Neither Time Nor Distance Severs That Nebraska Bond

I'm writing this Friday night, but by the time you read it, Nebraska will have thrashed UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Apologies to Bruin fans, but, hey, it's Nebraska football, it's our job.

I'm trekking up to the game this year, less to watch football than to rub elbows with other Nebraska alums. I skipped the Huskers' last venture out here, the UCLA-Nebraska game in 1988, and look what happened (Bruins, 41-28).

I am getting sloppily nostalgic in my old age. I don't know if Midwesterners are more sentimental than other transplants about their home states, or if we just think we are, but every time I mention Nebraska in a column, Orange County residents who migrated over the years call or write. It's fun to swap stories and I still get a kick out of hearing them mention their home towns--the Mindens and Ords and Poncas and Broken Bows--that I remember from my youth. No one has yet mentioned a town that I haven't heard of.

As for Nebraska football, it's tantamount to religion back there. Better put, religion is tantamount to Nebraska football. Big Red football is the state's unifying force, not to mention a commercial enterprise of major proportions. You'd know what I mean if you saw the 75,000 people in Memorial Stadium on game-day Saturdays or walking around Lincoln before and after the game, wearing red pants, shirts and hats. And that doesn't include personal accessories or the numerous must-have home items, such as Big Red toilet seat covers, Thermos bottles or long johns.

There once was no greater Husker fanatic than me. Whether in numbing defeat or exhilarating victory, the passion raged. Only in the last few years, as I've put more years and miles between myself and Nebraska, has my mania over the outcome of the games shrunk. But as that's happened, my desire to re-connect with Nebraska people and the spectacle surrounding Husker games has grown.

That's why I'm looking forward to this year's game. The local Californians for Nebraska organization is sponsoring a giant gathering under a big tent before the game. The reservation list suggests that as many as 1,600 may show up, according to sponsors. I fear I'll be denied admittance because I don't have anything red to wear.

One of the driving forces behind the Californians for Nebraska is Raymond Peterson, N.U. Class of '45 and a retired Santa Ana dentist. Peterson has been in Southern California since the early '50s and says he's tried to make it back to Nebraska for a game every year since the mid-'60s.

Peterson, who planned to be at the Rose Bowl around 8 a.m. Saturday to start setting up, said the local Husker group has about 1,500 members. They have an annual banquet and also stage smaller get-togethers when Husker teams visit the Los Angeles area.

After a long dental practice in which he met people from all over the country, Peterson is convinced the Nebraska immigrant bond is unique. "Nebraska is different," he said. "I'd say it's the heritage of the people. I've had a lot of friends out here, from Iowa or Kansas, and they've got it, too, but you don't hear as much about it as you do from Nebraska. There are several dentists around here from Iowa, and they don't have that camaraderie about Iowa when they've come out here for the Rose Bowl game."

I'm not sure Peterson can explain any better than me why Nebraskans feel such a kinship. I guess I'm not even as prepared as he is to say we are any more linked than Michiganders or Ohioans or New Yorkers, for that matter. And yet, I suspect that we are.

Part of it may be that Nebraska starts off with an edge, because it's smaller and more homogeneous than many other states. Yes, it has urban-rural disputes in the Legislature, but it is basically a farm state in which the differences between Omaha and Gothenburg, for example, pale in comparison to those between Detroit and some comparably small Michigan town.

As such, virtually any Nebraskan in Southern California could relate to the experience or background of a fellow Nebraskan. And even though you longtime Californians may find it hard to picture, the Husker football team connects the dots among almost every breathing person in Nebraska. We've heard all the psychological analyses of why we dote on our team--about how it makes up for other insecurities--but we don't care.

So, we're all expecting a gala Saturday, during which all the expatriates will lament the absence of life on the Plains but laugh about no more snow shoveling. People who otherwise wouldn't have anything to talk about will find commonality under the Big Red tent.

As for the game itself, I'm getting so mature that not even losing could put a dent in my day.

Not that such a thought has even crossed my mind, you understand.

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