My apologies for a short hiatus from this column. It had nothing to do with the losses, just a busy bit of life. Shit happens, as they say, but I found the keyboard where I left the damned thing, so here we go again.
This is the part where I’ve normally been finding humorous ways (in my own mind) to deal with yet another close, soul-crushing loss and pump my fist Howard-Dean-style YEAAAAHHHGG!!! as we recognize the improvement being made and virtual slap the Riley-weenies who see each loss as some new validation of the power of sprinkles, Calibraska and the wonderful future portended by another 55-21 pimp-slapping.
Well tonight I just want to return to a simpler time when I took my first impromptu, who-gives-a-shit-let’s-do-this road trip. With the help of some notes I cobbled together years ago on the off-chance I might write about it someday and a memory somewhat muddled by time and other spirits, I’ve attempted to recreate this sojourn in diary form. It’s an extreme stretch to even call the times given here approximate but any references to morning, afternoon, night, light and dark are pretty accurate.
Come along with me in a giant Plymouth.
November 22, 1985 - Drinks, Plans and Heading South
3:30pm - Armed with $15-$20, I order my first happy hour Elk Creek at Sandy’s. In 1985, Sandy’s was located on the northwest corner of 14th & O streets with a 14th street entrance. The interior inside was wood and chalk was laying about for any who wished to write profound shit on the walls. To save money, I quickly switched to beer. Had I not, this story likely ends in the next paragraph with “And I
passed out in my room took a nap around 6pm.”
8:00pm - After spending a few successful hours drinking and not giving a shit, I run into my buddy Jim W (all names are shortened or changed to protect the guilty). We talk about tomorrow’s OU-NU game and agree it would be great fun it to go to Norman while lamenting the fact we don’t have cars. The seed is planted.
8:30 - A wonderful girl we know named Terry, who is about 5’1” with a build similar to Danny Noonan joins the discussion. She says she has a big car. Everyone laughs.
8:45 - One of Jim’s buddies, Eric, has wandered over. He wastes no time. “Will you drive?” he asks Terry.
9:00pm - She will. Eric wants to bring Bridget, a waitress from PO Pears who he wishes to...well... you know. He hasn’t gotten as far as a strategy that will allow this to happen with six people crammed is what I only remember as a very large Plymouth of some sort. I think it was blue.
9:05pm - Yes, six people. Another of Jim W’s buddies, Todd, is on board. The car is full.
9:30pm - We agree to round up cash, the car and whatever we’re bringing and meet back at Sandy’s at 9:30. Terry volunteers to drive and not drink. I’m not making that part up to soften the story for 2018. This really happened. I grab $100 from the ATM. It’s the most I can withdraw with a balance of $102.17
10pm - We are rolling. Holy shit, we’re doing this. I’m 21 and beyond fired up. The fact we only know that Norman is somewhere south of us and don’t have a map is not a deterrent. I made no such non-drinking pledge and have no fear.
11pm - After heading south for about an hour, we stop in a liquor store in Beatrice. We’re informed by the nice man behind the counter that just staying on Highway 77 will take us to Norman eventually. We thank him by stealing two cases of Bud Light and a bottle of Bacardi 151 while I chat with him at the counter and buy a 6-pack.
September 23, 1985 - Game Day
3am or so - We continue south with occasional pee breaks and seat changes. Around 3am, I realize my wallet is missing. We pull off to the side of the highway and commence a search of the car. After about 20 minutes, it turns up in the trunk with no cash in it. Happy to have basics like ID’s and other crap not lost, it isn’t until about 7am that morning it occurs to me that lost wallets don’t magically fall into a trunk that hasn’t been opened once with everything intact but the cash.
Yes, while I did probably just drop it, one of these assholes definitely ripped me off. I hold my tongue as I have no idea who to accuse.
5:45 - 6:00am - We roll into Norman and find a great parking space right by the stadium. I grab a blanket and call car roof as we decide to crash for an hour or two.
7:30am - We start waking up and agree we stink fairly awful. Two of the three other guys with me are former Lambda Chis who were expelled from their fraternity but remember all the secret handshakes and code phrases. It is agreed we will find the Lambda Chi house and cajole showers out of our “brothers”.
