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It was Halloween. It was cloudy. It was misting. Kind of eerie.
Oh, one more thing.
It was a hot dog game.
These journeys down memory lane aren’t just to entertain an old scribe. Sometimes, the scribe learns something.
On Oct. 31, 1992, Nebraska and Colorado got together for an event that was a little more than a football game.
It was for power. CU had beaten Nebraska in 1989 and 1990 before the teams tied in 1991. If the Buffs won this one, and likely a third Big Eight title in four years, the torch of league supremacy would officially be passed.
It was for pride of preservation. The passing offenses of Miami and Florida State ruled the day. Colorado had joined the one-back set. Nebraska and Tom Osborne were the dinosaurs, fighting off extinction.
Ask the 76,000 in attendance that day and they’ll say it was the loudest game they’ve ever heard at Memorial Stadium. Ask the rest of the people in the state and they’ll say they heard it, too.
It was electric. It was unforgettable.
It wasn’t supposed to be 52-7.
“We were so ready for a dogfight, a four-quarter game,” said Trev Alberts, an NU outside linebacker then and UNO’s athletic director now. “They had so much talent. They had a lot of NFL guys.
“To be sitting on the sidelines in the third quarter eating a hot dog was pretty special.”
“That was our big goal,” Alberts said. “For a late game, you’d just be starving. When the game got out of hand, (outside linebackers coach Tony Samuel) would call down and say ‘Good job today, your day is over. We’re going to give some of the younger guys a chance.’
“You’d take the tape off your hands, take off your gloves and see if you can get one of those hot dogs.”
Apparently, during lopsided wins, players would ask fans to get them a hot dog in exchange for gloves.
I covered my share of Nebraska blowouts. If I had known this was going on, I would have asked for a sideline pass.
There’s no pass today. No game at the old yard. Memorial Stadium will be silent.
This column was going to set up the Wisconsin game by tying it to that 1992 Halloween bash. There is one striking similarity.
Nebraska needed to take a stand. The Huskers have lost seven straight to the Badgers. Much like Colorado in 1992, it was a statement game.
There won’t be any statements today. But we can tell some stories.
Has the Big Ten botched this season? Yes, says Dirk Chatelain, and the conference deserves criticism. But that criticism has led to conspiracies, and conspiracies can quickly become excuses.
“I remember that being, for me, the coolest environment I ever got to play in,” Alberts said. “There were Oklahoma games and Orange Bowls and the national championship game. But that was it.”
Alberts recalled it as a night game. I dialed up an old ESPN broadcast on YouTube — with Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson on the call — and the game began in daylight.
Dark, cloudy, drizzling daylight. The second half was played in spooky darkness, and because Memorial Stadium didn’t have permanent lights, portable ones were put up.
“All week, going to class, walking from Oldfather Hall, you could see the lights being brought in,” Alberts said. “You could just feel it, it was going to be different. It was going to be big.”
Big was not necessarily good for NU. Osborne was in one of those “can’t win the big one” streaks.
So the coach dialed up an old ditty for this one, straight out of 1978 Oklahoma.
“Usually Coach said if we play a clean game, we should win,” Alberts said. “But that week, he stressed two things.
“Colorado had tremendous talent, probably more than we did at certain spots. So (Osborne) said we were going to be more physical than them. We were determined to be more physical.
“And we were not going to turn the ball over and we were going to get turnovers.”
Now there’s something from the past that could be put to good use in 2020. When was the last time Nebraska’s goal was to be the more physical team against Wisconsin or Iowa?
And when was the last time that happened?
Nebraska's relationship with the Big Ten seems to be on rocky ground, and the issues have been brewing for months, writes Sam McKewon.
Much like the line-in-the-sand win over OU in 1978, the 1992 Colorado game was illustrated by loud pops, crunches and collisions.
The first came on the opening play, when CU bobbled the kickoff and was swarmed under at its 10.
