On Deck August 9th: Huskers’ Night at The K

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                                                                      Kansas City Royals Photos

Buy Your Tickets Here for Huskers’ Night at The K Aug. 9

Gordon: Homegrown Royal     Erstad: Facility Nation’s Best

Gordons Invest in Training     Looking Back at 2013 Night

Nebraska Sets Kauffman Stadium’s College Night Record

By Randy York

Twenty-nine years ago, President Reagan was lowering America’s taxes, Back to the Future was the nation’s No. 1 movie, The Cosby Show was the No. 1 TV show, and my wife and I were snaring two left-field seats inside Kauffman Stadium to watch the Kansas City Royals beat the St. Louis Cardinals to become MLB’s 1985 World Series Champions. 

Don’t look now, but the Royals, whose 28-year playoff drought is the longest in professional sports, are leading the American League’s Central Division.  Alex Gordon, No. 4 on your scorecard and No. 1 in the hearts of Husker Nation, demonstrated his All-Star/Gold Glove-like magic to help Kansas City win its 10th straight game and its third consecutive victory at Detroit, 2-1.  The Royals have not won this many games in a row since 1994.

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Gordon Drives in a Run and Also Saves a Run

Luck played a part in this celebration.  Gordon’s first-inning single was the result of a wacky bounce that plated the Royals’ first run, but his diving fourth-inning catch in left field was all skill.  Fortunately, I walked into a co-worker’s office just seconds before the American League’s best left-fielder caught the ball in left-center to end a scoring threat and the inning.  Three of us shook our fists when we saw the former Husker All-American go into a diving slide and a stomach sprawl to make the catch.  It had to hurt, but Gordon jumped right back up with his trademark visible grin.

Why is this important?  Because three days after Father’s Day, any dad who might have been short-changed can still get a real thrill – a ticket to the Royals’ Saturday, August 9th, 6:10 p.m. game against the San Francisco Giants at Kauffman Stadium.  It will be Huskers Night at The K, and even though there will be no formal program involving the Nebraska Alumni Association like last year, now would be a good time to buy tickets for the family.

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Nearly 1,300 Huskers’ Night Tickets Already Sold

Nebraska gobbled up all 5,100 tickets for last year’s inaugural event and then almost doubled that total to set a College Night record at the K.  This summer, Husker fans already have purchased nearly 1,300 tickets through the promotion link.  If the Royals stay hot, expect that number to climb quickly. 

Like last year, a table located at Gate B will distribute the red-and-white KC Royals Husker caps.  Fans are encouraged to arrive early. Gates will open at 4:30 p.m. and only individuals that present a Huskers’ Night ticket purchased through this link will be eligible to receive a cap.  Huskers’ Night pricing for the Aug. 9th game ranges from $15 seats in the outfield to $46 seats in the Dugout Plaza.  The Royals dynamically price all games throughout the regular season and pre-discounted prices will vary based on numerous market factors. For more information on Dynamic Pricing, please check out this FAQ page.  For more information or to purchase 20 or more tickets, contact Britt Gardner at 816-504-4174 or britt.gardner@royals.com.

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Alex Gordon Bobblehead Giveaway August 10th

Gardner, account executive for group sales and special events for the Royals, said more than 5,200 Husker fans purchased tickets last year through www.royals.com/huskers.  That total accounted for 43 percent of Kansas City’s “University Day” ticket sales among the four schools which had special promotions – Nebraska, Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri. 

“We’re excited for another successful Huskers’ Night this year,” Gardner said.  “I’m confident we’ll have a similar turnout at this year’s event, and instead of the 1,500 caps we gave away last year, we have 6,000 to give away to Husker fans this year.”  Gardner stresses that only fans who purchase their discounted tickets through this link are eligible to receive a hat.

Last year, an estimated 10,000 Big Red fans were inside Kauffman Stadium for Huskers’ Night at The K, and countless Nebraska fans plan to take advantage of another special promotion a day later.  On Sunday, Aug. 10, it will be Alex Gordon Bobblehead Giveaway, presented by Pepsi, when the Royals complete their home series against the Giants.  Kansas City officials expect unusually early arrivals for that game, so don’t be surprised to see another sea of red hours before the 1:10 p.m. opening pitch at The K.

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New Beginnings: Husker Day in Minneapolis

Today is a milestone day for Nebraska in Minneapolis.  From 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Nebraska Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst will be at Lyons Pub in Downtown Minneapolis to Meet-N-Mingle with fellow Husker fans, who will celebrate the first Husker Day at Target Field. About 150 Husker fans are expected to participate in the event and watch the Minnesota Twins play the Chicago White Sox at 7:10 p.m.

Nebraska, of course, played Indiana in the Big Ten Conference Championship Baseball Game at Target Field last year.  The home of the Twins was voted “the #1 baseball stadium experience in North America” by ESPN the Magazine.  Target Field also will host the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game on Tuesday, July 15.  Since Minneapolis is just over a six-hour drive from Lincoln, the seeds are being planted to consider Target Field as a meaningful summer vacation for Husker fans who like to celebrate their Nebraska roots.  

