So I'm driving to Lincoln on Saturday, when my eight-year-old nephew Riley calls and asks where I'm at.
"Capital Parkway," I reply.
"Hurry up! I want to get to the game."
I chuckle but sense the excitement. It's only 10:30 A.M.; kick off is slated for 1:05. We'll be on time. Today is the day Riley attends his first Husker game, a rite of passage that he should be sharing with his dad, and even though Ryan later teases me about it, I feel the sense of loss and nostalgia about the fact that I am the one who accompanies his son, I am the one who shares the first tunnel walk, I am the one who feels the excitement building throughout the game.
After tailgating with my daughter for a bit, we head toward Memorial Stadium because I want Riley to take in every aspect of game day: the buzz of the crowd heading toward the game, the lingering smell of grilled burgers, the melody of tunes during the band warm up. All these memories and options swim in my head and I want to make sure he doesn't miss out on anything.
Our first stop is outside the Architectural Hall, where the drum line pounds out a cadence while Husker faithful either stare in awe or move in rhythm with the percussion section.
Stop #2 lands us outside the South Stadium where the news vehicles are parked, beaming news from Huskerland to the few people who aren't in Lincoln on this glorious fall day. He stares at the van from WOWT - Omaha and asks if the army can listen to the game through the satellite on the back.
The next stop is outside the West Stadium. We just stop and Riley does a 360, observing everything and everyone. I keep wondering if I were the same way when I went to my first Husker game. Maybe. We reach our gate and security peers into my purse. Riley asks why they do that. After I offer an explanation, Riley informs the young man that I don't carry weapons. He laughs.
Riley's brought money with him and he isn't sure what he would like to eat. It's difficult to choose between Valentino's pizza, Runza, Fairbury hot dogs, ice cream, nachos, popcorn, trail mix.... He chooses ice cream - the twist variety - and I pick nachos.
By now, it's T minus 60 and counting. But you see, you have to be there to experience the pre-game. A lot of times, this is the best part of the game. Riley's primary concern is the flyover and it's details: what kind of planes, when will they fly over, how many will there be. He's amazed at the Husker Vision screen in the north end zone. We go through it all: the teams running out on the field, the band's traditional salute with Husker music, the Star-Spangled Banner (the fly over is a few minutes late)...and then - WHOOSH! - the T-38s blaze across the blue right above us. It's amazing! And then it's the time I've been waiting for - another chance to watch the pre-tunnel walk video. Riley's pumped when the music begins...but it's disappointing - because the team is on the field before the video is finished and the crowd doesn't get to see them hit the horseshoe for good luck. Of course, my young man doesn't know any different and he's hyped!
Now it's T minus 1 and counting. He watches every play, reviews it on instant reply on the giant TV, and reminds me how awesome this is. He cheers and high 5's the guy sitting in the row below us. He hugs me when we score our first td - in the middle of the 2nd quarter - and thanks me for bringing him. He enjoys the "balloon migration" floating away from the stadium and wonders where they will all land.
After the game, we return to my Jimmy, and I return him safely to his parents, and now it's me who is feeling a little nostalgic and feeling a bit of a loss because I'm remembering the first time I took my daughters to a game. And, mainly, I wonder how so many fans can focus on the wrong things about Husker football - the missed tackles, the dropped passes, the under thrown ball, the overpaid coaches - and wish they could see the game through the eyes of an innocent eight-year-old boy. Maybe that would keep the armchair coaches and quarterbacks in check.