NU’s student section paid tribute to late UCLA receiver Nick Pasquale.
By Randy York
In the wide world of sport, almost everything you hear is opinion more than fact, and almost everything you see is perspective more than truth. So with that in mind, I share the most poignant things I take away from a game that disappointed Husker players, coaches and fans, yet somehow reinforced the inherent goodness of Nebraska football.
After a moment of silence to honor Nick Pasquale, a UCLA wide receiver who was struck by a car and killed earlier in the week, Nebraska’s student sections released blue-and-gold balloons in memory of Pasquale. It was a collective idea from The Iron N, the official student group of Nebraska Athletics. Abbie Lamb, a junior Secondary Education/Social Science major from Elkhorn, Neb., is the president of the Iron N and led a discussion about ways to honor Pasquale. The group ended up executing three ideas – 1) Making an “N” banner of Pasquale’s #36 so the South Stadium student section could support the Nebraska football team’s decision to wear Pasquale’s number on their helmets; 2) Making another large banner that said Two Schools in red and One Team in blue-and-gold to stretch across the East Stadium student section; and 3) Releasing the blue-and-gold balloons during a moment of silence.
What a touch of class from Nebraska students, who deserve all the credit for wanting to be classy at the same time they wanted to be rowdy. “For the Iron N, it wasn’t even a question. As soon as we heard about the incident, we began asking each other what we were going to do to honor Nick,” Lamb told me. “We began to brainstorm immediately and came up with the signs and balloons. Losing a member of your team is difficult, and it was even harder having to travel halfway across the country and leaving the support of your home crowd and stepping into a foreign stadium. We just wanted to make sure that UCLA had the chance to honor Nick the week following the tragic accident. Hopefully, our actions were received as a comfort during such a difficult time.”
End Zone Scene Brings Back Important Memory
The Bruins, of course, had their own ways to honor their teammate. About two dozen UCLA players, for instance, jogged from the West sideline to Memorial Stadium’s North end zone to take a knee, bow their heads and then point skyward after standing up. Such an emotional scene triggered a flashback to Nov. 22, 1986, a day when Husker co-captain Stan Parker joined forces with Oklahoma co-captain Spencer Tillman to plant the seeds for pregame prayer in the center of that same field. Last December, Parker told me that he experienced something greater than the game itself on that day, even though his team lost in the last six seconds. Parker has been told that day was the first known organized joint prayer in college football. “We had 10 players total, five from each team,” he recalled. “Now it’s common to see a group of players from both teams praying after a game.”
Nebraska is known for its high-level commitment to sportsmanship, win or lose, and the dignity, respect and support the Huskers showed UCLA on Saturday was sincerely appreciated. Larry Munksgaard is in charge of the visiting coaches’ booth on the sixth floor of Nebraska’s press box. Riding the elevator down after UCLA’s comeback, Demetrice Martin, a Bruin assistant coach, thanked Munksgaard and Nebraska for what he described as the greatest treatment UCLA had received in 35 years. The Bruins’ defensive passing game coordinator and defensive backs coach, Martin was a first-team All-Big Ten cornerback at Michigan State two decades ago. When he complimented Nebraska, he not only was speaking for himself, but also for fellow Bruin coaches who told him that Nebraska is unparalleled in terms of a host school showing dignity, respect and support for a visiting team.
Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne laid the foundation for that kind of support, which, perhaps, has become the nation’s ultimate brand for sportsmanship, and Nebraska Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst wants to keep that important legacy intact.
Mora Thanks Huskers in Post-Game Comments
"First of all I want to start by saying a very heartfelt thanks to the Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst, Head Coach Bo Pelini, to the Husker Nation, their fans, their students and their players for the compassion they showed us this week,” UCLA Coach Jim Mora said in his opening statement of Saturday’s postgame press conference. “I thought it was an incredible gesture they made here, and I think it kind of shows the class here at Nebraska. The fact that they would put a No. 36 decal (Pasquale’s number) on their helmets, and they would have a moment of silence, and their student section cheered us when we took the field and encouraged us on … you just don’t find that at many places. It is just a true testament to the people here at Nebraska and how much they care about football. We are very, very appreciative about that.”
In a television interview after the game, the LA Times reported that Mora was clear about UCLA’s main focus in the game. “Our goal today was to honor Nick and reflect everything that Nick meant to us and everything that was great about him so that his family sitting at home, Mel, Lori and AJ … (would know) we did it for your son.”
Nebraska fell short of its goal Saturday, but perhaps the Huskers can rebound like they did in 1986. Quarterback Steve Taylor, now the color analyst on the Husker Sports Network, directed Nebraska to a 30-15 win over LSU in the Sugar Bowl after that disappointing 20-17 loss to Oklahoma. Hope springs eternal, especially when you can separate fact from opinion and truth from perspective – the ultimate challenge for all coaches and all athletes virtually all the time.
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Voices from Across the Nation
I know that football is very dear to your heart and you support your program whole-heartedly. I just want to say from the Bruin Nation how impressed I was with your program and your class. It was incredible loss of life that the UCLA Bruins experienced last week, and I am forever grateful and humbled by your generous gestures to honor Nick Pasquale both on your helmets and with the balloon release at your stadium. Thank you so much for this special remembrance at your home stadium. You give the true meaning of sport to your program. I will forever regard the Husker Nation as a class act and a hard-nose football program that makes the right choices and stands for the right things. Thank you again, Brooke Sachs, UCLA Alum, Palos Verdes, California
I would like to pass on to all your students and alumni that this was truly a class act which lately hasn’t been seen in college sports for a while. Your program truly shows what a top-notch, classy and outstanding program you have. Sports is an important part to many people’s life, but this shows it is more than sports. I write this with the intent it gets passed on to your readers. William Jones, San Francisco, California
Thank you so much for the actions of your student body, your players, and your athletic department. The compassion that you displayed to UCLA was very much appreciated. What was shown on TV was very moving and really showed the class of Husker Nation. Thanks for all that you did and for being such gracious hosts. Here’s hoping that Husker football goes undefeated the rest of the way. I am still very touched by the actions of the NU Athletic Department. Ernest Hui, UCLA Class of 1998, Mountain View, California
I’ve been a lifelong and very passionate Husker fan since I was an 8-year-old boy. I was born and mostly raised in USC and UCLA territory and still live here today. I’m 50 now and my passion and joy of Husker football is as strong as ever, even after a very frustrating loss. To me, Nebraska exhibits character and integrity year in and year out, and I hope UCLA can and will take notes because I know that it is not part of their fabric to behave the way Husker Nation does. My biggest concern after Saturday’s game is that the very same Husker Nation who showed UCLA so much respect will now do it for their own head coach and team. I want Nebraska football back where it was as much as any true Husker fan, so I’m hoping for some more patience. Pelini is a good coach, and I believe he will be a great coach one day. He will get us over the hump soon. He’s not perfect but we really have the right guy in charge, and he’s still learning. We will be sorry if we don’t put things in perspective and move forward. Even though I was mostly raised in California, I will always remember huddling up with my father in front of radios and occasional TV sets on Nebraska football Saturdays, sweaty palms and all. I just want to send an encouraging message to Coach Pelini and his staff and tell them to hang in there and keep moving Nebraska forward. His day and Nebraska football’s day will come sooner than later. Thank you, God Bless, and Go Big Red! Chris Conradt, Chino Hills, California