There’s another important reason why Nebraska fans have become Minnesota fans.  Brian Duensing, the Marysville, Kan., native who played at Nebraska, was the Twins’ third-round draft choice in 2005.  Nine years later, he’s still a major contributor as a left-handed relief pitcher maintainimng a 2.89 earned-run-average this season.  Duensing played in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the last Summer Olympics to include baseball.  He still has fond memories of his Olympic experience and remained loyal to Nebraska, sponsoring the Millard South American Legion baseball team, proving that once a Husker, always a Husker!

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Husker Fans Can Support Ameer in Two Ways

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Ameer Abdullah sees the “N” on his jacket as a reflection of the brand.

Last Chance to See Ameer’s Senior Season

All-American Explains Reasons for Decision

Uplifting Athletes Road Race Set for July 20

Sign Up Here and Help Tackle Rare Disease

Wanted: 11 Ameer-Like Shadows of Himself

By Randy York

When All-America running back Ameer Abdullah explained his decision to return to Nebraska for his senior season, Big Red fans nationwide celebrated like it was the Fourth of July.  Countless fans thought a professional writer crafted Abdullah’s announcement to return to the Huskers a week after Nebraska beat Georgia in the Gator Bowl.  They were wrong.  The youngest of nine children in a family that values education above sport wrote every word of his announcement.  Now, Husker fans can return such loyalty in two distinct ways: 1) Support an upcoming road race that raises money to fight pediatric brain cancer; and 2) Buy the last of Nebraska’s rarely available season tickets to watch the 2014 Heisman Trophy candidate’s final season as a Husker.

The reasons behind the words that Abdullah shared last January reflect his own brand, and the same can be said about the way he encourages Husker fans to sign up for the second annual Nebraska Football Uplifting Athletes Road Race on Sunday, July 20, in Lincoln.  The race 5K race begins immediately following an 8 a.m. Fun Run on a Sunday morning. Both events begin and end outside Memorial Stadium.

Abdullah will be there to meet Nebraska fans who want to support the cause of pediatric brain cancer.  So will about 100 other Husker football players who will volunteer their time to an event that drew 700 runners and raised approximately $15,000 in its inaugural event last year.

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‘Rex Burkhead Thing’ an Annual Event

“I know I’m speaking for everyone on our team when I say how extremely blessed we all are to support pediatric brain cancer through the football team,” Abdullah said.  “A lot of people label football.  I see this event as part of our team brand.  It started as a Rex Burkhead thing (Rex above with Jack Hoffman) to support Team Jack and help other kids just like him.  We’re carrying Rex’s tradition on because it’s part of our own brand and our own hearts.  For us as a football team, this is a universal fight against pediatric brain cancer.”

The Huskers appreciated the 700 runners who participated in last year’s Road Race, but you know athletes, especially those who have committed themselves to Uplifting Athletes, a student-based organization sanctioned  by UNL.  Nebraska’s chapter, working with the Lincoln Track Club, has set a goal to draw 1,000 runners and raise $30,000 to donate to their favorite cause.  The cost is $25 for the one-mile fun run and $30 for the 5K.  Each participant receives a race-day T-shirt and wrist bracelet, not to mention non-stop pats on the back from Nebraska football players who will be cheering on Big Red fans instead of the other way around.

“Events like this really put a face behind the team,” Abdullah said.  “This is a great experience for us and the fans who sign up and show up.”

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True Trifecta for Everyone Who Signs Up

Keith Zimmer, Nebraska’s longtime associate athletic director for Life Skills, envisions a “true trifecta” for everyone who signs up for the road race.  “First, fans are helping the Nebraska football team make a difference in our fight against pediatric brain cancer,” Zimmer said.  “Second, this event gives fans a chance to get up-close and personal  with our football team.  Fan Day is the traditional celebration inside Memorial Stadium, but this is a great way to support and interact with our players.  Third, an event like this promotes fitness and overall wellness, something else that our football players strongly believe in.”

Abdullah says the players are eager to help the cause in any way they can.  “The vast majority of us are healthy, and we just want to show people how much we appreciate them,” Abdullah said.  “We have ability, we’re on scholarships or decided to walk on, and we’re playing a game.  So many others, including little kids, have cancer.  They don’t have the opportunity we have.  We want to recognize them and show them how much we care and acknowledge those who are heavy on our hearts.”

Truthfully, events like next month’s Road Race, influenced Abdullah to return for another season.  “Nebraska has so much to offer any athlete who decides to come here,” he said.  “When you try to put yourself into other people’s shoes, you don’t understand it at first.  You don’t know what it all means.  Nebraska has really opened up my eyes.  We all have the opportunity to build and to grow and to be better people.”

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Doing What They Can to Help the Cause

“A lot of us were born not to be selfish,” Abdullah said.  “Some of us take the power to play sports and influence society seriously.  More than 100 of us want to give something back to people who have given so much to us.  We may not be able to cure cancer, but we can have a positive influence on the community and help people in another way besides medicine.”

