In the last 5 years, I've made it to every Big Ten school (and ND) for an away Michigan Football game. As you’ll see, the Nebraska trip was quite unique. I hope Nebraska fans that visit Ann Arbor leave with an equally positive experience when they visit us.
Putting aside the Wolverines for a moment, the Nebraska football community is no doubt the most prideful, classy, hospitable and kind (in my observation anyway) of all B1G teams. While they don't have a decades-long history of matchups with other B1G football programs, I don't think they would change much if they did. They would still be a great example of how a fanbase is supposed to support its football program and welcome visiting fans.
Below are examples of how they do things:
- Checking in to the hotel (Fairfield Inn – not fancy), the hotel manager offered to give us his number in case we got lost while exploring downtown Lincoln. (Come On Man, I Have A Smartphone)
- Friday night, while at dinner, several groups of people stopped at our table, welcoming us to Lincoln and wishing us luck the next day for the game.
- After dinner, at a campus bar, students went out of their way to welcome us to Lincoln and say "Good luck tomorrow" with a smile. (This is when I start thinking Where Am I?)
- On the walk back to the hotel Friday night, a group of ladies stopped us on the sidewalk and said greeting visiting fans is always a highlight for them and it is "like seeing a celebrity". (Now thinking: Is This Just A Well-Executed Prank?)
- Saturday before the game, we walked all around the stadium and nearby tailgates for about 7 hours. This part deserves sub-bullets:
o About 75% of tailgate parties we walked by asked us to stop and chat with them. 50% offered us food or beverage.
o One tailgate we decided to stop at was run by Tommie Frazier. Yes that Tommie Frazier. His name is on the stadium. Not knowing who he was (all he said was "I used to play here"), we talked to him for about 15 minutes, discussing the ongoing stadium renovations, where various campus/athletic buildings were located, where the best tailgates are, etc. The only reason I know that he wasn't just another guy with a tailgate is because as we were saying goodbye, the Nebraska gymnastics coach walked up and said Tommie's name aloud.
o Another tailgate lot we walked through had all the party buses and RVs in it. A converted school bus stood out as a great piece of fandom and as we were walking by, the door flung open and we were invited inside to drink beer and watch the early games. We sat there for about an hour, totally spontaneously, and shared stories about how both teams think they would have demolished the other if they had played against each other in 1997.
o The last tailgate lot we walked through ended up being about a 3 hour stop. Our plans to go to a bar for pregame dinner were abandoned. One guy demanded we have a blue jello shot with him from the batch that he made in honor of Michigan. A few parking spots away we did several shot-skis. We accepted invitations to eat food from several different grills and slowcookers. All the discussions taking place in these three hours were about football and beer. No taunting or yelling or animosity or complaining of any kind. I never heard a negative remark about either team or their corresponding players. I was in a sea of red and I wanted more. (Is This Real Life?)
- During the game, a Nebraska fan sitting opposite the aisle from us bought us a Runza (a baked pastry filled with meat) from the vendor walking the aisles (yes they have those). He didn't speak a word to us the whole game except when he said "Welcome to Lincoln, this [Runza] is for you" while indicating it was a local delicacy of sorts. It was delicious. (I Didn't Know I Wanted That, But He Did)
- After the game, our section was among the last to file out due to the gate location, and the Nebraska fans walking down the steps with us were interested to know if we enjoyed our time in their city despite the ugly game. We said yes, and they wished us safe travels home.
It got to the point where the sincerity and hospitality were equal parts overwhelming and humbling. I highly recommend you visit this place. I'm still wondering if everybody that visits has such a great experience or if I was just lucky. Either way, this is how Football Saturday should be. I'll likely cheer for Nebraska whenever doing so doesn't conflict with cheering interests that are advantageous for Michigan.