College football is wonderful, crazy and exciting. I’ve been a fan all my life. On Sept. 10, I experienced college football at its best: Nebraska Cornhusker football at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. Better yet — the opponent was our own Fresno State Bulldogs.
These are the Top 10 things I observed and the lessons I think they offer to Bulldog football fans:
No. 10. They wear red. All 86,000 people in the stadium. Lesson: We’re just like them. Loyal, proud fans who want the world to know it. We’re part of the Bulldog family. It’s fun, it impresses and maybe intimidates opponents. And a sea of red looks great on national television.
No. 9. They lined the streets of Lincoln and welcomed the Bulldogs to Memorial Stadium with cheers and friendly smiles. Lesson: Hospitality may not extend to letting the other team win, but being welcoming is a trait for which our community is known and one we can share freely when other fans come to our town.
No. 8. All 86,000 fans were in their seats 10 minutes before kickoff. Lesson: We’re pretty casual about getting to the game on time — or most anything else, for that matter. But being a few minutes early seems like a great idea if you’ve ever missed a big play because some other folks were late.
No. 7. They invited Bulldog fans to their tailgate parties. Lesson: Our tailgates are every bit as tasty as theirs, and this can be an opportunity to grow our economy. Do they know what tri-tip is in Lincoln? (Editor’s note: Tri-tip is a bottom sirloin primal cut of beef, also known as California’s cut.) Have Husker fans ever eaten Fresno State ice cream or sweet corn? We’ve already got football in common, so starting a conversation’s a breeze. Add food and you’ve got the makings of a friendship.
No. 6. They cheered our Bulldog players when they entered the field of play. Lesson: That’s a powerful message of both confidence that your team will prevail and respect for the opponents, just in case. It also sets an example for our children and grandchildren.
No. 5. Memorial Stadium is “dry.” No one seemed to care. Lesson: College football has so many twists and turns in every game, why not be able to fully appreciate each one as it occurs? (See No. 8, too.) We’ve been dry for a while at Bulldog Stadium, and it’s improved our family friendliness.
No. 4. Almost without exception, everyone said, “Welcome to Nebraska. We’re glad you’re here.” Lesson: “Welcome to Fresno. We’re glad you’re here.” See? That wasn’t so difficult. We hope they’ll like us enough to root for Fresno State when we’re not playing their team, and we’d love for them to return to our city.
No. 3. Rain or shine, win or lose, Nebraska has had 313 consecutive sellouts, since 1962 — an NCAA record they are very proud of. Lesson: We’re more than 300,000 people bigger than Lincoln, and Bulldog Stadium holds only half as many people as Memorial. There’s no reason we can’t challenge that record! But we’d have to accept that losing is no reason to abandon our team. Our student-athletes are giving their all, which is worthy of our encouragement.
No. 2. When the Bulldogs made a good play, they cheered. Lesson: Appreciation of the game itself and of the student-athletes’ accomplishments — no matter that they’re Bulldogs or opponents — deserve our best positive response as true college football fans. Booing and shouting at officials accomplishes nothing so much as teaching young people to model our behavior.
No. 1. After the game, and when the Bulldogs left their stadium, they gave us a standing ovation. Lesson: There is a nobility to sports that sometimes is more striking because our society seems to teach winning at all costs. Sports, whether played out on a collegiate gridiron or in your own backyard, are supposed to be about the honest effort in striving, not just about the victory. We applaud that effort, no matter the result.
Our Bulldogs didn’t get the result they — or we — wanted, but the whole atmosphere reminded me again of why I’ll be in Bulldog Stadium on Saturday night.
I love college football.
Peter Smits is vice president for university advancement at California State University, Fresno. His column appeared in the Fresno Bee on Sept. 16.