Abdullah can’t help but measure his own words after sharing them.  “I feel like Nebraska gives you so many opportunities, and it’s not just football,” he said.  “It’s a chance to grow in a lot of different ways, and I wanted to come back here and have an even better year than last year.  I wanted to get my degree.  I wanted to do what I could to help Sam Burtch lead this organization.”

Burtch, Nebraska’s 2013 Walk-on of the Year, is a junior wide receiver from Murdock, Neb., and the 2014-15 president of Nebraska’s chapter of Uplifting Athletes.  He succeeds C.J. Zimmerer, another role model Abdullah greatly admires.

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Abdullah: Burtch a Huge Force for Team

“Sam Burtch (pictured above with Nebraska Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst) is a huge force for our football team,” Abdullah said.  “He’s a fearless guy on the field and off the field.  He’s done a tremendous job organizing events that help us fight pediatric brain cancer through outreach opportunities.  Sam Burtch has my utmost respect.  He really, truly wants to take on the most difficult challenges that people face throughout the world today, and I really respect him for that.”

Husker fans can show their support right here, right now.  You can participate as an individual.  You can join a team or you can create a team.  The best news is you can still help out even if you have a conflict with that July 20th date.

The best news of all?  Husker fans everywhere have a chance to show their support for Nebraska’s 2014 Heisman Trophy candidate.  Yes, this is Ameer Abdullah’s final season as a Husker.  His decision to return for his senior season is a tribute to the Nebraska brand, which, of course, is fueled by an unparalleled collegiate fan base.  This is your last chance to act on a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  Take advantage of it right here, right now!

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Satisfied Wright Wants to End Career in Style

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Chad Wright’s No. 1 goal: Reclaim the NCAA discus title he won in 2012.

By Randy York

Too bad Yogi Berra wasn’t watching the men’s shot put at the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships Wednesday night in Eugene, Oregon. If baseball’s legend had been in the stands, he could have walked down near the field after the event was over and shared a piece of wisdom with Nebraska senior Chad Wright and his throws coach, Carrie Lane.  After interviewing both student-athlete and coach last week, I could only envision what Yogi would have said…something like: “You were both right, and both wrong at the same time.”

A Yogi-ism came to mind because both the teacher, who recently won an NCAA Midwest Region Assistant Coach of the Year Award, and the pupil, who happens to be a three-time NCAA First-Team All-American in the discus, could sense each other’s mindset before they climbed aboard a charter flight from Lincoln to Eugene last Sunday. 

It’s been a tough year for Wright in the shot put and it ended Wednesday night when his season best throw of 62-10 prevented him from advancing to the finals and ensured a 13th-place finish, eight notches below his fifth-place First-Team All-America finish as a junior.  Lane, the coach, continued to motivate because she wanted Wright to bring his “boxing gloves” to Eugene, so he could “pummel the face” right out of that 16-pound iron ball.  The strategy must have worked because Wright, the athlete, did, in fact, pass 10 of the 23 performers who ranked ahead of him entering the NCAA meet.

Wright Has No Regrets. He Just Wants His Title Back

What we had here was reality bites and any number of Yogi-like witticisms could have painted the portraits unfolding inside Wright’s head. 

Yogi said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up someplace else.”

Wright told me: “Some people say there are certain things they wish they did or could do over.  Personally, I think I did everything I needed.  My goal this year is to reclaim my NCAA title in the discus.  That’s my main agenda. That’s my focus.  Once that event finishes Friday, my college athletic career is over.”

In my pre-NCAA Outdoor Championship conversation with Wright, he could hardly say the two words I wanted to discuss…shot and put. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a Yogi-ism inside his head that could have worked perfectly: “I wish I had an answer to that question because I’m tired of answering it.”

This isn’t the first interview of my life, so I switched gears and deleted an “s” from discuss and that seemed to put some bounce in Wright’s voice because we finally were getting to the only word he wanted to talk about – discus.

Wright Had Best Second-Place Throw in NCAA History

“I’m about fourth in the nation this year,” he said without pausing to remember his NCAA gold medal performance as a sophomore and his second-place finish last year despite uncorking the longest second-place discus throw in NCAA Championship history.

“”I want to reclaim my title,” he said.  “We have a well-rounded team this year.  We need to score points.  I think we have a really good chance of placing well in the NCAA this year. Last year, I got second.  This year, I’m trying to do better.  I want to finish first, and I’m ready to take on the challenge.”

Wright praises Lane for helping him embrace the competition.  “She’s pretty much revamped and refined my technique,” he said. “She’s also given me some great tips on focus, eating right and sleeping right.”

He’s not surprised.  “Nebraska was the best of all the schools I visited,” the Kingston, Jamaica native said.  “When you visit, you can see how they take charge, and that was a real plus for me.  I liked the support system I saw for athletics.  That’s one of the main reasons I decided to come here.”

Team Loaded with Depth Makes Practice More Fun

Knowing that he won’t graduate until next May as a major in mathematics and a minor in business, I’m curious about his interests post-degree. “I’m not sure yet,” Wright said. “Next year will be the indicator of whether I’ll be able to stay here.  I’ve really enjoyed this year.  We have a lot more (NCAA) qualifiers and it’s competitive.  It makes practice more fun and more interesting.”

