By Randy York
Friday’s 7 p.m. Nebraska-Creighton exhibition volleyball match isn’t a priority for even the staunchest Big Red fan, even though the Huskers have set an NCAA record for consecutive home sellouts that will carry over to the Devaney Center this fall. On Thursday afternoon, a fan could buy some of the best seats inside the Coliseum for $10 because John Cook’s focus this spring rightfully has been on Nebraska’s introduction to beach volleyball as a separate sport and the ensuing integration of talented 6-3 twin freshmen outside hitters Amber Rolfzen and Kadie Rolfzen into a lineup that also includes 2011 SEC Player of the Year Kelsey Robinson, a transfer from Tennessee.
Cook has been so busy building chemistry to launch Nebraska Volleyball on the beach and in a completely refurbished Devaney Center that he hasn’t even mentioned to his team that Friday night’s match is the last scheduled Husker competition inside the Coliseum. That could change, of course, later this year if any Big Ten schedule conflict emerges with wrestling, one of four Devaney Center anchor tenants (men’s and women’s gymnastics are the other two). Even if those potential conflicts get worked out, the Huskers most likely will be back inside the Coliseum next spring because the Devaney Center will be closed to replace the south ramp.
The Huskers moved on quickly from its tearful goodbye to the Coliseum last Dec. 2. Somehow, though, I’ve been waiting for the last match scheduled here, even if it is just an exhibition. I’m looking for the right footnote to a building deeply imbedded in my heart since watching an unbeaten state champion Omaha South basketball team beat my hometown of Alliance in a 1960 Class A semifinal. The ghosts I leave behind in the Coliseum are also intermingled with multiple state tournament basketball experiences.
How can I forget Richard Nixon presenting Bob Devaney and Husker co-captains Dan Schneiss and Jerry Murtaugh Nebraska’s first national football championship in that old beast of a building? What about the time Robert F. Kennedy spoke at the Coliseum and a secret service man grabbed me to help the presidential candidate navigate an aisle of crushed humanity and then get him outside the front door? My secret service teammate and I lifted RFK up and into a convertible, which whisked JFK’s brother straight to the Lincoln Airport. As the car started to move, he looked down at me and said a sincere “thank you” for coming to his rescue. I didn’t think anybody would believe something like that actually happened until three people called me that night after watching RFK’s getaway on the evening news. A few weeks later, in Alliance, I watched Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination live on television.
Of course, I have vivid basketball memories dating back to the late Joe Cipriano and Moe Iba, two good coaches and two good men, but I won’t bore you with details because I want to encourage Husker fans interested in history to buy and print your own tickets and head to the Coliseum Friday night … for old time sake. You can get great seats, even if you opt for $8 and general admission. Who knows? Maybe you can get back on eBay whatever you spend on a game ticket.
Yes, this is an exhibition, but it is also a 12-month goodbye – for Nebraska, for the Huskers and for all of us who will never forget those Coliseum columns and the memories they hold up in our minds. Interestingly, even Creighton head volleyball coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth – whose 2012 team finished 29-4 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last December – has a tie to the Coliseum. Her mom and dad, John and Marilyn Bernthal, are longtime, loyal Nebraska volleyball season ticketholders. “We always look forward to playing at Nebraska,” Booth said Thursday, “because they have outstanding fans, and the Coliseum is an incredible volleyball venue. I know first-hand what the Coliseum has meant to the program, and it’s an honor, both personally and professionally, for our team to play in the final match that’s scheduled at the Coliseum.”
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