Suffice it to say that on Saturday, September 4, 2004, I was pleasantly surprised and then hit in the face with all of the intensity of a white hot sun.
I took in the game with one of my best friends, Ryan, so a lot of what you read will probably be similar to our banter throughout the day coupled with the results of several hours of exhaustion and lack of sleep. On that note, I tried, I really did. I tried going to bed early, I tried working out, I tried exhausting my mind, everything. The problem was that this was my birthday, summer break and the 4th of July all wrapped into one single solitary day.
I meandered throughout Lincoln with Ryan for a while as we stopped for lunch at Crawdaddy's then scoured the wares of Huskers HQ near Misty's on 11th and P before finally settling for a few hours at Brewsky's in the Haymarket. It was there amongst friends that we watched the day's action unfold across the landscape of college football and the excitement was infectious. We were even greeted by the Drunken Alumni Pep Band featuring a good buddy of mine. Suffice it to say things were pretty serene up until Ryan and I decided to be a part of history. We decided to take in "The Walk". The first EVER "Walk"
For those of you not familiar with The Walk, let me elaborate. We showed up about 2 hours and 45 minutes before kickoff and were lined up to form a human tunnel outside of the east portion of Memorial Stadium. What we were greeted with had only been exposed to me in B grade football films and fantasy camps. The coaches, the players, the recruits, all of them came in waves. Did we get to shake all of their hands? No, but it did happen sporadically. Suffice it to say, these men were as focused as Rosie O'Donnell on a freshly glazed Christmas ham. No smiles save a small one by Willie Amos and then *HE* showed up.
Like divine intervention, a path for Joe Dailey opened. He had more space in front of him and behind him than anyone else. He had been handed down from On High to wreak havoc on opposing defenses and to deliver us from evil, amen. Joe looked incredibly cool, calm and ready to lay a massive ass-whoopin' on the purple and yellow of Western Illinois. So, the kids passed then went to change and what not. Ryan and I, along with several other friends, discussed what just took place and believe me, if you truly want to feel a part of the program and of college football? You owe it to yourself and your children to attend The Walk. It owns on so many levels you could just call it Bill Gates.
So, we take our seats, about 15 rows up from the field in the north endzone and just took it all in. The placed filled up quickly, the time passed, the pomp and circumstance of the Pride of All Nebraska took place and then it happened. That sweet, familiar drone of Sirius and the 2004 Tunnel Walk was born. It began with Coach Callahan looking over a sheet entitled "Building a Champion" or something to that effect and shows what looks to be the construction of the new Tom and Nancy Osborne complex. Old highlights are shown of tradition past and memories kept away. Finally, it fades out to show that the construction isn't on Memorial Stadium, but on a new Sears Trophy along with the other three that NU owns.
As if that wasn't enough? It switched to Mike Rucker in Panthers' attire with his back to the camera. He then turns around with a sledgehammer in hand, throws up the bones and proceeds to cave in a wall with the WIU logo on it. I assume this will change each week with new players and perhaps more of the trophy being completed. The place was electric, as you may have guessed, and Coach Cal really looked like a boy living a fantasy, a dream he may have had one night. It was all too real, though as we were all about to find out.
Nebraska's new MidWest Coast Offense dazzled in the first half stretching to a 42-3 halftime lead built on a ton of backfield motion, crisp, clean routes and catches so sweet, they had to be fattening. The rest of the game had its ups and downs. The special teams play was, at best, disappointing. Kade Pittman seemed to have a decent amount of difficulty fielding punts, kickoffs and really anything that resembled normal special teams play. That won't last. The defense looked fast, agile, beastly at times and downright mean when they had to be. Western Illinois converted five of twenty third down conversion attempts. FIVE OF TWENTY. Yeah, they had a tough time.
With that small summary said, it's time to hand out the awards for the evening.
Blankman's Patchwork Award goes to the entire Nebraska offensive line. With the suspension of All-America candidate Richie Incognito, many wondered if Nebraska's line would hold up. Would Joe Dailey have enough time to complete passes? Could newly-converted Seppo Evwaraye step up into his new role? Could Kurt Mann overcome the perceived talent gap between he and Incognito? Yes, yes and yes. These men played extremely well giving Joe all kinds of time to complete throws; Seppo is pretty damn agile for a man his size who just picked up the O-line work and Kurt just played his guts out. It's for these reasons and more that the line gets the nod.
Blankman's Golden Lunch Pail Award goes to Ira Cooper. Now, when Ira took the place of Chad Sievers, the first thing that went through Ryan's and my head was, "Zuh?" Ira proceeded to cease all doubt about his ability with 12 tackles, four of those solo and, oh yeah, he had a pick which he returned for just over half the length of the field. On a day where several Blackshirts and backups shined, Ira was the North Star. Congrats, bro, hope to see even more of you ASAP.
Now, with that all said and done, it's time for some positives. If you're the type that likes numbers, Ol' Blanky Claus has a heapin' helpin' for you! ::AHEM:: Nebraska had 363 yards RUSHING on the evening on 39 attempts. That averages out to around 9.3 yards per carry. PER CARRY, PEOPLE! Another 218 yards through the air totaled for 581 yards for the Scarlet and Cream, not a bad effort considering a good chunk of that was accounted for by halftime. Nebraska had two one hundred-yard rushers and almost a third. Cory "Pohkchop" Ross had 13 totes for 125 yards, Tierre "PlayStation2" Green had 7 rushes for 112 yards and two scores in his very first game as a Husker while Brandon "Dirty South" Jackson had 13 rushes for 79 yards. Dem's production, folks!
On the defensive side of the ball? Nebraska gave up 220 yards not counting the return game which is under the oft-mandated record of 250, so that's positive. Oh yeah, Western Illinois had -3 yards rushing total. On 35 attempts, that averages out to -0.1 yards per carry. How'd it get so low? The SACK ATTACK! Several ‘Shirts had sacks including Benard Thomas (1), Adam Carriker (2) , Lornell McPherson (2), Wali Muhammad (1) and Jay Moore (1). Nebraska also chalked up four interceptions for their efforts.
Now, all that's said and done, you really have to take a look at the opposition. Western Illinois was a glorified scrimmage, we all know this. However, I (and others) feel that the game was very important for establishing confidence and even though the score could've been worse (in points scored for NU and less allowed), it could be good for the Scarlet and Cream Brotherhood. With the picks Joe threw? He knows he's got to work harder and improve. With the points the special teams game gave up? Naturally, there's improvement to be made and that's the key point here: improvement. I think it'll be made and if/when the screws are tightened…well…scary is all I gotta say.
In the end, the atmosphere was great, I had a fantastic time with all of the crew from Husker Power Hour and Big Red Report. I truly felt part of something special today and it's something I can always look back on and smile about. When you get right down to it, I think that's why all of us are in this. College football gives us that special something and makes life even more memorable. Up next for Nebraska are the Golden Eagles of Southern Mississippi. The Squawks will throw a bit more of a talented attack at Nebraska, but if the O clicks like it did early today? Well, it could be over in a hurry. If NU can garner 31+ points and a victory? Consider me a happy camper. In the meantime? Enjoy the win. Practice will come early.
Questions, commentary and other things that cause you to be ahwuhed can be sent toBlankman71@cox.net
===Brandon a.k.a. Blankman #71===