The Sea of Red is synonymous with Nebraska fans, who pack Memorial Stadium for every home game and stick out like stop signs at every away game. The crowds are 90,000 strong, a population that would make Memorial Stadium the third-largest city in Nebraska on game days, a fact Huskers fans proudly tout when they call themselves the “Greatest Fans in College Football.”
In fact, the Huskers have an NCAA-record 333-game sellout streak, which extends way to 1962, the beginning of a multidecade run of bowl game wins, No. 1 AP rankings and claims to five national championships. Opponents who travel to Lincoln will see red, no doubt about it. But the other color, black, is purely for practice.
While Nebraska rocks red or white uniforms on the field, the “Blackshirts” roam on the practice field. That’s the nickname for Nebraska’s defense, and the history dates back nearly as long as the Huskers' sellout streak. According to school legend, former coach Bob Devaney decided to split his team into two distinct units, offense and defense, in 1964. Prior to that, many players in the college ranks played both offense and defense.
Two units necessitated two separate uniforms, and the cheapest jerseys at a local sporting goods store were jet black. The first-team defense wore the black jerseys at practice and almost immediately became the envy of the team. The dark jerseys became a point of pride and the first-team defense became the Blackshirts.
Soon enough, the process of handing out black jerseys became an honored team tradition. current coach Bo Pelini bestows the black on defensive starters who excel on the field, while poor defensive performances have led to players losing their jerseys.
Nebraska defenders have embraced the renegade feeling of sporting black against a sea of red. The official Blackshirts logo is a pirate skull-and-crossbones topped with a Nebraska helmet. In true pirate fashion, Nebraska defenders “throw the bones” after big plays: They cross their arms in front of their chests, just like a Jolly Roger flag. The state of Nebraska may be landlocked, but the Huskers are plenty swashbuckling.