By Randy York
I don’t know exactly what I was expecting in the middle of a busy Friday afternoon, but I know this: Once I stepped off a freight elevator that took me to the top of the new East Stadium, I was more than surprised. I was shocked. What I saw in what will be the highest seats in Memorial Stadium’s storied history just might offer the best view of Lincoln … a sweeping, majestic expansion that will push Nebraska’s capacity to about 92,000 fans and, believe or not, whoever is lucky enough to latch onto those new seats will still feel a sense of intimacy and fully connected to what’s happening on the field.
I am not a carnival barker here. On the way up in a smooth ride on the fastest elevators in the state of Nebraska, I was expecting to feel exactly the opposite – disconnected and far from the madding crowd … stranded somewhere on a cliff near the top of college football’s Mt. Everest. Maybe it was the 69-degree temperature that felt like a beautiful San Diego afternoon. Maybe it was the grandeur of visualizing what life will be like this fall when visiting teams come into Memorial Stadium and see something twice as high as they’ve ever seen from their bench on the west sideline. I could close my eyes and almost hear the Memorial Roar redefine itself, and I thought to myself, what a wonderful world that would be.
The ultimate question, I guess, is would I enjoy watching a game from this unique perch? The answer is yes I would because it does not feel nearly as far-reaching looking down as it does looking up. I have had more than one Athletic Department employee tell me the view I saw Friday was the best view in the stadium, and I honestly thought they were kidding me because I’ve heard the jokes that emerge from a major construction project. “You know every seat up there is going to need a seatbelt, so the wind doesn’t blow you out of it” was one remark. I laughed but even in harsh weather, I could envision Nebraska’s heartiest fans emulating Green Bay Packer fans in those valuable seats on a cold, windy afternoon in November. Those extra 6,200 seats, which include sold-out skyboxes, are going to make the Tunnel Walk more intimidating than it has ever been.
The best thing about the 15 rows of seats that stretch the length of the field and sit on top of 38 skyboxes is the escalator ride that takes you from ground level to level 6, so you can stare straight across the field at the press box. The club seats and suites in the West Stadium have great views of the field, but they don’t offer the sweeping views the East Stadium has. You can, for instance, see the Devaney Center, Pinnacle Bank Arena and Hawks Field, not to mention NU’s Coliseum, Mueller Tower, the campus and the new hotels in the Haymarket Area.
This panoramic view makes you feel up but not out. The unique design includes 12 entrances, compared to eight in the North Stadium and five in the South Stadium. In other words, fans who buy these seats will have very few steps to climb and bench seats that will be two inches wider than anywhere else in the stadium with the exception of club seats and suite seats. There is ample leg room to go along with the wider seats, plus built-in backrests. Did we mention that the rest rooms and concession stands are located in the concourse right behind the seats? Since these are the first and last sideline seats built inside Memorial Stadium since 1922-23, Nebraska wanted to do it right. (Historical footnote: Sideline suite seats have been built since the 1920s, but these are the first and last reserved seats).
No wonder I could look down on the field and see almost exactly where Jim Pillen recovered Billy Sims’ fumble that cost Oklahoma a national championship 35 years ago. That same historically etched play would look every bit as big to me in the East Stadium as it looked from my West Stadium press box vantage point. If a play like that happens this fall, I thought to myself, I would love to see it and experience it from the new East Stadium view.
Two colleagues put on hard hats and joined me in navigating through the construction and on up the elevator. I asked one where he sits on Game Day. He pointed down to the lower level of East Stadium. When I asked which view was better, he said that the one we were looking at was better. I asked the other colleague, who shot the photo at the top of this column, what he thought. “This is one of the best views I’ve seen in Memorial Stadium,” he said, admitting he was more surprised than shocked. Would he enjoy sitting in the new East Stadium, if he wasn’t shooting video and bringing the game to life on Huskers.com? Yes. Bottom line, the three men and a camera that went up high on Friday afternoon, showed a clean sweep endorsement of a sweeping view that you just have to see to believe.
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