The year was 2011. Nebraska had made the jump to the Big Ten and people were getting excited about the upcoming season. We had been given a daunting schedule for our first two seasons in our new conference; Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Before the season even began, people were circling October 1st on their calendars. "Are you going to the Wisconsin game? What about the next weekend when Ohio State visits?" That's all people wanted to talk about. The Big Ten. But there was another game on that schedule that interested me more. Wyoming.
Yea, I was excited about the new conference, but for years, I had been eying that game against the Cowboys. It suprised me that Nebraska had never played there considering that we had connections with the school. It's where Bob Devaney got his first head coaching gig and many of the folks out in Western Nebraska and Eastern Wyoming relate to both schools. Kids in the panhandle go to Wyoming. Kids from Wyoming interact with these Nebraska kids and build a bond with them. Since the schools rarely play, there is no rivalry there, just the mutual respect.
So, like most non-routine decisions, I was indecisive. I wanted to go to Laramie, but I didn't exert the effort to get tickets. That spring, I looked up the Wyoming athletic department website and considered buying tickets. But if you wanted to go to the Nebraska game, you had to get season tickets. I wasn't sure I wanted to do that since I wasn't going to drive out to Laramie each week and use 'em. I guess I could donate them to a local charity, or back to the University. Regardless, I didn't pull the trigger on the tickets.
The first three games of the 2011 season came and went. The defense had plenty of holes in it against Fresno State and Washington. Fans were getting ancy and weren't sure how the team was going to handle things when conference season got started. On top of that, Jared Crick hadn't been playing and, just after the Wyoming game, decided to hang up the cleats for the year. Though it was the week of the Wyoming game, no one was focused on it. Wisconsin was two weeks away and the Cowboys were just a speed bump in our road to Big Ten glory.
Game week was here. Monday passed. Tuesday passed. Wednesday passed. Thursday, did not pass (well, eventually it did...). On the drive home from work that Thursday, I made my decision. I was going to Laramie (from Omaha), to see the game. I had no ticket and had never been to Laramie before. I called my dad up to see if he wanted to tag along. He declined, but offered me his car if I wanted it. I took it. My truck gets terrible gas mileage and it was 11 years old. I wasn't sure how it would handle a 1000 mile trip. So I stopped by my parents house that evening, traded vehicles and headed home.
When I got home, I told my wife that I was headed to Laramie for the game on Saturday. It wasn't a complete surprise to her. I had been thinking about it for years and talking about it for 6 months. When we got married, we did a wine tour around the state. Our goal was to hit up every winery we could, without using the interstate. But that's another story. Some of our favorite wines came from this winery out in Mitchell, Ne, so I promised her I would make a slight detour to go pick up a case. She was happy with that and I started packing.
I got to work the next day and told everyone that I was going to the game. "Do you have a ticket?" they would ask.
"No," I responded, "I'm just going driving out there and hope I can find one. If I can't, I'll just hop back in the car, listen to it on the radio and start heading back home." Either way, I was excited to be going back out west; to see the sand hills and the mountains.
After work on Friday, I gassed up the car, grabbed some munchies and hit the road. It was probably 4:30pm when I got out of Omaha. The plan was to drive to North Platte and see how I felt and, if I could go on, make it to Sidney.
Things were going really well until a few miles east of York. There was a semi that had gone off the road and cause a huge mess on the highway. Traffic was backup for 2 miles until the next exit where the state patrol was detouring cars off the interstate. The detour took traffic 10 miles north to the nearest highway and then back through York to connect up the interstate again. During the bumper-to-bumper 5 to 10 mph trip down to the next exit, I had plenty of time to check out my map of Nebraska to find an alternative route. I have one of those really detailed maps of the state back from when I use to storm chase in college. I found a little dirt road just off the interstate that should suffice.
It was a gamble. Ten miles of dirt road that may or may not even exist anymore. Though I couldn't drive as fast as I wanted to, I made it. It was fitting that next week would be our B1G opener because I could see about three yards ahead of me and a giant cloud of dirt. I made good time, didn't have any problems on the dirt road and came out on the other end ahead of the game. I stopped to pee at this little dive of a gas station right before the interstate entrance and I was off again.
Most people hate the drive across Nebraska. I'm just the opposite. The scenery changes so much from Omaha to the panhandle. There are lots of hills between Omaha and Lincoln. West of Lincoln, the landscape is flat. There's no denying it. You can see for miles in certain places and the road is straight as an arrow. About mid-state, you see the transition from farmland to the sand hills. Past, Lexington, the sand hills can be seen off in the distance to the north. The interstate follows the Platte River until the Colorado boarder. Without that river, there would be even less to look at on your trip.