On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Koy Detmer’s pass to Lamont Warren was high and glanced off Warren’s hands.
Outside linebacker Travis Hill, sitting back in coverage, easily picked off the pass.
Then came the noise. “It was so loud,” Alberts said, “you could just feel it in your bones.”
I have certain images from that game. One is Hill’s interception. Another happened at the beginning of the second quarter, with NU first-and-10 at the CU 47 and leading 7-0.
Osborne called a counter sweep to Calvin Jones, who was a runaway train that day.
Jones ran for three touchdowns in that first half, but the image engraved in history is his 47-yard dash to the end zone.
Big No. 44 took the handoff and moved to his left, following massive guard Will Shields, who would win the Outland Trophy that season. Then sophomore tackle Rob Zatechka cleared out All-Big Eight defensive back Deion Figures on the corner while tight end Gerald Armstrong took out the safety.
“I remember standing there, watching him run down the field,” Zatechka said. “Nobody was near him.”
It was a lightning bolt on a Dark Shadows day, with a scary moment at the end. As he crossed the goal line, Jones released the ball so he could take off his helmet in celebration.
It looked like he scored, but good thing there wasn’t replay back then.
Alberts said in Monday’s film session, Osborne ran the play back over and over, to point out the dangers of letting go of the ball too soon. As for taking off your helmet, that’s something you could do without a penalty in 1992.
“We just had so much pent-up emotion,” Alberts said. “Sometimes it’s hard to control all that. You’ve been told certain things, read certain things, going into that game.
“And that may have been the game where Coach Osborne showed us a booster speech where (CU coach) Bill McCartney had basically made fun of Nebraska football players and how dumb they were.”
It was a day with historic meaning. That 1992 win was the first of nine straight by Nebraska over the Buffs.
The Huskers wouldn’t lose to Colorado until 2001 in Boulder. We will skip that history lesson today.
The other significant impact was on the Nebraska defense. Led by outside ’backers Alberts and Hill, NU collapsed the Buffs’ pocket nearly every play and sacked Detmer five times.
I mentioned to Alberts that game was an example of the switch to the 4-3 defense. Not quite.
The Big Ten and Nebraska should have gone on some dates and done some research before going to the altar, writes Tom Shatel.
“We were still a 5-2 team then,” Alberts said. “But we did play a lot of nickel, and put Ed Stewart at linebacker.
“Travis and I were both 235 pounds or so, and at the snap of the ball, our job was to create havoc.”
The inside linebackers dropped, but Hill and Alberts stayed in to act as pass-rushing ends.
“That game solidified the idea of moving to the 4-3 for my senior year (1993),” Alberts said.
The crowd noise, Alberts said, gave him and Hill a head start on every play. Colorado’s linemen couldn’t hear Detmer.
“I was a step-and-a-half off the ball before they could do anything,” Alberts said.
By the end, when the Blackshirts and freshman quarterback Tommie Frazier had delivered, the emotion poured out of the stands and enveloped the goal posts.
When the goal posts came down at Nebraska, you knew you’d seen something special.
“After the game, you got a feel for how important the Colorado game became to the coaches,” Zatechka said. “I felt like as players we kind of redeemed Nebraska. We hadn’t beaten those guys since 1988. Back then three years was a long time.
“On the sidelines and in the locker room, the coaches were ecstatic. They did not like Colorado.”
Could that have happened against Wisconsin? We’ll never know.
Memorial Stadium would have sat almost empty anyway. And any canned noise piped in couldn’t have come close to that Halloween noise in 1992.
The storyteller in me wondered if any of the ghosts from that game would have come out to shake the stadium and raise some hell for Wisconsin.
Of course, it’s time for NU to create some new history and new ghosts. The road begins again next Saturday.
Today Memorial Stadium will be empty, but I dare you to walk past. On Halloween, the stadium will always be alive with the loudest noise you ever heard there.
You can still feel it in your bones.