April 28, 1997
April 28, 1997

Table of Contents
April 28, 1997

Jock Schools



This is an article from the April 28, 1997 issue

The Nebraska weight room is the envy of every other athletic
department. It stretches over 30,000 square feet deep within the
catacombs of Memorial Stadium. This mecca of muscle and might,
the largest weight facility on any campus, is the foundation of
Nebraska athletics. It is used four times a week by virtually
every varsity athlete and is why, as strength coach Boyd Epley
puts it, "Nebraska has its reputation for being a power football

Cornhuskers fans, among the nation's most sports-crazed, gave
Nebraska more than $700,000 toward the construction of the
weight room in 1981 and an expansion in '90. "It shows you how
seriously people take their athletics in Nebraska," says Epley.
Since the state has no pro sports teams or other major
universities, there's nothing around to threaten the fans'
fidelity, especially to the football team. That's why
73,650-seat Memorial Stadium has been sold out for every game
since 1962, why close to 50,000 fans are expected at this
Saturday's spring game, and why the Cornhuskers' media guide is
annually a best-seller at the campus bookstore. (Keep in mind
one other fact: Some 93% of the students are Nebraskans, an
unusually high percentage even for a state school, and they have
been following the Huskers all their lives.)

The lucre that the athletic department generates doesn't all get
put back into varsity sports. Nebraska's massive recreation
center, which houses a student weight room larger than some
varsity weight facilities in the Big 12, was financed by private
donations and a $2 surcharge on football tickets. At the rec
center you can always find a decent hoops game on one of the
eight courts, but come May the crown jewel of the place will be
a 42-foot-tall climbing wall.

The university lies just north of downtown Lincoln, a 1950s kind
of place. There isn't a lot to do in town, which helps make club
and intramural sports popular and football Saturdays sacred
events. The place to be before a game is Barry's Bar and Grill,
where the favorite libation is tomato juice and beer. The
tailgating scene around the stadium is relatively tame, and the
campus fraternities are officially dry (wink, wink). Perhaps
that explains why Nebraska fans may be the best-behaved fans at
any big-time football school. Win or lose, the folks in the
north end of the stadium give a standing ovation to the opposing
team as it heads to the locker room after the game. The ovation
the Cornhuskers crowd gave Bobby Bowden's Florida State team
after an 18-14 Seminoles win in 1980 so moved Bowden that he
wrote an open letter to the fans that appeared in the Lincoln
Journal-Star. "I have never seen people with more class than I
saw at Nebraska," wrote Bowden. "The Nebraska fans, players,
cheerleaders, band, officials, coaches, etc., gave me living
testimony of what college football should be all about."

Lincolnites follow the Cornhuskers with an intensity that is
hard for out-of-towners to comprehend. "There is absolutely no
separation between town and gown," says Michael Steinman,
associate dean of the arts and science college. "University
athletics play about as prominent a role in Lincoln as is
imaginable." No fewer than 66 businesses in town use Cornhusker,
Husker or Big Red in their titles. All of these enterprises are
trying to associate themselves with a glorious tradition: In the
last 20 years Nebraska's football team has won two national
championships; its men's gymnastics team, eight; its women's
track team, three; and its women's volleyball team, one.

School officials are quick to give credit. "It's really the fans
that make sports special at Nebraska," says associate athletic
director Don Bryant. "With only 1.5 million people in the state,
sporting events at the university become the events of the year.
And that, in a nutshell, is why Nebraska is unique."


COLOR PHOTO: TED KIRK LINCOLN'S RED-BLOODED CROWDS ARE UNFLAGGINGLY LOYAL [University of Nebraska students carrying banners during exhibition on football field]