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Nebraska May Have Finally Found Their Fourth Quarter Tradition with The Killigans’ “Cornhusker”

How a long-ignored school song from 1909 was remade and could find a home between the third and fourth quarter of Husker football games.

Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium with the lights out

The break between the third and fourth quarters of Nebraska football games have been a bit of a hole in the traditions of Husker football. In years past, the Cornhusker Marching Band had played “Hey Baby”...which wasn’t bad, but wasn’t keeping up with some of the other cool traditions at other places, such as jumping around at Wisconsin.

Nebraska has been trying some different things over the years. DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat” wasn’t bad, but it turns out it works much better late in the game after the Huskers have seized control, such as the 2015 Michigan State game.

More than once, Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” has been proposed, and while it’s got a rhythmic beat that even Nebraska fans can keep up with, it’s just a little too slow for a stadium song.

Enter a 110 year old school song that’s been mostly buried in the archives of Nebraska football along with names like Henry Schulte and Dana X. Bible.

You may have heard the words “Come a Running Boys”, but probably hadn’t heard it sung in recent years. It seemed to be a first attempt to create an “Alma Mater” song for the school that didn’t take. (OK, it’s better than that thing Chip Davis tried to create 20 years ago.)

Five years ago, The Killigans, a Lincoln based folk-punk-country band, was looking for a way to create a song about the Huskers, but kept coming up empty (much like a Mike Riley offense) until a friend pointed them to the lyrics of “The Cornhusker”.

Come a runnin’ boys
Don’t you hear that noise like the thunder in the sky
How it rolls along in a good old song
From the sons of Nebraski.
Now it’s coming near with a rising cheer
That will sweep all foes away,
So with all our vim
We are bound to win and we’re going to win today.

In the days of old,
Johnny Bender bold would just take that ball in hand
And with Benedict right in front of him
They would set sail for the land.
Then Doc Eager too with a chosen few
Would be all round everywhere
And before they’d quit they would calmly sit
Down behind that goalpost there.

For Nebraska and the scarlet!
For Nebraska and the cream!
Though they go thru many battles,
Our colors still are seen.
And so in contest and in victory
We will wave them for the team,
And will always stir a Cornhusker,
The scarlet and the cream!

When the sun is bright
And the fields are ripe with the tassel on the corn
You can hear it grow in the evening glow
Or the hush of early morn.
In the state so fair ‘tis the very air that inspires us with a zest.
That in any fray we will not dismay
But we’ll do our level best.
(repeat chorus)

It received a little bit of publicity by music writers from the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star at the time, but stayed somewhat under the covers until last season when it emerged again during the Akron rain delay/dance party. It started to become a fixture in the playlist at the end of the halftime break last season.

This season, Nebraska has been playing it at the end of the third quarter, and it caught my attention during the Northern Illinois game. Even before the song began to play, fans started turning their phone flashlights on and the HuskerVision screens went all red with the “Our Red Burns Brighter” message. At night, the red glow from the screens created quite an effect in the north end zone much so, that someone decided to dim the LED instant-on stadium lights to increase the effect.

Huskers vs. Northern Illinois, 2019

I shared that photo with family and friends and got a “that’s pretty pretty cool” reaction. Nebraska’s event team must have noticed it as well because they upped the effect at the end of the third quarter of the Ohio State game by turning the stadium lights completely off.

And the effect was quite amazing.

On a night that most Husker fans would like to forget, “The Cornhusker” by The Killigans was something that stuck in the minds of the fans who where there. And frankly, this has a chance to become a tradition - especially at night. The Killigans remastering of the song is fast paced, advancing it from something solemn to something that fires you up. The reimagined chorus is where I think the potential is.

Chris Nebesniak told the Daily Nebraskan that the biggest change they made was to the melody for the chorus; it went from a solemn “alma mater” tone to something that invites the crowd to join in... almost like at an English soccer game or “Go, Cubs, Go!” at Wrigley Field.

Picture this: thousands of Nebraska fans singing out loud “For Nebraska and the Scarlet! For Nebraska and the Cream!” It doesn’t start right away...but it’s one of those things that could build up over time. Easy and memorable lines that tie directly to program in a shoutable chorus. It won’t happen immediately, but if fans start singing that chorus - especially in a darkened stadium, this might be the end of the third quarter tradition Nebraska has been looking for.