To pass the time, I turned on the radio. I listened to Sports Nightly until I lost the signal. As the sun started to set I could pick up other radio stations. I found myself listening to a Friday night game on the BYU radio network. I think they were playing Central Florida. It was a good game to listen too. Exciting until the end and it kept me awake
When I got to North Platte I decided to continue onward to Sydney. By the time I got there, I was ready to sleep. I parked at the rest area, climbed in the back seat of the car and curled up under a blanket. It was not comfortable. A 6'3" dude shouldn't be sleeping in the back seat of a car, but hey, I was trying to save a buck.
I had my alarm set for 6am the next morning, but I didn't need it. For starters, my body was an hour ahead of the local time, and I'm always up early in the morning, anyway. The slightest hint of sunrise convinced me that it was time to get up, stretch my legs and enjoy a few minutes on the quiet prairie.
The game was at 5pm mountain time, so I had plenty of time to get to Laramie. At the Kimball exit, I took my detour north to the winery. I had never been on this road before, but it was a pretty drive with lots of rock formations, etc. My path took me through Gering and past Scottsbluff Monument. A few more miles down the road and I was in Mitchell. The sign on the door said they were closed. Really? I drove an extra hour out of my way to get here! I got out of my car and tried the door, anyway. It opened. Two people were playing cards and sipping on wine and they welcomed me in. I told them I was headed to Laramie for the game and that I was here to pick up a case of our favorite wine. They gladly sold to me and I was on my way again.
I could have headed back south to catch the interstate, but since I had the time, I thought I would trail blaze. I headed west out of Mitchell and soon crossed over into Wyoming. Talk about nothing. I continued on to Torrington, WY and then cut south to Cheyenne. Everything was brown and dead, for the most part. I didn't even seen very many ranches; just endless open barren land. It was one of those roads where you hope you don't have car problems and gives you a new found respect for the people that traveled across this land in covered wagons. But, I had never seen this before and new roads are always exciting to me. There was nothing to listen to on the radio out here but some Catholic radio station and a syndicated NFL radio show. I wasn't in the mood for either on a Saturday morning. About the only sign of life out here was a few sunflower fields and a Husker party RV that passed my on the highway. Otherwise, I saw more ranchers driving their pickups than anything else. Very few of them didn't have a cowboy hat on.
The traffic picked up once I hit Cheyenne, and west of town, the scenery changed. It became more mountainous, but not what I was hoping for. When you head to Denver, you get to see the front range off in the distance. Here along I-80, you gradually ascend until you just realize that you are in mountains. East of Laramie a few miles is the highest point on Interstate 80. I stopped for a few minutes to take a break and get a few pictures. This is where I got my first real sign that it was game day. I was seeing a lot of yellow Wyoming shirts here. People were headed to the game.
Laramie is just down the hill a few miles from the highest point on I-80. It's not a very big town and was easy to get around in. I had a map that I printed off before I left, so I knew about where I wanted to park. I was hoping that there would be no "No Parking" signs in that area. I was in luck. I found my spot not a mile away from the stadium and just a few blocks from campus. I scouted out a Subway and had lunch and planned on coming back for dinner before going into the stadium. Now for the hard part. I made it to Laramie, but it was time to find a ticket.
It was probably 1:00 local time when I got to campus. I had my sweatshirt around my waist, everything else packed into my camera bag and had a good four hours to find me a ticket. Easier said than done. I hung around the stadium for awhile. People were coming and going. There were lots of yellow shirts wandering around. There were lots of red shirts, too. There were even a lot of mixed shirts. Quite a few people had taken a Nebraska shirt and a Wyoming shirt, cut them both in half and sewed two half’s together. Lot's of T-shirts, but not many tickets.
Some dude tried to give me a sheet of paper that had "WANTED TICKETS" written on it. At first I thanked him, but when I looked closer it had his phone number. Apparently he thought I would make a good billboard for him to get his tickets. There were lots of students trying to sell their tickets, but I didn't want to pay what they were asking. I had told myself that I wanted to only spend around $100, but I would go up to $120. It was a little harder because I only wanted one ticket. Most people had two or four and wanted to sell them together. I did find one guy who I thought I could get his ticket for $100, but he just wrote my name and number down on his list and told me he would get back to me. That kind of irritated me, but whatever, Rick.
I decided to just wait it out. I realized that my best bet might be to just hold on until after the game started and get a cheap ticket, so I found a nice curb to sit on outside the stadium. I chatted with some Husker fans and realized that most of them were Western Nebraska folk that had been anticipating this game since the day it was scheduled. I hit up the subway again around 3:30 and then went back to my curb. It was then that someone was smiling on me.
An older fella came up to me and asked me if I needed a ticket. His name was Denzel. I told him that I did and he said to come with him. He told me that he and his wife had gotten some tickets for their kids, but their daughter was nowhere to be found. When the two of us found his wife outside the gates, she was getting itchy about getting into the stadium and finding their seats. They couldn't get ahold of their daughter, though, and she was ready to sell me the ticket. I offered my cell phone to them and they tried to call her with that, but had no luck. Denzel decided that dumping the ticket and not having to listen to his wife complain was his best course of action so I got me my ticket. Not only that, he sold it to me for $50 (face value of $75). He said that the person who sold him the ticket wanted $50 so he offered it to me for the same amount. Not too bad. Thanks Denzel and Lois Weatherly from Tekamah. I had my ticket and it was time to go into the stadium, but not before Rick called. "Aaron do you still want this ticket?"
