For some reason, I thought I'd written this years ago, but it turns out I never have. One of my other goal-post related incidents ended up in the book "Huskerville", along with the story of my brother-in-law's game day wedding. I reserve the right to edit the story below and re-release it in the future. The epilogue remains an area in which I struggle to resolve my duties as a parent with my need to still be somewhat of an anarchist. As I said, I reserve the right. Happy reading.
In 1982 the stage is set for another great season-ending clash between the Cornhuskers and Sooners. Nebraska comes into the game ranked third, their only loss coming in a screw job at Penn State. Oklahoma comes in ranked 11th with two losses. It’s Osborne - Switzer. It’s Gill - Rozier - Fryar - Rimington, but most of all, it’s good versus evil for a trip to the Orange Bowl.
It was a rare ‘night’ game, and by that I don’t mean it started at 7:00 pm like they do now, what I mean is that by the time the game is over it’d dark. There weren’t a lot of night games then, so it was a big deal because they had to do something about lighting.
The problem with the late start is that as students we’re used to all of the games starting at 12:30 pm. All of the festivities on game day are centered around getting going early in the morning with beer breakfasts and being prepared for football at noon. This game started around 3:30 or 4:00 pm, and those extra hours meant that some of our guys weren’t going to make it to the game because they didn’t pace themselves properly.
We did what we always did in that case, we gathered tickets and student ID’s much like soldiers would gather weapons and ammo from the wounded. We didn’t have photo ID’s so all you needed was a ticket and an ID card to get into the game. There wasn’t this need to squeeze every dollar possible out of ticket like there is now, so the guys at the gate didn’t care much if a 50-year old guy showed up with a student ticket, as long as he had the ID which was proof enough that it wasn’t stolen.
It was cold, really cold, the actual temperature was in the mid-20s, and then there was that wonderful November wind. Wind chill had to be in the single digits. This meant we were heavily bundled, which wasn’t so bad because it left plenty of extra fluff in your clothes in which to stash things like bottles or boda bags. Come game time it seemed like the entire crowd was pretty sauced, including me. I’m not falling down drunk as some are because I love my football. I loved going to the games more than getting hammered, but even then, I’m still not feeling the cold much and it’s because of the Schnapps that a friend of mine (who’s from Enid, Oklahoma) has carried into the game. That year our student block tickets are very good, in the lower section on the east side, around the 30-yard line and about 20-30 rows up. At game time, there are about four times the number of people in our section that should be there. By half, most who weren’t had left. In the interests of keeping the story short, I’ll leave out the reasons for their leaving.
The ‘82 game started off well enough for the Huskers with Gill scoring first. Then Oklahoma came back (as they always did) and took the lead at 10-7 going into the early second quarter. Nebraska roars back with two long drives to take a 21-10 lead going into the half.
Oklahoma has a freshman named Marcus Dupree who is the next coming of Billy Sims and he looks like it, too. He finished the game going 149 yards on 25 carries, including an 86 yard touchdown in the third quarter that brings Oklahoma within one score at 21-17 in the third quarter. (Marcus Dupree would quit Sooner football four games into his Sophomore season.
For years there was a tradition at Nebraska games of throwing oranges on the field whenever the Huskers scored a touchdown. It ends at this game. Because of the cold, the oranges are frozen which means a squishy fruit has turned into the equivalent of a big rock. During the game, a thrown orange hits an official in the head. The resulting injury ends his career.
If I might digress, it was a really stupid tradition. If you’d like another example, one year I had end zone tickets on the North side, quite a few rows up. Another student in front of me throws an orange and it lands about three feet in front of Tom Osborne who is standing near the 40 yard line. His friends high-five him, congratulating him on his great throw. The rest of us are ready to kill him. A policeman steps into view below us, and several of us point the guy out. He is escorted from the stadium. One of his friends turns to me and asks why we gave him up and I respond that the police have just saved his friend from a severe ass-kicking.
“What if he would have hit Osborne?”
The guy says nothing and we go back to watching the game. Throwing oranges on the field might have been fine in an era where mutual respect was expected. In the early 80’s, it’s clear this was lost on my generation. Anyway, it’s a stupid tradition, and like most stupid traditions, someone had to get seriously injured before it was ended.
The fourth quarter rolls around with both teams pounding at each other. Nebraska is ahead 28-24 going into the fourth. Oklahoma has Dupree, but worst of all they have that damned “Sooner magic” - a contract with the devil that allows them a comeback against Nebraska whenever they want.
I’m not sure how it happens, but as with all mobs, a collective thought takes over the student section. It begins with one or two students, and two others who see them and yell to more to come and follow and then we’re leaving our seats and we’re moving down onto the track area and we’re climbing over the fence and onto the field. We are determined that there will be no “Sooner Magic” this year. We will guard the field, we will scream to the sky to keep whatever evil it is that grants Oklahoma this favor shall not come to help them today.
