For my nightly Saturday night shift, this was something more than just any other Saturday. We gauge our business by what happens at home and on this day, everything was. The Women's basketball team…..at home, the men's basketball team…….at home, the women's Regional Final against Florida…….at home and the Lincoln Stars who are not just a craze here, but a legitimately followed team, all were here, thus making my mind stir knowing that it was going to be crazy and fun, but more of a whole lot of crazy.
As I gazed at the T.V. schedule, I simply smiled knowing that to even look was a little ridiculous. Heisman Show at 6:00, Women's Volleyball at 7:00 and oh yes, something about LSU vs Tennessee that was likewise at 7:00, but there wasn't a debate as to what went on the big screens. I don't think ever in our illustrious history has the championship of another conference bore such interest, but as I said, this was a special night.
For an award like the Heisman, people turned out in droves. Having one of your own, not the least of which was Nebraska's favorite son, (at least, for now) Eric Crouch a speculated front-runner for the award was more than enough to bring them scampering in, looking for seats and bearing witness to what they hoped would be the trifecta in Heismans for NU. One woman remarked to me "Is the Heisman show on yet? I can't wait. This is a special night for all of us in Nebraska." Prophetic words indeed as the night would be the reason Nebraska's run for the roses would be complete.
As the awards show was winding down and Eric's biography (of sorts) was at it's conclusion, people were on the edge of their seats. They (and I) could hardly stand it and though the words from the President of the Downtown Athletic Club rang true, people tried ignoring them waiting simply for "And the winner of the 2001 Heisman Trophy is……..". The envelope opened, Eric's name was announced as this year's best football player in the country.
And they cheered.
In a sports bar over 2,000 miles away, people stood as one and clapped for over a minute. A standing ovation in a place not so significant, how more significant could this moment be? A young man that traveled through trials, tribulations and self-doubt to conquer his foes and more importantly, his doubters. I saw one woman's reaction and this moment was made even more special that such an insignificant award that would mean even less to an entire team would bring anyone to tears because someone they cheer for took it away.
And still they cheered.
Not until the SEC title game started did the cheering really stop and at that moment, cheering fell to angst and anticipation. A frequent customer who has become a friend of mine said, "We have to have this, but I don't know. I just don't know." Common sentiment about this game as Tennessee coming off their upset of Florida was the clear favorite. LSU was tough, but was considered much tougher at home and this was no where close. The Georgia Dome was no refuge as Volunteer fans dominated the inner landscape. In a place considered neutral, it was the Tigers that were on hostile ground.
At this point, the place was packed. It wasn't just packed, it was standing room only. Abuzz with the possibilities, eager for the conclusion and drawing their breathes in with sudden gasps as the momentum switched from side to side. If you didn't know who was playing this night, you would of surely thought the Big Red were on the field.
With each big play by LSU, they yelled and screamed. With each mis-play by Tennesse, the crowd rejoiced in exuberance. "They can do it. They can win this game", was what one customer said as Tennessee never clearly took charge throughout the game. Just as one voiced that the Tigers could take control, take control they did as they rushed over the goal line to take the lead from the mighty Volunteers.
And they cheered.
Exaltation, dis-belief, possibly even mayhem filled the air as deafening roars permeated the entire building and of course, I couldn't help but do the same. Normally, I am quite loud in my cheering but tonight, after that score, it was just a booming echo from wall to wall. They cheered, they jumped for joy, they high-fived each other and yelled out.
And they chanted.
"L.S.U………….L.S.U!!!!!" came from the lips of all these avid Husker fans who for one day found themselves locked into an embrace with Louisianans all across the country. "L.S.U……..L.S.U!!!!!!!". For this moment, we were all Tigers in red.
After the initial shock of the go-ahead score wore off, most sat back down, sipped their beverages and prayed that Tennessee wouldn't make it back. One fan retorted to another that said it was over, "One big play and this is a tie game again" and Tennessee has been no stranger to big plays. Whether by luck or planning, Tennessee has found itself in the "catbird" seat many a time with plays just like what was needed here to keep the Vols' dreams of Pasadena alive.
It's all in the record books now and we know that LSU put the icing on the cake by making that final drive and putting even Tennessee's hopes far into the back of their minds, where it would only be recalled in regret. LSU scored , subsequently sealing their conference title and the title aspirations of the Volunteers.
And they cheered.
Everyone had been listening to the broadcasters. Everyone had heard the critics speak. LSU losing was the only chance anyone had of finding their way to a January 3rd bowl game and it happened, it actually happened. Unfettered joy filled the room, the noise of applause dwarfed the announcers and people hugged knowing that now, only a computer/opinionated poll was going to decide on their worthiness to go to a game for the national title.
And they waited.
Today was a day like any other. Do the books, print reports, record sales, set the satellites and prepare for a big day of professional football. A day like any other except for the fact that the fate of Nebraska would be announced amidst the NFL broadcasts. Another glance at the schedule and yet another smile as I knew; 2:30 p.m. -BCS Selection show. Would this be redemption or would it be punishment? Would this be a day for rewards or would it be a day for second-guessing and regret?
An off-season of speculation was riding on this decision. If we went, people would say nothing as just getting there in only Frank Solich's 5 season was victory enough. If we didn't though, Nebraskans and probably Nebraskans alone would have had this time to stir and bristle over the BCS and 62 pts. that may loom in the back of minds forever.
Green Bay was playing Chicago on the big screen. Most of the clientele sitting nearest the one on the main floor were fans of either. Green Bay takes the lead, a loud cheer. Chicago ties the game and another loud cheer. This game was interesting to most, but not even Green Bay and Chicago could keep them from coming to me and asking, "You are going to show the BCS show, aren't you?" I simply retorted something to the effect of wild horses, bears doing something in the woods or, ….you get the point.
2:30 came, the TVs turned and soon would the direction of Nebraska be known. All morning, speculation that the coaches jumping CU over NU would be the difference maker lead to trepidation by all at what they were about to hear. Many speculated as to the conspiracy theory behind the pollsters voting Nebraska out of the top ten to intentionally keep them out of contention for the MNC. Most of it all was cannon fodder of course, as nobody really knew what was going to happen. Much like the Heisman, this was speculated to the negative, but the announcement quickly came.
Miami vs. Nebraska for the National title.
And they cheered.
Justice was done or maybe, recognition of an entire season rather than a single game was given. Nebraska was judged not as a team losing one game as they did, but as a team that dominated most all season, but slipped as even champions sometimes do. Nebraska was chosen, we cheered on evermore and now we can speculate on the future.
Between yesterday and today, Nebraska proved victorious. It proved almost surreal. The women's team won in both basketball and the regional in volleyball. The men's basketball team won and the local Lincoln Stars handed out a shut out to garner a dominate victory. And LSU became our savior of sorts in taking the Roses away from Tennessee and giving them to all of Nebraska. Whether it be destiny, fate or circumstance, Nebraska has a trip to make to California to face a long time nemesis.
The way things have gone, the twists and turns of such a few recent weeks, Nebraska may have number six. Nebraska may do what nobody expected or may have even wanted at this point. Nebraska may sit on the top of the mountain again as the 2001-02 Division 1-A National Champions.
And we will all cheer some more.