebraska student union for some lunch. Thankfully, it was a food court and not a cafeteria. Al spotted a Runza, which is apparently a local favorite, so that was the choice. Al states “I am very hungry, this will be excellent”. After eating lunch, Al downgrades his BBQ bacon Runza from excellent to good. They mess up my order so I get a cheeseburger instead of the specialty Runza sandwich, so I cannot offer much of an opinion, but Al says it’s nothing special.
We then proceed onto the walking tour of the campus. It was a nice campus with a lot of life. There are actually students at this school. There was an air of excitement on campus that we have not seen in the recent trips. It was very nice to see.
We proceeded to walk around the campus and Memorial Stadium. As I said, it is a very nice campus and very nice stadium. Memorial Stadium has a lobby which has much Nebraska Cornhusker memorabilia, including national championship trophies and the like.
Also of note, this is where we drop the camera for what seems like the hundredth time since we started the Quest. But now it begins to show some ill effects of being dropped repeatedly. Let’s see how long it lasts. Al further notes, there are not many boots on this campus and while he is at it, there is not a lot of “wow” factor either.
Gator & Cornhusker History
I guess this is a good point to discuss what has become our clothing modus operandi. On Friday, I wear a Gator shirt of some kind and Al always wears previous trip tee shirt and hat. This is our normal travel day and I like to present the proud Gator Nation everywhere we go. On Saturday, I wear the home team shirt, assuming I do not hate the home team and Al wears home team jersey/shirt of some sort as well.. Most places this is fine, but within the SEC and Florida State, I need alternative Saturday apparel. I also wear a Gator hat.
There are not many schools that can give me a hard time for being a Gator fan. Of those that can, there are virtually none where I have nothing to say back. However, Nebraska is one of them. You see, back in January 1996, the Gators played the Cornhuskers in the Fiesta Bowl for a national championship. The Cornhuskers crushed the Gators 62-24. Nebraska had 524 yards rushing. Yes, 524. Tommy Frazier and Lawrence Phillips steamrolled the Gator defense and there were many runs where they just ran right over multiple Gator defenders. This was an awful defeat for the Gators. So what can I say to people who bring this? Not much.
But, I will say that this loss lead to great things for Florida. I think that Steve Spurrier realized after this game that speed was not enough. We needed a new defensive philosophy and he brought in Bob Stoops to run the defense. It is my opinion that this was a turning point for Florida and if not for this embarrassing loss to Nebraska, Florida does not take those steps forward. I believe they are called battle scars.
In any event I did not have much to say except thank you to those Nebraska fans who chose to bring this game up, and there were quite a few of them. I digress on this point here, because the lobby in Memorial Stadium had quite a few things from the 1996 game that were painful to see. I knew I would get this from Nebraska fans in wearing the Florida shirt, but you must own your history. And most importantly, it was all in good spirits. There is no rivalry or hostility between Nebraska and Florida, so it was just college football fans having fun with each others allegiances. It’s all good. That is what separates college football fans from pro football fans.
Downtown, The Capital & Friday Night
After walking around the school, we walked around downtown Lincoln. I did not really expect a significant downtown, but there was. We also went on a tour of the state capital. You see, these trips are cultural as well. In actuality, I am very interested in government, from “an it totally sucks and we have moved so far away from the Constitution that our founders would not even recognize this country”, point of view. That is an entirely separate issue that I could spend days discussing. The capital tour was very interesting as Nebraska has a unique state government in that is unicameral and non partisan. I did find it very interesting, but I will not bore you with the details as it would probably only interest me. Al agrees that it would only interest me. We were able to go up to the top of the capital building, about 14 stories. With Nebraska being very flat, you could see very far from 14 stories up, all the way to Lubbock. Very nice views!
After our downtown tour, it was back to the hotel for some R&R, before heading back downtown for dinner. Dinner was at a place called Misty’s Steakhouse, a place that had been recommended by a number of people. It was a highly excellent meal. Steaks were not as good as Cagle in Lubbock, TX, but were incredibly good. We had a few appetizers which were phenomenal, Al’s favorite apps of the Quest to date. Misty’s also brews it own beers. I got a beer sampler and some were very good while others not so much. Overall, it was an excellent dining experience and I would highly recommend it to all visitors to Lincoln. We had a few more of our preferred beers before walking around The Haymarket District.
Haymarket has many bars and quite a few with large outdoor seating areas. It seemed like an older crowd (meaning our age and not college students) but a quite nice area to go and have a few beers. We returned to Misty’s for an additional drink and got to watch two men (one of whom reminded me of Cam from Modern Family) proceed to hit on a student who was with her parents. Their method was a little unique. They tried to hit on the college student by hitting on the mom who was there with the husband. You really had to see this in person and I just cannot describe with words what was happening. We left before seeing if it would succeed, but I venture not. While all this was going on, Homer Bailey threw a no hitter for the Reds.