7:45am - We find Lambda Chi Alpha. It is locked tight which is odd to us being from a campus where many fraternity front doors are always unlocked. We don’t want to awaken everyone by ringing the doorbell, so we decide it will be much more neighborly to break in through the back door.
8:00am - We finish our showers and, after drying off with washcloths and paper towels, we are surprised by a semi-terrified freshman who stumbles upon us. Eric thinks quickly and tells him we are spies from their national organization or some silly shit and he has to keep seeing us in there a secret from everyone.
Personally, I don’t think the kid buys a word of it, but I’m guessing he figured why risk having his ass kicked for raising the alarm just because some drunk, smelly dipshits from Nebraska took showers.
8:30am - We discover the reason we found such an awesome parking spot. The sign in front of it saying “Reserved For OU Athletic Director” is the big clue.
8:45am - The girls say they will move the car after they eat and everyone agrees to chip in and cover my ripped-off ass. Jim W and I wander and find an old-timey looking diner. I start dreaming of chicken fried steak and we head in for breakfast.
I should mention what I’m wearing at this time. The Braves baseball cap and Husker light sweatshirt look semi-normal. The bright yellow and orange floral boxer shorts that I thought would be hilarious the night before are sort of sticking out in a diner where a couple of 21-year-olds have just brought the average down to about 76.4. I’m pretty sure the country jukebox stopped playing.
Just picture the roadhouse scene from Animal House only with crusty old white Okies instead of black dudes who want to dance with our dates. The chicken fried steak is delicious.
9:45 - The girls are unable to find decent parking after breakfast so we tool into the Norman neighborhoods. We find a spot on the street and an old fart on his porch across the way is kind enough to point out that we are parked in front of Brian Bosworth’s girlfriend’s house. He says the Boz always stops over there after games, so if Nebraska wins, we better get that car with Nebraska plates the hell out of there before he arrives.
Seems like sound advice. We thank him.
10:15 - With sobriety rearing it’s ugly head, it is decided we must find a bar stat. We do. They sell half yards of beer which simply sounds lovely. I quietly run some numbers in my head to total up what’s being spent on me. Between the gas, breakfast and first few beers, it dawns on me I might come out ahead in this robbery.
Noon - I need to take a piss. Normally, this nugget would be left out the narrative, but while waiting in line at the bathroom, a man in an orange jumpsuit from what I could only assume was a work release program and who could best be described as a 6’6” cross between Bigfoot and The Undertaker spots my Husker shirt and goofy boxers and asks where the hell I’m from. For some reason (let’s just call it alcohol), I decide smart-ass is the way to play this. I look at my shirt, look at him at point to the word Nebraska.
In one motion, he scoops my pipe-cleanerish 6’1” 165 lb frame under one arm while kicking open the screen door to the alley and bellowing, “C’MON BOYS! I GOT US ONE!!!!!”
Storming outside with two other behemoths thundering after, he screams and tosses me around like a rag doll for about 15 seconds before gently setting me down and saying, “Just kidding, brother, what’s your name? I’m Jim.”
I’m starting to love Norman, Oklahoma.
I take him back to our table where it’s introductions all around. Orange Jumpsuit Jim buys a round of half yards for everyone and asks who needs tickets. All hands go up. He says he’s on the stadium crew and has two maintenance passes he will sell for $25/each. They won’t get us seats but they will get us in he swears.
These things are light orange cardboard tags with neck-hanger string. They’re sort of sketchy, but what the hell. Jim W and I decide to roll the dice and he gives Orange Jumpsuit Jim $50. If these damn things work, this Yeti who looks like a Sons of Anarchy extra basically just sold us cheap tickets to a HUGE game AND spent most of the money we gave him buying us beer. I love Norman, OK.
1:45pm - Everyone now has tickets and it’s time to see if we got taken to the cleaners or not on these worker passes. There’s the gate. Moment of truth. Ticket guy glances at them and waves us by not even giving two shits about why a guy in a Nebraska shirt and Magnum PI boxer shorts has Oklahoma maintenance passes. I love Norman, OK.
