Growing up in SoCal, one often hears the question “Are you USC or UCLA?” It’s presumptuous to assume – with no prior knowledge of someone’s background or collegiate experience – to that living anywhere south of Fresno and north of San Diego means you fall into one of two categories: USC or UCLA.
When I mention I enjoy college football, people often assume I’m a USC fan because they are the “good” Southern California team – even after they screwed the pooch all last year. Maybe it’s my Latin background, but people seem to think I grew up in South L.A., making me a trendy USC fan.
When I mention I live in West L.A. people assume I went to UCLA and therefore I root for that school. Of course it would have nothing to do with their newfound success. The school is less than three miles from my dwelling. It’s so close, when I needed a mammogram (no joke, apparently 27-year-old men need those sometimes and it’s just as awkward as you think it would be), that’s where I went. Their medical facilities are delightful, but I couldn’t give two shits about their super-smart football program.
I was neither trendy enough nor brainy enough to develop allegiances to either one of these schools.
So to answer the question “Are you USC or UCLA?” I politely respond “I’m a Husker fan.”
“Really?! Did you go there?” (This is generally accusatory, as if I can’t be a fan if I didn’t attend the school. This is usually coming from the guy wearing a UCLA hat and a USC T-shirt who spent seven years at Glendale Community College before taking a management position at his dad’s hardware store. HOW’S THAT COMMUNICATIONS DEGREE COMING NOW?!) Note: Srsly though, that was my degree, so any comm majors out there, it’s OK. I’m allowed to hate.
“No, but it’s all I’ve ever really known.” (Because reasons.)
“Well then why are you a fan?”
And then I usually launch into a Cliff’s Notes version of the five Ws and an H of how I became a Husker fan. I guess I’ve been trained by accusations of bandwaggoning to just give the bullet points, trying to explain the following would be futile. It’s not even a worthwhile argument. Bandwaggoning, my ass. We haven’t been National Title contenders in decades, and I did not have the wherewithal as an 8-year-old to know that I was way cooler if I liked a team that my classmates never heard of. Seriously, doesn’t ANYONE remember liking something different in elementary school? It was terrible.
I use the shortened version because understanding fandom that starts in the hearts and runs through the veins of every member of an entire family proves to be difficult for the inebriated and confrontational. It’s impossible to describe something that I was born into. It’s never been tangible, always metaphysical – just surrounding us. But I’ll give it a shot…
It seems that I was destined to be a Husker fan, long before my mid-80’s birth.
My mother, a “whoopsie” blessed unto Lincoln natives after they moved to California, knew nothing other than Husker fandom. My father, a (legal) Costa Rican immigrant, came to the United States at the age of 6 – he faltered for about 12 years, rooting for the likes of the smart and trendy before meeting my mom. To be fair, before he perfected his English, he thought he was cheering for Juicy Allay. (Go ahead, say it out loud.)
From there, it was no question: The passion, the love, the dedication that my mom’s family showed for the Scarlet and Cream created a monster within my dad. He became a fan, and immersed himself in the culture. Twelve years later, I was born, and I’ve known nothing else since.
My brother and sister, The Twins, and I would spend Thanksgiving weekends in Mammoth, where my grandparents lived in a cabin. Most of the details are hazy in the beginning. There were so many people, and so many years at that cabin, they blend together.
The whole clan – aunts, uncles, cousins – were clad in red for most of the weekend. We’d have Thanksgiving dinner and fall asleep that night with visions of touchdowns and Oklahoma losses dancing in our heads. As children, we weren’t so sure what was going on, but we fed off the energy, bouncing around from the couch to the chair to the floor, watching the game and gnawing on the collar of our shirts.
If the game was early, Grandma was making aebleskivers. If the game was in the after noon, it was runzas, and the smell of warm dough and beef would fill the house. Grandpa was somewhere in the back of the room cursing the “goddamn zebras!” and we would giggle at the bad words. They lived Nebraska football. We learned from them. We soaked it up and pass it on.
Back then there was no DirecTV, TimeWarnerCable, or FiOS. We couldn’t watch every game like we do now. But the big ones, like the Oklahoma games, the bowl games, the National Championships… they were on TV. They were some something that consumed the family.
My earliest, clear memory is somewhere around age 9, when The Twins and I rubbed red and white balloons on the carpet to get them full of static and stick them on our dog Lady. Tolerant little thing she was.
Another is Tommie Fraizer’s run. It could have been the same day that we were torturing the poor dog. I remember standing in front of the TV, not understanding what just happened. “Why wasn’t he playing professional football?” I didn’t quite get at the time that you had to go to college first. I wasn’t the brightest kid when it came to sports. I knew what I loved, and I knew it was a part of me. I just didn’t get it. My feeble little mind was too distracted, and it never really stored other memories.