Ah, practice, another word for a tailor-made Yogi-ism: “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice,” Yogi said before adding: “In practice there is.”

“Chad had a personal best last year and finished second after winning the year before,” Lane pointed out. “It’s going to be a fierce battle.  The No. 1 guy’s from Kentucky and the No. 2 guy’s back from UCLA.  He’s the guy that beat Chad last year.  In a meet like this, it can be a completely different outcome. The wind affects the discus tremendously.  Whatever marks people have coming in mean nothing. This meet is a completely different ball game.”

A disclaimer is in order before we end The N-Sider.  Yogi once said: “I didn’t really say everything I said.” 

When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Just Take It

With that in mind, we end with the best Yogi-like advice that Carrie Lane can give Chad Wright before Friday’s ultra-competitive discus throw: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Here’s another way to put it:  However Wright finishes Friday in the discus, he can do something he’s probably already considered – buy a shot put somewhere and bury it.

Forever…

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Gordon, Fowler Share Thoughts, Views

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Jon Gordon was featured on Tuesday’s Talk to the Director of Athletics Show.

Audio: Author Jon Gordon on Being Humble and Hungry

Audio: Softball Player on Being President of NU’s SAAC

Audio: Shawn Eichorst on Softball, Baseball, Priorities

Audio: Eichorst on Memorial Stadium’s Improvements

By Randy York

A best-selling author and keynote speaker and a Nebraska softball captain who will become President of the Nebraska Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) this summer were Tuesday night’s special guests on the Talk to the Director of Athletics Radio Show, which was  broadcast across the state on network affiliates and around the country on Huskers.com.

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Mattie Fowler (No. 17) led a Husker celebration in the 2013 College World Series.

Jon Gordon, author of such books as The Energy Bus, The No Complaining Rule and Training Camp, was featured on Segment 3 of Tuesday night’s show.  Mattie Fowler, the captain of two teams that incorporated Gordon’s positive energy philosophy and inspired Husker student-athletes across the board, was featured on Segment 4.  

Host Greg Sharpe interviewed Shawn Eichorst on Tuesday night’s first segment, which included Eichorst’s thoughts on Nebraska’s softball and baseball seasons.  Nebraska’s second-year Director of Athletics discussed Memorial Stadium’s 2014 improvements, among other topics,  in the second segment.  Audio of all four segments can be accessed below.

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Will Huskers Get Surprised Again in Eugene?

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Anne Martin and John Welk won the NCAA ELITE 89 Award in 2013.

By Randy York

About this same time a year ago, Anne Martin and John Welk were asked to report to a prominent area at Eugene, Oregon’s Hayward Field, the home of the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships for Division I men and women.  “Our coaches told us we needed to be there to represent our team,” recalled Martin, a women’s combined events qualifier and two-time Husker captain. 

Clueless about what they were representing or why, Martin and Welk were introduced to a crowd of thousands and honored as the recipients of the ELITE 89 Academic Recognition Award.  The accolade, founded by the NCAA, recognizes “the true essence of the student-athlete by honoring the individual who has reached the pinnacle of competition at the national championship level in his or her sport, while also achieving the highest academic standard among his or her peers.”

Martin, then a junior from Waverly, Neb., majoring in elementary education, had the highest cumulative grade-point-average of all female qualifiers for the 2013 NCAA Track & Field Championships.  Welk, then a sophomore from Bismarck, N.D., majoring in nutrition science, had the highest GPA of all male NCAA Track & Field qualifiers.  Martin qualified to compete in the heptathlon again at the 2014 NCAA Championships, and Welk qualified to compete in the 4x100-meter relay, so that begs an interesting question: Will the Huskers get surprised again next week in Eugene?

Martin, Welk Nominated Again for 2014 Award 

“Anne and John were our nominees again this year for the ELITE 89 Award,” said Mike Nieman, the academic counselor for Nebraska men’s and women’s track & field.  “There are no guarantees and winners aren’t known until they’re announced at the championship site, but it would be cool if we could sweep that award again.” 

Nieman said Martin and Welk did not receive any grade lower than an A over the past year.  Martin, in fact, received her bachelor’s degree last December and has earned a 4.0 this spring in her first semester of graduate school.  She maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA throughout her collegiate career.

The ELITE 89 represents the number of championship sites for NCAA men and women national championship events.  The award reflects the ultimate student-athlete athletic/academic achievement.  “You have to qualify both athletically and academically,” Nieman said, pointing out that the award venue varies.  “For basketball and volleyball, it’s the Final Four.  For baseball and softball, it’s the College World Series, and so on.”

Now you know why the NCAA ELITE 89 Award is such a distinctive honor, even when there are times the recipients don’t know what they’re accepting until they’re announced. 

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Smartphone App is This Generation’s Radio

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Memorial Stadium Fan Experience Improvements

By Randy York

Nebraska’s $12.3 million Memorial Stadium Fan Experience Improvement Project has a lot of important touch-points.  A new sound system will probably be the most dramatic improvement for fans who are well aware that the previous sound system was well beyond its 15-year life span.  But don’t underestimate what will be the largest collegiate stadium installation of a new, state-of-the-art wireless network system.  “For my generation, the mobile phone is what the radio was for our fathers and grandfathers,” Kelly Mosier said, “so this improvement project is really about us extending our ability to interact with fans through the device they use most.  Younger fans use their mobile phones in the same way that our parents would use the radio.”

