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In extreme time of need, a Husker Honk delivers

LINCOLN, Neb. -- One more day until USC leaves an entire state in depression, but now the frat boys from the University of Nebraska call to say they are running away scared.

They are pulling back their invitation to stay with them, and here I’m already dressed in my toga.

Frat boy, Saul Bakewell, claims he was misquoted when he says, “lucky you,” after mentioning the toga party, which prompted me to tease the boys in print about toga parties finally making it to the state.

I’ve left the prairie impressed with the hardy stock of folks out there only to arrive in the big city to find the 4-H leaders of tomorrow going belly up at the first hint of a wisecrack from a sports writer.

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It’s a pretty good indication that their football-dressed peers are also going to fold at the first sign of a better team.

“They’re probably just running away from you because the girls probably don’t want to be seen with a Trojan,” says Matt Huettner, the waiter at Lazlo’s, but I couldn’t possibly imagine going to a toga party without wearing my USC baseball cap.

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THIS PRESENTS a problem, though, arriving before the big game with no place to stay. It’d be no problem if stuck in Fordyce, Burwell, Norfolk or West Point -- the nice people way out there doing anything they could for a visitor since they don’t get many.

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Dan O’Gorman hears me say how much I enjoy “Dorothy Lynch” salad dressing, so he drives 60 miles to drop off a gallon for me to take home. His dad, Pat, packs along a rare 1970-71 Husker heirloom, and while I’m thinking of it, his mother, Fran, keeps all the brownies to herself.

Patti Knobbe offers to do my laundry in West Point, and until then I was wondering why Scott married her. Jason Sturek, the local sports editor, takes time out from his busy Little League schedule to give me the grand tour of the city, starting at the St. Francis Memorial Hospital parking garage.

“This is the biggest parking garage for any city of 3,500 people or less in Nebraska,” Sturek says, and he takes no offense when I say I don’t need to see anything else in town -- now that I’ve seen it all.

The Corn Cobs couldn’t be nicer all week, and this after each one has taken calls and insults from folks, calling them nuts for spending any time with “that” writer from L.A.

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The frat boys are the only ones to wilt under the pressure, and so now I’m relying on Mary Bornschlegel. She’s already offered one of her tickets so I can sit with the Huskers’ fans for the first half and get a feel of what it’s like to have nothing else in life.

“By the way,” she says in her e-mail, “I am one of those big-butted women you have been writing about.” Now I know why she has two tickets.

She says she has a spare room, and now it’s up to me whether I sleep on the street or stay overnight with a Husker Honk.

“I think it’s a kill,” the Honk says, and it’s not the first thing you want to hear from a stranger that you might be staying with in a city that’s not all that crazy to have you in the first place.

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But she’s referring to how much she likes the way those corn cob hats look on fans, so I don’t find it surprising when she says she’s a single woman.

“I was married,” she says, “and if you want to refer to him, just make it the ex-husband from hell.”

OK now -- is there anything else I should probably know before we become roommates?

“My spare bathroom is decorated as a shrine to the Huskers. I just love my Huskers. I think to myself there’s no place in the world more exciting than where I am right now when I’m walking into the stadium. I get goose bumps even talking about it.”

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I believe I’m beginning to get the willies too.

“You’re just going to love the tunnel walk,” she says, while holding her arms up in front of her face. “This is what we do when calling for the defense.”

Looks to me as if the Huskers’ fans are covering their eyes, but she pays no attention, lost in some kind of Nebraska trance.

“My brother Jim has a life-size mural of Brooks Berringer in his Husker Room,” which some other people might call a garage. “I can tell you the names of some of the players on the 1961 team. I think T.O. is one notch down from God.”

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I had no idea Terrell Owens went to Nebraska.

“Tom Osborne,” the Honk says. “Go Big Red.”

She says that a lot. Actually yells, “Go Big Red” a lot, which is very embarrassing walking down the street, although it prompts everyone else within shouting distance to do the same.

We get into the car, rolling up the windows and now she’s doing Huskers play-by-play, “Holly molly, man, woman, and child, did that put them in the aisles,” she says like some kind of broadcaster, “Johnny the Jet Rodgers just tore them loose from their shoes.”

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And I thought life on a farm was difficult.

She’s got me walking around the stadium now -- above each entrance this notation: “Through these gates pass the greatest fans in college football.” Yes, they are quite full of themselves here.

They haven’t won a national title since 1997, and yet they talk about nothing else. They constantly reference the five titles they’ve won over the years -- as if it’s a big deal to win the one big game of the year against Oklahoma.

Mighty Nebraska is a 10-point underdog at home today.

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“Bill Callahan is still on probation,” she says of the Nebraska coach. “I can’t say anything nice about the athletic director, Steve Pederson. He’s a jackass. He keeps things from people like we’re not a part of everything that goes on, and we are. Osborne told it like it was -- in his bland way.”

Now she’s playing a CD of the Huskers’ greatest touchdowns. It’s a short one, giving me the chance to ask what happens when the Trojans take apart the Huskers?

“You’re a little bit of a jackass too,” she says.

So I’ll be staying with the Honk, and I mention that for the benefit of the authorities -- in case I should turn up missing. Please, don’t leave me in Nebraska.

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T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. For previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.


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