From there, the Huskers took a back seat to soccer and baseball tournaments. Then soccer and baseball took a backseat to my sudden urge to become a rockstar. Like any pubescent idiot, I thought I could make it in the music industry. Music was my life. I had a band, but I had no balance. I neglected a lot of things I love, like Husker football.
Throughout high school I barely kept abreast of the Huskers. I remember watching Eric Crouch, but only sparingly. He won the Heisman and I was like “Cool, where’s my Grammy?” Our band was so bad. We should have been locked up for being so delusional.
Shortly after I graduated, everything came full circle back to Nebraska football. Sometime around December 2003 when our drummer went to jail, the spark turned into a full on blaze. It’s been there ever since. I regret ever leaving it to idle in the back seat. I’m sad I missed some years in between balloon dog and jailed drummer. I missed out on a part of life that makes me feel so alive… or can make me feel like I want to die. I feel like a fraud saying “I’ve been a fan my whole life,” but I can still say I was born a Husker fan and I will die a Husker fan.
I went to my first Husker game in Memorial Stadium on October 4, 2008. Nebraska lost to Missouri 52-17. The score was awful, but the experience was life-altering. The stadium was electric, with fans buzzing and cheering. The energy was contagious, and no matter how bad we lost that day that trip will always top my list of Most Awesome Things Ever.
Two days before the game, thanks to the help of my cousin who was attending UNL at the time, I stood on the scarlet N at the 50-yard line. Just me and four friends and an eerily empty stadium. To some, this might not mean much. I know thousands of people have stood there, and thousands more will. But I never played football (my mom thought that I’d break my neck, despite it being thicker than my damn head) so I never had the chance to take that field.
The photo brought my dad to tears so intensely that my sister thought someone had passed away when she walked in and saw him. My mom’s parents were very much his parents, too. He knew what it would mean to them. When my grandparents died on the same day, a mere 45 minutes apart, in 2006, we held a memorial service in which we requested that people wear Nebraska gear (or Hawaiian shirts). Many obliged, and then told stories that all revolved around the passion that Grandma and Grandpa brought to the family. The runzas, the goddamn zebras, the yelling at the TV. They literally lived and died with Nebraska. The fact that I stood at the 50-yard line, something my grandparents never had the opportunity to do, was the culmination of this entity that’s so long consumed my family.
As the last remaining sunlight draped over East Stadium, I created a pseudo touchdown run, with a dear friend, a Nebraska native, announcing. I flipped into the end zone and made up some silly touchdown dance so as to hold back my tears.
The people I met, the bars in which I drank, the runzas I so voraciously consumed – they all epitomize what it’s like to be a Husker fan. It’s like no other experience in the world. It is truly unique and catered not to the casual fan but to those who have a desire to take part in something that’s so much larger than themselves. I’ve been back one more time, for the 300th consecutive sellout. It was a rout, but we had ourselves a time. It meant a lot for us to be there. To pay respects to the two people that brought this insanity to our lives.
I’ve broken sunglasses against a wall. I’ve kicked my brother out of the car after a last-second loss to Texas. I’ve run in circles. I’ve cried. I’ve missed high-fives because I was so disoriented from jumping up and down. I’ve cursed opposing teams, their coaches, their players, their mothers, their pets. At a bowl game I had to sit with my head between my legs for the full second half because It was pounding so hard from yelling. I’ve sat on the couch, statuesque, motionless after a blowout loss. My runza sat there silently steaming, much like myself.
My mom learned long ago how to make homemade runzas, the same her mother made. I’ve shoved them down throat of anyone willing to watch the game with me. “Here HERE HERE eat this. YOU WILL LIKE IT OR YOU WILL GO HOME.”
Our friends that used to come watch us watch games because our mood swings bordered on lunacy have been steadily turned into true Nebraska fans. They watch without our prompting or invitation. They talk about the players. They understand the team. It’s a disease, dammit, and it’s the best one to have. They know what it entails, but they take it on with a full head of steam.
Being a fan of Nebraska isn’t always easy. There are ups and downs – more downs than ups, recently. It’s not always fun, it’s not always pretty, and sometimes it seems that it would feel better to just leave it all behind (again). But that’s the thing about something you care so passionately for – you always come back. They say love is a labor, but I’ve never had to work so little to care for something so much. I’ll never truly turn my back on them, no matter what silly dream I chase or how many notches are in the loss column, the Huskers are always my team. From my family to yours to the next to the next to the next and so forth. The Nebraska Cornhuskers are always our team.
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