The vast majority of Nebraska football season ticket holders certainly can identify with that statement from Mosier, the director of Digital Media for Nebraska Athletics.  “We’re just trying to make sure we stay up-to-date with our younger fans and how they interact during the game,” Mosier said.  “We expect younger fans will be more engaged with their mobile devices, but there will be something for everybody, even for those who just want to find rosters or check out stat updates or game recaps.  I expect that many will not necessarily want to participate in social media, but still will want to follow what people are saying on Twitter or Facebook.”

Husker Wireless Network Largest Collegiate System

Nebraska’s new wireless network system will be the largest collegiate system and second largest Cisco Connected Stadium deployment in North America, behind only AT&T Stadium, the NFL home of the Dallas Cowboys.  Pinnacle Bank Arena, home of Nebraska men’s and women’s basketball, is a Cisco-connected system, along with collegiate football stadiums at Penn State, Stanford, plus the Carolina Panthers in the NFL and Yankee Stadium in Major League Baseball. 

Fans will be able to check venue maps with concession stands, restrooms and emergency stations – an experience that will be added to the Huskers App available to the iOS and Android users, thanks to Nebraska Athletics’ continued work with longtime partner NeuLion, a leading internet video technology provider for live and on-demand interactive content for any Internet-enabled device.  Through this smartphone application, in-depth access to information about the game will include exclusive streaming video content available only to those inside Memorial Stadium.

Taking HuskerVision Experience to Mobile Devices

Nebraska will feature exclusive video content that will extend the HuskerVision experience beyond Memorial Stadium’s existing big screens, giving fans control of the video experience on their own mobile devices.  With more content and functionality, Husker fans will benefit from the Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) system that will deliver high-definition video on every channel and ensure unique camera levels with live, in-game stats.  The live content also will be delivered instantly and dramatically to Memorial Stadium concourses, club seats and inside the 101 suites throughout the stadium.  Nebraska has sold out 333 consecutive home games since 1962 and is ready to inform and entertain loyal Husker fans like nowhere else.  We believe in being well-connected, and we want our fans to “be ready” for the fan experience improvements when Florida Atlantic visits Memorial Stadium for the season opener on Saturday, Aug. 30th.

Every improvement is “designed to provide the best college football fans in America the best game-day experience possible,” Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst said.  “These projects are a big step in ensuring that there is no better place to be on college football game day than in Memorial Stadium.”

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Husker Fan Keeps Precious Memorabilia Hidden

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What Memorabilia Best Signifies 125 Seasons?

Memorial Stadium Cost in 1923 Will Surprise You

By Randy York

All kinds of emails arrived in our gobigred@huskers.com box yesterday after we asked Nebraska football fans to send us their favorite memorabilia that represents the Huskers’ upcoming 125th consecutive season.  One of the coolest pieces of memorabilia was a ticket mailer for reserved seats for the inaugural 1923 season inside Memorial Stadium.  Like countless other Nebraska fans, Doyle Lyon, a 45-year-old Marine who lives in Stafford, Va., has Big Red decanters, Nebraska field turf and Husker buttons.  But he also has an advertisement mailer published by the University of Nebraska in the fall of 1923, soliciting the public to order Cornhusker football reserved seat tickets by mail.  It has a one-cent canceled stamp on the envelope, the address of a Lincoln woman living on north 32nd Street and every printed piece inside. 

There was no limit on the number of tickets that could be purchased in 1923.  The price for five home games – Oklahoma, Kansas, Notre Dame, Syracuse and the Kansas (State) Aggies – was $9 for the season and $14 a season for boxed seats.  Nine decades ago, the season didn’t begin until October and all games started at 2 p.m. The 1923 schedule highlighted Nebraska’s October 20th Homecoming game against Kansas, which would be the formal dedication of Memorial Stadium.  The mailer also included a large photo of Memorial Stadium taken on Sept. 3rd, 1923, after 89 working days.  “I have hundreds of pieces of Nebraska football memorabilia, but this is my absolute favorite,” Lyon wrote.  “Good luck with the search.”

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Bowl Mementos, Silver Spoon Can’t Match Mailer

Good luck indeed.  What we have here is a full spread of a 30,000-seat stadium, replete with building facts and financial facts that paint the portrait of Memorial Stadium, a facility that was built on donations and was one-third the size then of what it is now.  Lyon has an official game program, plus a game ticket from Nebraska’s 36-34 Gotham Bowl win over Miami at Yankee Stadium in 1962.  He also has a silver spoon and on the very tip of it is an architectural rendering of what Memorial Stadium was supposed to look like before it was built in 1923.  The sketch showed both ends enclosed by colonnades.  “There was supposed to be a walkway from the North Stadium to the South Stadium that would make a complete circle,” Lyon said.  “I knew the owner of Bob’s Gridiron Grill on 27th and Highway 2 (in Lincoln).  Bob had memorabilia galore, and when I showed him that silver spoon, he said he’d never seen anything like it.”