There is just something in the air on the day of a big college football game. After wake up, it was off to Ihop for breakfast. After a 20 minute wait, it was cinn a stack pancakes for me, cinn a stack french toast for Al. After listening to a thoroughly interesting conversation between the girls next to us about why he just won’t call you back and if he really is a good boyfriend and the stolen tip fiasco, it was off to do some tailgating.
Special note: The University of Nebraska is not in a corn field. There are not large open fields for parking, like Penn State. It is all a downtown feel and most parking was in downtown garage lots and small blacktop municipal parking lots. But if you do happen upon a street space, the meter will indicate that Saturday parking is subject to usual parking rules and time constraints. But we did not get a ticket or towed despite being in a two hour space. We decided the $10 ticket was a better deal than $17 in a garage. But we did not even get the $10 ticket. Karma can be cruel and I wonder when this will come back at us.
Through a work connection and someone Al met on twitter the day before at 35,000 feet during the SW debacle, we had a few different tailgate options. We met up with Brett Baker (@BigRedinTejas) a tv morning show producer who welcomed us into his tailgate. But after meeting us, he did confess that “I did not think you guys were real. You just never know”. After plying us with Go Big Red Neck Zombies (which were strangely blue, due to the Blue Curacao) we had a great time swapping college football stories, introducing us around, life stories, a few interventions, and all the usual stuff that goes on in a tailgate. As an aside, Go Big Red Neck Zombies are Blue Curacao, Bacardi Limon, and Mountain Dew and they do get you messed up. He was a great host and it is that kind of tailgating that makes these trips so memorable. A huge thanks to Brett for all his warm hospitality and thankfully the Fiesta Bowl game only came up once. The Occupy College Football Quest movement gets another recruit as Brett indicates he will join us for a game next year. After a full day of great tailgating, it was time to head out towards the stadium and the game. We lost an hour of tailgating due to the 7pm central time start (as opposed to 8pm eastern), but we made up for it by getting an early start.
The Nebraska athletic department took very good care of us and a large thank you goes out to them for all they did for us on this trip. But due to a miscommunication / misunderstanding, we were left with no place to watch the game. But I will get to that.
The warm hospitality shown to us, allowed us to watch the pregame festivities from the field. This was a tremendous experience. Al at one point observed that “These guys are not much bigger than us”. He was itching to suit up. It would have been interesting to see if his corporate health plan from NY would be valid in Lincoln. I guess it was one too many Go Big Red Neck Zombies for Al. I better make sure he does not soil himself. In any event, we got to watch warm ups from the field. We also were able to stay on the field during the national anthem and for the tunnel walk, which is Nebraska’s entrance onto the field. All I can say is Wow! What a tremendous experience and it felt that they were running right at us when entering the field. It was truly remarkable and loud. It was a little uncomfortable wearing a Florida hat on the sidelines. I did have a Nebraska t-shirt on, but I still felt a little uncomfortable. Not enough to get me to take it off, but a little. Check the pictures and the video from the field of the Nebraska player entrance as they run right at us in the album below.
When we first walked onto the field a full 85 minutes before game time, we noticed the student section was full. And I do mean completely full. This is by far the earliest we have ever seen a student section full. It was jam packed and very loud. The entire stadium was completely full 30 minutes before the start of the game. No late arriving crowd here. Everyone was by their seats and standing before the Tunnel Walk. The pre game concluded with a flyover by two EA-18G Growler’s, which even after knowing they were scheduled, Al forgot to video.
An interesting design note about Memorial Stadium, it appears as if the end zones have more people in them than the sidelines. I noted this when we approached the outside of the stadium and I noticed that what looked like a sideline on the outside was really an end zone. The bleachers in the end zone go up higher than the sidelines and are almost as long. This is probably a large reason why the stadium is as loud and holds the noise very well.
Now onto our dilemma, because our sideline pre game pass left us no place to watch the game from. We were told we could watch from down low, but outside of the field area behind the fence. We started there but could not see anything. We ultimately ended up finding two empty seats (I assume a couple of no shows) in a very crowded press box. The press box was very high, but afforded a good view of the field. We were not in the thick of the frenzied crowd, but it was a good view of the game action. The announced attendance was 85,962, the fifth largest home crowd. It was an NCAA-record 322nd consecutive sellout.
Game Action (please skip this section if you do not care about the details of the game)
The game was truly a tale of two halves. Nebraska took the kickoff, messed up the return and started from their 11. Three plays later, Nebraska punted. Five plays later and a Montee Ball 2 yard TD run and Wisconsin led 7-0. Next play from scrimmage, Nebraska fumbled and Wisconsin recovered. Seven plays later, of which 6 were Montee Ball rushes, Wisconsin led 14-0. Not a good start for the home team. A great Nebraska kickoff return set up a Nebraska field goal to make it 14-3. The first quarter ended 14-3; with it appearing like it would be a long day for the home team.
