(Only to brag a little: I did write that Husker fans were capable of putting 20,000 in Ryan Field earlier this year. Here is the proof.)
Who are Husker fans? I asked myself this question as I paced the lobby of my hotel room in downtown Chicago before last weeks Nebraska-Northwestern game. There was a strong contingent, along with BYU fans and Notre Dame fans who were staying there. The BYU fans were polished, with sharp polo shirts, the older men with heads having a touch of gray. Notre Damers look like they buy their gear at American Eagle Outfitters, the place where young people spend $200 on clothes with wear-and-tear designed into them.
Once observed, the characteristics of Nebraska fans emerged. Their hair was a bit thinner, and when they were in groups, their body language made the groups seemed more isolated. Compared to the regular tourists at the hotel, Nebraska fans looked a little more burdened and their shirts had more wear on them. For most of these fans, this would be their most expensive trip of the year, and it showed, especially in a husband and wife with a young child who were sitting the comfy lobby chairs speaking quietly. This was, of course, the early morning crowd. By eight, the red mesh polo shirts of the better off-Husker fans emerged from their rooms.
While I’m sure it wasn’t intended to be rude, there were a couple of examples of rural behavior that stood out. At breakfast, there was a party of three older adults who took a table for six, and after breakfast, had coffee and had the paper spread out on the table. Having spent enough time in urban environments, both are a no-no. Space in a city is precious, and you don’t waste it like that.
This behavior continued on the CTA train our family took out to Evanston. The breakage of rule on this train was horrid. People getting on the train and not moving to the back immediately when it was standing room only. One guy who forced his way back to a seat when I had been standing by it before he got on. Then there was the sardine can-ride back to the city. Mercifully, the train skipped a few stops on the way, but it was wall-to-wall standing room, people pressed to me on each side. I had a few nice conversations, but I mostly held on.
From a travel perspective, this a great win for Husker nation. On my way walking to the stadium, I actually admired Minnesota fans; last year, the Minnesota-Nebraska game looked like a neutral site, 50-50 fan split. This year, as I walked to the stadium, I expected Husker fans to be the majority. I don’t think they were, but still it had to be an embarrassment for Northwestern. Somehow though, I ended up with a Wildcat fan sitting behind me, in the Nebraska section no less.
Team on the Field after Northwestern took a 28-16 Lead
All that said,, and Northwestern fans should be ashamed Minnesota fans cheer harder. Bandwagon fans if there ever were some, you could barely hear the Purple People as Taylor Martinez was driving to win the game. Meanwhile, Northwestern had to use a silent count; hopefully, this is the impetus that get Fitzgerald to leave Northwestern.
As far the stadium itself, Ryan field was the worst stadium experience I’ve had. Northwetern needs a jumbotron in the south end zone, better restrooms, and a better concourse. Husker fans may be used to using portable toilets, but not a stadium. Really, Northwestern, if you want to use the slogan “Chicago’s Big 10 Team”, you can’t ask Chicagoans to come to such an outdated stadium. If this was the Bears or the Cubs, you won’t tolerate this. Go ask Iowa State how to improve your stadium.
On the train ride home, I had an intriguing experience. I met a woman who became a Nebraska fan during the Callahan years. Yes, really. When I asked her why, she said her roommate, who is a Nebraskan, sold her with her enthusiasm and stories from the 90′s. I needed that experience to remember how great it had been, and can be if you let it.
Other Husker Road Trips: Minnesota last year, Iowa State two years ago.