I find myself standing near the South end 20 yard line at the edge of the field in front of a policeman who’s whacking his open hand with his bully club. I’m first in line to get on the field (I could always get to a keg before everyone else), my feet still out of bounds but barely. The crowd behind me is swelling.
With 26 seconds left, Scott Strasburger intercepted a pass that sealed the game for the Huskers. Students at the other end of the stadium explode onto the field. It takes a while to get them off, and the Huskers get a 15-yard penalty in the process. Fans on our end, the South end, didn’t go onto the field yet, whether we were less drunk, more wise, or because the play happened right in front of those on the North, it’s hard to say.
The Huskers get on the field for one more play, the greatest play in all of football, the kneel down. And it’s over. Without taking a step I am literally swept off my feet by the force of the crowd behind me. It was as if a huge wave has hit me, and I’m being carried onto the field and within a few seconds I’m underneath the South end goal post.
It’s pandemonium around the goal post. There are hundreds of people swarming around it, and each side would lunge to try to grab it. As an individual, you had no control over where you were going, you just went with the crowd. As each side lunged, people were jumping up to grab it. In the process, I fell down. It was black, and all I saw were shoes and legs, the sky had disappeared. I had a stupid straw hat at the time - it was kicked off my head and while I was trying to grab it people continue to step on me and unintentionally kick me.
It was at this moment that God sent an angel as some huge guy appears over me, screaming at the top of his lungs:
“Get him off the ground, get him up, get him up!’
Just like Moses and the Red Sea, he parts the crowd. The sky returns. Two large hands grab me by the chest and lift me on my feet. For a moment everything is calm. It’s very strange.
It grab him - “You just saved my life!’ - and then I run away from the goal post and towards the center of the field, clearly the safest place to be right now. There used to be a logo at the 50 yard line - a big “N” - something like that. I run up to it, and there’s a student sitting there in nothing but his underwear eating an orange. It freaks me out.
I see that the North end has their goal post down, and I turn to the South, where there are people on the goal post and it’s teetering. Thinking better of running back into the mass of humanity, I pause to take it all in. It’s a bizarre scene.
A student is lying on the ground motionless near the thirty yard line. Two first aid guys in white, complete with stretcher come up to help him. As they’re lying the stretcher down next to him, he gets up and runs away, leaving them staring at each other in disbelief.
There is smoke all over the place. Not lingering, hanging smoke, but bunch of smoke bombs all over the place, so it looks like little fires are burning around the South end. If one
The South goal post has come down. I keep my distance, but I’m going to stay with it just in case they cut it up. I want a piece. The fans are carrying it out of the stadium. They’re not just walking, they’re running with it. They’re carrying the long arms flat with the curve at the bottom sticking up in the air. What they don’t realize is that it won’t clear the south gate out of the stadium, so they’re running until the curved part of the goal post hits the top of the stadium gate, stopping everything dead and knocking all of them flat.
Being the celebratory fools they are, they collectively get up, pick up the goal post, back up, and start running again. Again the post hits the top of the gate and they all fall down. By now, at least a few of them have figured out that they have to move the longs arm out of the stadium and tilt the bottom so it doesn’t hit the gate. It takes some work (clearly engineers are involved) and then they’re free!
And they’re out in the open running and they have no clue as to where they’re going, so some try to go some way, some try another. Obviously the goal post isn’t flexible so the ones who lose the battle of momentum fall down and lose their place. They are quickly replaced by others because everyone wants to touch the damned thing.
They head to the student union and throw the goal post into Broyhill Fountain. Some friends find me and they remind me that there is much celebrating at stake, the kind I don’t want to miss. My day as a member of a riotous mob is over. I have survived this one. Others will be ahead, but those are another story.
The 1982 Nebraska Oklahoma game was my greatest experience as a student, and it’s one of my fondest memories at the university. The week after the game the Daily Nebraskan was filled with letters from angry alumni who were embarrassed by our early charge onto the field or the pictures that appeared in Sports Illustrated the following week showing the insanity of smoke, bodies, and dying goal posts. We all laughed at the alumni, wondering why they’d be embarrassed at something so inane.
Now I am an alum. I know of the riots last week at Penn State, which are called riots only for the sake of media hyperbole. I wonder why students would burn a couch other than to dispose of it, and I have never understood the need to smash up a car that wasn’t your own. When I see these things, I am bothered by them as a parent because there is an element of danger to them that exists in every mob - as the saying goes “never underestimate the stupidity of a large group of people”.
I’m glad I had my moment. Call me stupid if you like, after all I easily could have been killed or seriously injured, but I could have been killed or seriously injured doing several hundred other things I’ve done in my life. My personal philosophy is that when you’re done, you’re done, God takes you whether 100 people are stepping on you or you’re sitting at home watching the game on your not-burning couch. Let the actuarials determine the odds, but they can be damned, I have God on my side.
If there's one thing that came out of the 1982 game - it's that I've never had more than a small swig of Peppermint Schnapps since.