That left a big impression on Lyon, but not big enough to keep the silver spoon hidden like he keeps his treasured piece of 1923 history.  It’s not priceless but it’s most certainly precious to a Husker fan that grew up in Newman Grove, Neb., and still remembers when he woke up one Saturday morning at the age of 7 and asked his mom where his 9-year-old brother and dad were.  “Oh,” she said, “they drove down to Lincoln this morning so they could watch Nebraska play Oklahoma.”

“I was so mad that they didn’t take me to the game that day,” admitted Lyon, who was too young to understand how difficult it was to find a football ticket.  “Tickets were hard to get, and when I turned 9, my parents and grandparents took my brother and me to see Nebraska play New Mexico State,” Lyon said, remembering a game in which Jarvis Redwine, Craig Johnson and Junior Miller all scored in the first quarter.  “It was insane,” he said.  “I realized immediately how much better it is to see a game live than watch it on TV,” he said, acknowledging how his first Husker game-day experience keeps him coming back to see at least two games a year 3½  decades later.

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Collector Part of the Few. The Proud. The Marines

Lyon joined the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating from high school.  He spent 22 years in the Marines before retiring in 2009.  Three years ago, Nebraska football historian Mike Babcock and I had the pleasure to meet Lyon at the Nebraska-Minnesota game in Lincoln, where he was an honored guest, witnessed the coin toss on the field and got to wave to Husker fans in a stadium he still holds sacred.  His wife, Rachelle Kamrath, a former competitive speech coach at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, now teaches speech and communications at Marine Corps University in Quantico. Va.  “Rachelle is my No. 1 favorite Husker memorabilia because she received her M.A. at UNL in 2004,” quipped Lyon, who works in human resources for Marine Corps Recruiting Command. 

Since Lyon was among the first to send memorabilia to Huskers.com for consideration in a summertime fan voting contest, I ask him how passionate a fan he really is.  His response speaks for itself.   He and his friends rented two vans and drove from Omaha to Miami to watch Tom Osborne win his first national championship in the Huskers’ 24-17 1995 Orange Bowl win over Miami.  “I told my friends that if we win the 1994 national title, I was going to get a football tattoo to commemorate it,” Lyon said.  Two weeks later, Doyle Lyon had a Nebraska football helmet as a tattoo on his right calf.

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Doyle Lyon and wife Rachelle take the time to sit on “sacred” ground.

Can a Tattoo Compare with Vintage Memorabilia?

Like his memorabilia, that tattoo is precious, but not priceless, and fortunately, before we end our conversation, I ask Lyon how the 1923 memorabilia wound up in his hands. 

“I bought it on eBay,” he said.

“Do you mind telling me how much it cost?” I ask.

There’s a brief pause and a smile that I can feel but not see.

“It costs all of 12 dollars and 40 cents,” he said, waiting for me to respond.

When I hesitate, Lyon fills the gap.  “It’s insane,” he said.

“In your mind, it’s almost priceless, isn’t it?”

“Absolutely,” he replied.  “That’s why I keep it hidden.”

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Should Omaha Be a Regular Home for B1G Baseball?

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By Randy York

Forgive me for letting my mind ramble in the midst of quick trips to Omaha to watch Nebraska play in the Big Ten Conference Tournament and still make sure there’s a TV nearby so I can watch the Huskers go toe-to-toe with Alabama when there’s a Women’s College World Series invitation on the line.  I check the brackets, the pairings, the pitching stats and which teams have the hottest bats that can give them a magic carpet ride to the NCAA postseason.

I interrupt this observation, however, to make a comment coming completely from left field.  In the midst of what I’ve chosen to read, I’m accumulating evidence that baseball really is what documentarian Ken Burns claims it to be – America’s Pastime.  I know I appreciate following college baseball now more than ever, but not just because Darin Erstad is building the foundation to open a door that can lead to a conference championship, an NCAA Tournament bid, and even a 50-mile trip down I-80 to Omaha, the home of college baseball.

Before I go on, please allow me to credit Ohio State Baseball Coach Greg Beals, whose Buckeyes lost back-to-back one-run heart-breakers – 7-6 to Nebraska and 6-5 to Illinois – in the first Big Ten Tournament ever played at Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park.  The intensity of Nebraska fans’ cheering on the Huskers in the bottom of the ninth inning influenced the four-run, ninth-inning explosion.  As I witnessed Nebraska’s comeback, I wondered how I would feel if I were an opposing coach experiencing such energy on the other side.

Who Wouldn’t Be Interested in Coming Back?

“We have fans and donors and administrators and all that,” Beals told The Omaha-World-World. “Nebraska does baseball really well – and that’s good for all of us in our conference.”  An honest answer, to be sure, for a legitimate question that asked a Big Ten head coach if he would support the conference returning to Omaha.  “It’s the mecca of college baseball, I would say,” Beals said.  “It’s hard to say you wouldn’t be interested in coming back here.” 