The first play of the second quarter, Montee Ball drops a sure TD and Wisconsin has to punt. A rougher the punter call gives Wisconsin a first down and they would capitalize with a TD and missed XP to make it 20-3. It was a very costly penalty on the home team. After trading punts, Nebraska goes on a 12 play 93 yard drive to make it 20-10. It was a critical score before halftime. The second quarter was pretty much played at even, but the long drive with 3 minutes before halftime would prove critical for Nebraska to stay in the game.
After a Nebraska fumble deep in their own territory, Wisconsin goes 13 yards for a 27-10 lead. All the momentum Nebraska had with the long drive at the end of the 2Q was gone and Wisconsin now had a 27-10 lead. I declared game over. Apparently that was all Nebraska would need to go on to victory as Wisconsin never scored again. Nebraska took the resulting kickoff and went 4 plays 77 yards to make the score 27-17. A great answer to the Wisconsin TD. Three and out for Wisconsin, followed by a 10 play 75 yard TD for Nebraska, to make it 27-24. Three and out again for Wisconsin and a FG by Nebraska has us tied at 27. Nebraska owned the 3Q and it looked like Wisconsin was tired. Nebraska had 184 total yards in the 3Q, of which 102 came on the ground. Nebraska was physically manhandling Wisconsin.
The 4Q opened with five plays and a punt by Wisconsin. Twelve plays and 60 yards later, Nebraska gets the go ahead FG to go up 30-27. Wisconsin got nothing else going offensively and that is where it ended. Nebraska’s defense also played a major factor in the outcome, shutting down the Badger offense in the second half. Wisconsin had 90 yards of total offense and 16 rushing yards on 15 attempts in the second half. Nebraska came back from a 17 point deficit twice in this game to pull out the victory. It was a very thrilling win for the Cornhuskers with a very loud crowd which was very busy celebrating a hard fought win.
The quote of the game came from Al, “I am not sure who the Wisconsin team was in the first half, but I did recognize the Wisconsin team that showed up in the 2nd half”. Well stated.
After the game and playing on the field, it was “fight the traffic or fight the crowds for food.” Since we had not eaten a meal since Ihop (dinner was Pepsi and popcorn in the press box), food it was. We had dinner (at 11:30pm) at Old Chicago, where Todd Blackledge and Brad Nessler were spotted the night before “bumping” into Brett Baker. After some okay Chicago style deep dish pizza, it was back to the hotel for sleep.
Our Way Home
We got up and headed out to Omaha for the flight back to NY via St. Louis. We found a roadside McDonald’s along the way for some breakfast. It was there that we encountered the Wisconsin Badger Clown Bus. Up pulled a short school bus painted red and out piled 50 Wisconsin Badger fans. It was actually only 15 kids but it certainly seemed like more. It could not have been very comfortable. It must have been founded by some students who upon graduation wanted an excuse to continue to travel to all Badger road games. It is an interesting concept and you can read more at http://badgershortbus.com/. Meanwhile I will continue to wonder how 15 somewhat grown students can all fit into that thing.
The rest of the travel home was uneventful, which is how I like my travel. But due to the connections and time zone change, I did not walk into the house until 8pm. Not so good for the peace at home mantra. Mountain and Pacific time zones are going to be messy.
Other Things That Did Not Fit Anywhere Else
>We both picked Nebraska and we both are off to 2-0 starts this year, although I maintain a 3 game lead in overall picks.
>Lincoln, NE has a lot of pop up taco stands. We did not stop, but they did look good.
>What’s with the orange squirrels?
>Is Lincoln the “quilt” capital of America?
>Temperature swings where it is 80 degrees during the day and 45 degrees at night suck and are incredibly difficult to pack for
>We noticed that our next stop, Wake Forest lost to Duke this week. I hope that game is not 70-0, although Clemson putting up triple digits would be interesting to see.
This game was a prelude to the B10 Championship game with very different results. Wisconsin would go on to a 4-4 conference record but due to sanctions against Ohio State and Penn State, Wisconsin would represent the Leaders Division (whatever that is) in the B10 Championship Game. That game would have very different results as Wisconsin would beat Nebraska 70-31 and go on to the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin would lose the Rose Bowl to Stanford 20-14 to finish the year unranked at 8-6.
Nebraska would finish with a conference record of 7-1, the only conference loss being to Ohio State. Wisconsin would exact revenge in the B10 Championship game, denying Nebraska a spot in the Rose Bowl. Nebraska would play in the Capital One Bowl, losing to Georgia. The Cornhuskers finished the year 10-3, ranked #25 in the final AP Poll.
If a slide show does not appear below, click here to open in a new window.
Bonus Video: Nebraska Cornhuskers running onto the field: