by Jeff Griesch
The Nebraska football program takes great pride in the winning tradition it has established over the past four decades.
Although the Huskers entered the 2002 season with several impressive streaks in place, including 40 consecutive winning seasons and 33 consecutive nine-win seasons, perhaps no streak is more amazing than Nebraska?s streak of 250 consecutive sellouts at Memorial Stadium.
The Huskers and the entire state of Nebraska celebrate that milestone number in the streak tonight as they battle Utah State under the Memorial Stadium lights.
The University of Nebraska would like to thank its football fans for their support over the past 40 years. Tonight, we honor the fans who have made Nebraska football an important part of their lives year after year with special pregame ceremonies that will include a card section displaying "250" in Sections 5, 6 and 7 in East Stadium and a thank you from Coach Frank Solich to Husker fans on the HuskerVision screens.
Solich, whose career as a player and coach at Nebraska has spanned the length of the sellout streak, said the game was a chance for the Huskers to honor the faithful fans of Memorial Stadium.
"This is a great opportunity for us to give a special tribute to our fans for the great support they have shown our Nebraska football teams over the years," Solich said. "The streak is a tribute to the pride the fans take in the Nebraska football tradition."
Nebraska?s sellout streak began on Nov. 3, 1962, in Hall of Fame Coach Bob Devaney?s first season at Nebraska. Ironically, the Huskers lost that Homecoming game to Missouri, 16-7, with 36,501 fans in attendance.
Memorial Stadium?s capacity was listed at just 31,080 during the 1962 season, a year that Nebraska?s only home loss came to the Tigers.
Nebraska has continued that winning tradition at home by posting a remarkable 223-26 record in the first 249 games of the streak for an amazing .896 winning percentage.
While Nebraska?s streak of sellouts is a testament to the Huskers? winning tradition, it can also be attributed to Husker fans who have braved blistering heat, blustery cold and even torrential rains to watch their beloved Huskers.
Director of Athletics Bill Byrne, who came to Nebraska in 1992 and helped celebrate NU?s 200th straight sellout with a win over Colorado in 1994, said Memorial Stadium?s sellout streak is a remarkable accomplishment by Nebraska?s great fans.
"Our sellout streak is absolutely incredible," Byrne said. "Whenever I mention the 250 consecutive sellouts to people they just shake their heads in awe. It is an incredible achievement by our fans and shows their love for Nebraska football."
Fans like Max Neiden, who said he has been a season ticket holder for more than 25 years. Born and raised in Lincoln and a graduate of Lincoln High School, Neiden remembers coming to the games as a youngster and watching from the "knot-hole" section in what is now the south end zone.
Neiden, who has been coming to games since the 1930s, said the only years that he missed the Huskers on the field was from 1942 to 1952 when he served in the U.S. Air Force.
"I appreciate everything that goes on around here," Neiden said. "All the games have been great. It was great to beat Notre Dame last year, but I just love coming to all the games."
Neiden, who now holds season tickets in Section 30, Row 4, Seats 13 and 14, near the 10-yard line in West Stadium, also takes pride in another great Husker tradition ? applauding the opposing team as they run on and off the field.
"Nebraska fans are courteous," Neiden said. "We just love good football, and we like to show it by coming out every week and watching the games."
While Neiden has been fortunate to stay at home in Lincoln and watch the Huskers, thousands of fans from across the Cornhusker State make long drives on Friday night or Saturday morning to watch their team.
Roger and Betty Goos, who have been season ticket holders in Section 30, Row 1, Seats 9 and 10 for the past nine years, fall into that category. They have been driving nearly 250 miles each way from their home in Taylor, Neb., to Memorial Stadium.
Roger, who was a teacher and guidance counselor at Columbus High School for 29 years, said he has been attending Nebraska football games for 50 years.
"I can remember coming to a game in 1951 when I was still in high school at Taylor," Goos said. "I watched from that knot-hole section in the end zone. Things have sure changed a lot since then."
The face and features of Nebraska?s Memorial Stadium have been changing since the landmark was built in the early 1920s.
A building drive for Memorial Stadium began in 1922 to replace the old Nebraska Field. Groundbreaking for the Stadium began in April 1923, after the University raised more than $430,000 for the construction.
The dozens of men who worked to build Memorial Stadium during the summer of 1923 included a strapping sophomore-to-be named Ed Weir, who would become the first Nebraska All-American to play inside Memorial Stadium. A two-time All-America tackle for the Huskers in 1924 and 1925, Weir remains a fixture at Nebraska as the outdoor track and field stadium is honored with his name. Eighty-six other Nebraska All-Americans have followed in Weir?s footsteps to play inside Memorial Stadium.
The stadium was still under construction when the Huskers played their home opener against Oklahoma on Oct. 13, 1923, with an estimated crowd of 15,000 in attendance for a 24-0 win over the Sooners.
The victory over Oklahoma was the first in the 333 wins at Memorial Stadium heading into tonight?s game.
In 1941, construction on a field house began at the stadium?s north end but was interrupted by World War II. Construction on Schulte Field House was not completed until 1946.
After World War II, Nebraska suffered through lean years on the football field, managing just three winning seasons from 1946 to 1961. Despite the rough times on the field, the Huskers still averaged more than 30,000 fans per game during the 1950s.
By the start of the 1962 season, Devaney?s first year at Nebraska after leaving the University of Wyoming, attendance was far below capacity. For the last two games of the 1961 season, Memorial Stadium held crowds of just 28,108 for a 7-0 loss to No. 8 Colorado on Nov. 18, and just 26,139 for a 21-14 loss to Oklahoma on Nov. 25.
For Devaney?s first game, just 26,953 fans witnessed a 53-0 win over South Dakota on Sept. 22, 1962. After the win, NU traveled to Ann Arbor, Mich., and defeated traditional Big Ten power Michigan, 25-13, to send a jolt of excitement through Nebraska supporters.
More than 34,000 fans attended NU?s win over Iowa State on Oct. 6, and nearly 37,000 fans attended a win over North Carolina State on Oct. 13, which marked the first crowd over 36,000 at the stadium since a 14-9 victory over Army on Oct. 15, 1960.
Despite their 4-0 record, the Huskers drew just 30,701 fans for a 26-6 win over Kansas State on Oct. 20, 1962, the last time Memorial Stadium was not sold out for a Nebraska football game.
The Huskers traveled to Colorado and ran past the Buffaloes, 31-6, to improve to 6-0, before returning to play in front of a sellout crowd of 36,501 on Homecoming at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 3.
Unfortunately, the Tigers spoiled Nebraska?s Homecoming festivities and an unbeaten season by defeating the Huskers, 16-7, in what would become the first sellout in Nebraska?s remarkable streak.
The Huskers rebounded with back-to-back wins at Kansas and at home over Oklahoma State before losing at No. 10 Oklahoma, 34-6. Despite the loss, the Huskers earned their first bowl bid in eight seasons and defeated Miami in the Gotham Bowl at Yankee Stadium to close Devaney?s first season.
Devaney followed his first season success with a 10-1 record, a 1963 Big Eight title and an Orange Bowl victory to ignite a Memorial Stadium improvement plan that would span the next four seasons.
In 1964, the south end zone section was built, raising the stadium?s capacity to 48,000 and making Memorial Stadium a horseshoe. In 1965, the center portion of the north end zone was added, which increased capacity to 53,000.
Both wings of the north end zone were completed in 1966, raising seating capacity to 65,000 and making Memorial Stadium a bowl.
The improvement plan was completed in 1967 with the addition of a new press box.
Devaney and the Huskers continued to be successful on the field, and Nebraska fans continued to flock to Memorial Stadium.
In 1970, AstroTurf was installed, replacing natural grass for the first time at Memorial Stadium. The surface change was an immediate success, as the Huskers won back-to-back national championships in 1970 and 1971.
The increased ticket demand that followed those two titles helped fuel a 9,400-seat expansion of the south end zone, raising Memorial Stadium?s capacity to 73,650.
From 1972 to 1998, Memorial Stadium enjoyed three more installations of varying kinds of AstroTurf before the revolutionary new FieldTurf was installed in 1999, making Nebraska the first NCAA Division I program to use the synthetic surface.
Memorial Stadium?s largest changes since the early 1970s came with the installation of two Mitsubishi Instant Replay boards ? now known as HuskerVision ? in 1994. Extensive renovations throughout the stadium from 1997 to 2000, have added a new press box, skyboxes and club seating area to the West Stadium, while major concourse improvements throughout the stadium were also completed.
Just as Nebraska?s winning tradition continues to grow on the field, Memorial Stadium will continue to grow and change to meet the needs of its loyal Husker fans.
With the continuing support of Nebraska fans, the Huskers will hope to see you again at Memorial Stadium to celebrate a 300th consecutive sellout in 2009.