The Big Ten Conference has four of the top 64 NCAA Baseball RPI teams – Indiana (3), Nebraska (27), Maryland (28), and Illinois (52).  Sixty-four is a benchmark number because that’s how many schools participate in the NCAA Tournament.  As of May 19, Rutgers (77) and Minnesota (100) also were ranked ahead of the remaining 202 NCAA Division I baseball-playing schools.  Michigan (104), Michigan State (106), Iowa (115) and Ohio State (119) give the Big Ten a total of 10 teams in the top 120.  We include Maryland and Rutgers on that list, of course, because both will become official Big Ten members on July 1.

Clearly, Northern-based schools know why they need to take advantage of every opportunity to narrow the gap and to multiply the advantages against warm-weather schools.  In my opinion, the day Nebraska joined the Big Ten, we had every intent to return our own baseball program to national prominence, and part of that goal is directly tied to having a stronger conference that can strengthen that same possibility for every league member.  With TD Ameritrade Park being the ultimate destination for every Division I baseball program, it follows that playing in that same ball park a couple of weeks earlier could be a significant strategic advantage for a Big Ten school that experiences a five-day stay there. Wasn’t the stadium, after all, built to accommodate and host the next 50 years of the NCAA College World Series?

Big Ten Improving Its College Baseball Brand

Hawks Field is one of college baseball’s finest fields, and three fellow Big Ten schools – Indiana, Purdue, and Minnesota – opened new stadiums last year, four years after Michigan State moved into its new home.  Budgets have broadened and “everybody is trying to keep up with the Joneses,” Minnesota Coach John Anderson told the AP.  In his 33rd year at Minnesota, Anderson sees Big Ten schools showing incremental improvement.  That, in turn, causes Anderson to pause and predict that the Big Ten “will have a big impact on the national stage.”

Big Ten coaches seem to know and understand that they need more national oomph, and Anderson told the media Thursday that Indiana deserved more credit for making an NCAA run into the College World Series last year.  “The better our league is, the better prepared the teams are that advance,” he said.  “You saw it out here the last few days.  It’s a competitive league, and that’s going to make us better and give us more opportunities.”

Day One Became Nebraska Tournament Record

Here’s a fundamental fact that supports our case.  Nebraska drew more fans on the first day of this year’s Big Ten Tournament than Minneapolis lured in the entire 2013 conference championship at Target Field, which again will host the conference tournament next year.

So here’s the B1G Question: Should Omaha become a regular home for the Big Ten Conference Tournament?  The Big  Q is, in a word, legitimate, and when Greg Sharpe asked Shawn Eichorst a similar question on his recent monthly Talk to the Director of Athletics Radio Show, Nebraska’s second-year leader embraced the idea.

One thing is certain.  If Husker fans keep buying tickets and taking family and friends with them through the TD Ameritrade Park gates, the Big Ten Tournament has a legitimate chance to share the same NCAA home as the rest of college baseball.

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Double Red-Hot Huskers Relish Postseason

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Senior Michael Pritchard puts his arm around fellow Husker hero Pat Kelly.

Relive Big Red’s Ninth-Inning Drama on Radio

Buy and Print Big Ten Tournament Tickets Here

By Randy York

If you’re a Nebraska fan, tonight is a rare treat, so whatever you might have planned, consider making an adjustment.  Why?  Because the Huskers get double national exposure for two Top 20-ranked programs  – a Husker baseball team hoping to win a Big Ten Conference Tournament Championship in its home state and a softball team determined to blaze another trail into the Women’s College World Series.  Tonight offers a double-barreled postseason opportunity on national television.

Nebraska’s red-hot baseball team will play Michigan State tonight at Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park. The Huskers scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning Wednesday to overtake Ohio State, 7-6, in their Big Ten Conference Tournament opener.  It was the sixth time this season, and the third time against the Buckeyes,   that No. 20 Nebraska has ended a game with a walk-off play. 

The Big Ten Network will televise Thursday’s second-round game.  Rain pushed Thursday’s tournament schedule back 90 minutes, so the originally scheduled 5:05 p.m. first-pitch will be determined by a revised, rolling schedule that requires each game to begin one hour after the last out in the previous game, weather permitting.

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Senior All-America twins Taylor and Tatum Edwards are Nebraska catalysts.

Husker Softball Gets 8 p.m. Exposure on ESPN

The second-game in this rare Nebraska nationally televised doubleheader is in Tuscaloosa, Ala., nearly 900 miles from Omaha.  Nebraska steps into the national   spotlight on ESPN, which proudly calls itself the worldwide leader in sports.  After winning four gamesin less than 23 hours last weekend, the Huskers’ No. 19-ranked softball team will play No. 2 Alabama in a game scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. CT.  It’s a monumental challenge reminiscent of the Huskers’ Super Regional win at No. 3 Oregon last year.  Whichever team emerges from the high stakes and intense drama in this NCAA Super Regional three-game series will qualify for the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.

The double dose of back-to-back nationally televised Husker games features action in living color, but if you’re like countless Big Red die-hard fans, you also will listen to both IMG radio broadcasts on the Huskers Sports Network.  Greg Sharpe and Lane Grindle will call the Nebraska-Michigan State baseball game, and Nate Rohr will call the softball game.  Husker fans also can purchase and print Big Ten Tournament tickets here.