"Sorry Rick. I just got my pass, thanks, though." I smiled a bit when I said that.
I got into the stadium just fine. (I always worry that my ticket will be invalid or a fake.) I wandered around for a bit before finding my seat. I started seeing shirts that said, "I bleed brown and gold". I didn't say it, but all I could think of was that people in Wyoming bled "piss and shit". The stadium wasn't very big, but it was very homely. There were evergreen trees behind the end zones. I thought that was really neat. It was late September up in the mountains and so there was a slight chill to the air. It was just a perfect night for a football game.
I found my seat and as soon as I sat down, the gentleman behind me tapped my shoulder and asked if I was in the correct spot. He knew the person who owned these seats and apparently I was not that person. I showed him my ticket and he gave in all disappointed-like.
So I mentioned to you that I got a $75 ticket for $50, but I never mentioned where the seat was. I could hardly have asked for a better seat. I was at the 30 yard line, 8 rows behind the Nebraska bench. I could hear the players and coaches if they yelled loud enough.
The stadium was rockin' at kick off, at least as well as a stadium that seats 30,000 can. It was about this time when the owner of my seat showed up. He gave me the once over and we exchanged pleasantries. "You know, I'd be curious to know how much you paid for your ticket," he said.
So I told him my story. "The guy who sold me this ticket said that he had bought it from a guy at the hotel this morning for $50. He thought it was some big wig in the Nebraska Legislature, but he couldn't tell. Since he got the ticket for $50, he offered it to me for the same."
"Well good," he responded. "Because that's what I sold it for." He seemed pleased by this and throughout the game we chatted back and forth as best as two fans from opposing sides can. He called it the biggest game in the history of the program. I knew he wanted to beat us. All those Cowboy fans wanted it badly. This game was very important to them. Their mentality was that this was the best chance they would get at us. We have the Huskers on our home field. Their defense has been very bad the last couple weeks. The altitude will cause them problems. It all added up to be a big game.
Even with all of this, I didn't quite comprehend how important this game was until the attendance was announced. You could feel how disappointed the crowd was when we were notified that the attendance for this game ranked No.2 all time. Everyone wanted this to be the largest crowd in stadium history. Unfortunately, the Texas game in 2009 still ranked No.1. Sorry Huskers fans, Texas was beating us even when they weren't playing us.
Nebraska had sent a pep band with the team to Wyoming. I found it interesting that the band was wearing their marching uniforms. We always wore our "warmup" outfits on the pep band trips when I was a geek. That and they never sent pep bands to non-conference games. I would come to find out that the reason they wore their marching uniforms was because they actually marched with the Wyoming band during halftime. Kind of cool. They did a tribute to the good relations the schools have and the for the people of Western Nebraska/Eastern Wyoming.
As the game kicked off, l couldn't help but to just think about all the traveling and chances I took to get here and how perfectly it turned out. I sat back and soaked it all in. The game itself started out slowly. I spent two years living in the mountains of New Mexico. I moved from Omaha, Nebraska (1000 feet elevation) to Los Alamos, New Mexico (7500 feet elevation). Beautiful town and great job, but the first time I went for a jog, my lungs were burning after about four blocks. It took me a couple weeks to really get acclimated. You could tell that the team seemed to be struggling with the higher elevation. The game was close until after halftime. Nebraska ended up pulling away in the third quarter and iced it in the fourth, but it still was an entertaining game to watch.
I was raised to enjoy every moment. Even though this wasn't an Ohio State or a Texas game, it was still a game. And this game matter to a lot of people. I realized as the game was in it's waning moments that it would probably be the only time Nebraska will ever visit Wyoming and I was glad I made the trip. I stayed behind for a bit after the stadium was mostly empty and then headed for my car. My body was still working on central time and the plan was to make it back to Sidney before I stopped for the night. It would give me a good head start for the next day when I was suppose to be in Omaha for an afternoon dinner. My father-in-law was coming to town that day and so there would be no detours on Sunday.
I listened to the postgame on the radio to keep me awake. The ride back up through the mountains was less spectacular without any daylight and I made it to Sidney in a couple hours. After another crappy night sleeping in the back seat of the car, I climbed a hill at the rest stop and watched the sunrise. Back across Nebraska I drove and made it back to Omaha by 2 in the afternoon.
It was a fun trip and I'm glad I did it. So while the Wyoming game this weekend may be a boring, cupcake game to most Eastern Nebraska Husker fans (and the rest of the country), it is a meaningful game to me, and a few people out west.