1:50 - Forgot to mention. These damn things get us on the field. Oh yeah. That’s right. It’s pre-game and I’m walking around Owen Field like a boss, bitches. Welcome to the high life.
2:15 or so - 5:30 or 6pm or so - Maintenance crews are told to clear the field, so it’s time to wave to the crowd one last time, beat it and find seats. Oddly enough, some seats are available in Row 1 Right behind the end zone. This may be the worst view in the stadium but who cares? Next to us are three dudes from Omaha Northwest who attend OU. They are actually very friendly as Oklahoma proceeds to dismantle the Huskers 27-7.
Also? At kickoff it is around 70 degrees. By the final gun, it’s around 29. We are not dressed for that and have no idea that a cold front was about to sweep in. No iPhones with weather apps in 1985.
At halftime, trailing 17-0, we race over to harass the Sooners as they head down the ramp to the locker room that for some weird reason leads right by the visitor section in the end zone. As Brian Bosworth walks by, the yelling drops to a low grumble. That’s because he’s been all over the field that day and up close is just terrifying. At that time, the hair is just a blonde flat top instead of razor-cut and painted and he’s looking straight ahead with a game face that no one wants pointed in their direction.
The lone Nebraska highlight comes when Chris Spachman intercepts a pitch/handoff with :26 seconds remaining and races 76 yards for a TD as Bosworth and the OU defense freak out and start dismantling the Sooner sideline This is because their shot at becoming the first team to shut out the Huskers in 147 games has shockingly gone up in smoke. Suck it, Oklahoma.
End of game - Fans begin storming the field immediately as the gun sounds and Jim W and I decide that it would be a lot more fun to get in on that as opposed to sulking.
A tankard of ale and fresh horses for the men!! We too are off to storm the field!
It is bedlam. We are running around high-fiving Okies, most of whom are only mildly confused as to why Nebraska fans would be doing this (again, alcohol). Students begin climbing the goalposts. I decide that looks like fun, too and before I know it, I’m on the crossbar and actually standing with hands on the the goalpost and helping rock it.
Rather predictably, I eventually slip but catch the crossbar on the way down and hang on like Tarzan for a bit. I then drop. As soon as i get to my feet, a guy in Sooner garb grabs me by the shirt and yanks me toward him. As I prepare to try and block the punch to the mouth I’m positive is about to loosen my jaw, he only points as I hear a thump behind me.
The goalpost hits the ground right where I was standing. Dude may have saved my life. I love Norman.
The fun isn’t over yet. As I wander the crowd looking futilely for my crew and just taking everything in, what feels like a bowling ball buries itself in my sternum. I look down to see a wine colored OU helmet below me momentarily. A short, young black man looks up and says, “Whoops. Sorry, man,” and turns to run into the crowd.
The number on the back is #4. The name is Holieway. Nothing else is topping any of this tonight. It’s time to go.
7:00pm - Although, I can’t explain how, we somehow all find each other in the middle of all that madness, pile in the car (not destroyed by Boz) and head back to Lincoln after grabbing dinner to go.
September 24, 1985 - Home
2:00am - I stagger through the doors of my college home at Phi Delta Theta and begin sharing my story for the first time with a few of the slobs still up drinking. I do a quick calculation in my head before crashing for about 13 hours and realize that having my wallet cleaned out saved me about $25. I deem the trip a complete success and fall asleep with a smile.
Author’s note: Except for best attempts to remember approximate times, every story within the story actually happened. Any embellishments are accidental due to years passed as well as the accompanying brain damage. Norman, OK, really is wonderful by the way.
I returned there in 1994 for a 13-3 victory that featured Tommie Frazier in a nameless #17 jersey on the sideline - the first clue he might suit up for the Orange Bowl - and again in 2000 for a 31-14 loss to the eventual national champions that featured a disastrous 0-24 second quarter after taking a 14-0 lead.
The great majority of the people of Norman were fantastic and those trips were memorable as well - another time for their telling, maybe.