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SID Honor Reflects NU Tradition of Excellence

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THEN: Legendary SID Don “Fox” Bryant was a superb relationship builder.

By Randy York

Last week’s Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) announcement that Nebraska was again one of the nation’s “Super 11” sports information departments serving football was hardly a surprise. “Nebraska’s SID group always has had a stellar reputation, dating to the days of The Fat Fox (Don Bryant, Nebraska’s legendary Sports Information Director Emeritus),” said San Antonio-based Tim Griffin, a former FWAA President who wrote the release that was distributed nationally from Dallas.

A sports journalist for three-plus decades, Griffin has a good handle on why certain schools are deemed the best in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision during the 2013 season, and he was willing to share his thoughts with The N-Sider, giving well-deserved kudos to Keith Mann, a humble leader and Nebraska’s Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations.

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NOW: Don Bryant’s warm smile still graces Nebraska Athletics regularly.

In following Bryant and Chris Anderson, Nebraska’s Associate Athletic Director for Community Relations, as Sports Information Director, Griffin believes Mann “grew up” in the program and was “brought up with an innate sense of knowing the right thing to do,” Griffin said.  “It’s carried over into his work once he took the program over after leaving for that brief period at Tennessee – a job I think was good for Keith because he was exposed to the ways things are done around the SEC schools.” 

Since the FWAA’s inception in 1941, the organization’s charge is to provide better working conditions for writers across the country.  Over the years, the FWAA has made a habit of commending deserving schools and developed a way to rate sports information departments.

Nebraska One of Nation’s Top Four or Five

“It’s fair to say that Nebraska is among the four or five best departments in the country,” Griffin told me.  “They’ve been honored when they were in the Big 12 and continued to be honored after the move to the Big Ten.”  With no intention to disparage anyone, Griffin believes Nebraska is the benchmark for Big Ten Conference Sports Information Departments.  “My spies on the ground in the Big Ten tell me that,” he said.  “Nebraska has ranked at the top from the very beginning.”

Griffin has covered 12 national championship football games, five NCAA Final Fours and four NBA Championship Series, so he knows what the media wants and needs. He also knows that in the business he’s in, yesterday’s accolades don’t necessarily become today’s realities. “Despite its traditional success, I’ve always thought that the Nebraska SID group has never rested on its laurels,” Griffin said.  “They keep improving and evolving to try and make things better in their dealings with the media.

“The Nebraska football program receives as much publicity in the state as any college in the nation,” Griffin said. “In essence, it is the pro team for the state and is covered as such. Nebraska sports to the Omaha World-Herald and the Lincoln Journal-Star are every bit as big as the Red Sox might be to the Boston Globe, the Cowboys to the Dallas Morning News and the Spurs to my newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News. Keith always seemed to get it and his work reflects his dedication to the craft.”

Like every Sports Information Department, Nebraska faces unique challenges. “What always impressed me about Keith and his group is the way they keep trying hard and work through whatever challenges exist,” Griffin said.

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Fox and Bob Devaney pulled a prank on the late Mike Corgan at practice.

Through Change, Nebraska Steady as a Rock

“Keith and his group always take that extra step and we as a group of football writers appreciate them for that,” Griffin said before acknowledging how media has evolved over the years. “Unfortunately, tweets are becoming as important for some sports editors as a good long-form story. Through all the changes, Nebraska has been steady as a rock. I personally miss dealing with them after they left the conference I cover on a daily basis.”

Since Griffin, the reporter and columnist, introduced the subject of social media, I ask him about his thoughts of Tim Miles, Nebraska’s second-year head coach who was not only the 2014 Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year, but also the National Coach of the Year. 

“I’ve only seen Tim and his group when they came to San Antonio this year for the NCAA Tournament, but a couple of items have struck me in their coverage,” Griffin said. “Obviously, the success of the program has driven interest in Miles and the program. The new building has helped. The success they had in getting to the tournament this season, as well as their new surroundings, has helped make them a program with a growing national perspective.”

McKnight, Griesch, Smith Support the Media

Even with the growth in interest, Griffin has noticed Miles being quoted in the Nebraska media on such day-to-day subjects as moving the Big Ten Tournament around, future scheduling and other topics. “The fact that he’s accommodating for those demands is an indicator that he gets it and realizes the media’s role in helping build his program to bigger heights,” Griffin said.  “Shamus McKnight (the Nebraska Men’s Basketball SID) does a great job, which isn’t surprising especially when you consider where he’s working and his exposure to the Nebraska way of doing things.”

Let the record also show that Jeff Griesch, Nebraska’s director of media relations operations, is second to no one in terms of women’s basketball information and also supervises and coordinates many of the components that make the media’s job infinitely easier covering football.  Matt Smith is another important sports information cog serving the media with football-related priorities.

Bottom line, “Nebraska gets it, in terms of its services to the media,” Griffin said, “and for that, I speak for our 1,100 (FWAA) members in appreciating all that you guys do.”

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