In 1962, Bob Devaney became the head coach at the University of Nebraska. Success almost immediately followed. That first year, I attended a game at Memorial Stadium. I sat in the bleachers just beyond the south end zone posts. My admission cost was 25 cents. My section was called the knot-hole section.
Devaney built a dynasty in the Big 8 Conference and nationally. As the Husker reputation built, so did the fan base. The first sellout in 1962 meant 31,800 fans were in the stadium. As wins piled up so did the fan base.
Memorial Stadium began to expand. A sell out meant Memorial Stadium was the third largest city in Nebraska on game day. The fans were crazy. They loved all the successes. Every game since that game day in 1962 have been sold out.
On Thanksgiving Day of 1971, an undefeated Nebraska team went to Norman, Oklahoma to face the undefeated Sooners. Described as the “Game of the Century”, Nebraska won 35-31. I was one of over 30,000 people at the airport to greet the team Thanksgiving night. Ironically, there were as many as people at the airport as at that first sell out.
Larger crowds did not mean more enthusiasm. As exciting wins became more blow outs than close games, the fans sat back in their seats. They were supportive, but the frantic fans were replaced with fans fat and lazy with success.
Tom Osborne followed Devaney and success did, too. There was one exception. Barry Switzer, the son of a bootlegger, had taken over the Oklahoma Sooner football program. Switzer and his wishbone offense became a monster that even the mighty Huskers couldn’t slay.
There’s nothing like a little competition to add to the excitement of a Saturday at the football stadium. In November of 1979, Nebraska and Oklahoma squared up for another annual battle. I was in Memorial Stadium that day. Something was different. You could feel the electricity everywhere. The crowd was on fire. No more fat and lazy fans.
It looked like another heartbreaking loss for Nebraska until Billy Sims, the eventual Heisman Trophy Winner, fumbled on the Nebraska two yard line late in the game. The crowd was rewarded. After a 17-13 win, the fans charged the field and both goal posts came down. The monster was beheaded. The mighty Sooner had finally been defeated. A major factor was that crazy sellout crowd at Memorial Stadium.
The Maryville High School and the Northwest Missouri football teams have had their share of blowouts over the past several seasons. I’m certainly not going to scold the fans and students, but I have noticed a little less enthusiasm as blow-outs became the expected results.
This week I was talking to Bob Sundell. His son, Jalen, is a senior defensive end and offensive lineman for the Spoofhounds. With the first practice just days away, you might expect our conversation to be about football.
When Bob said there should be good reason for the fans to show up this year, I knew what I would write about this week. Very few Class 3 high Schools could put a decent team on the field after losing over 20 players to graduation. Add to that, track star Reece Bickford’s broken ankle and very little experience at quarterback and the offensive line. How can the Spoofhounds be able to compete?
Maryville isn’t just any Class 3 football team. Head coach Matt Webb has two state championships, five consecutive undefeated regular seasons, and a host of other accomplishments. As Coach Webb says, “Tradition never graduates.”
There might be a time the Spoofhounds return to average, but I don’t think it will be this year. It could be a fun year. I’ll be watching Jalen, especially as he leads the experienced offensive line. Jalen has ready committed to North Dakota State as an offensive lineman. He’s not the only player to watch.
It would be fun to listen to a dinner conversation in the Bill and Mindy Walker house this fall.. Senior Will looks like the probable starting quarterback for the Spoofhounds this fall. His freshman brother, Ben, could be his back-up. At least we can keep the competition under one roof.
Last season, I thought Northwest would be really good with most of their team intact from any graduation losses. If only Kyle Zimmerman could manage the offense while the defense shut teams out, things might work out. As it turned out, Kyle may have been the best quarterback in NCAA II and the defense did shut almost everyone out.
This year, enter new coach Rich Wright to the team that was hit hard by graduation. Rich is hardly new to Northwest. He was the defensive coordinator that assembled and directed last year’s shut-down defense.
Also enter new quarterback & former Spoofhound Jonathan Baker. He’s not exactly unknown at Northwest. He did lead the Spoofhounds to a state championship and came in for an injured Kyle Zimmerman, to help win the national semi-final a year ago.
I’m not sure what the scores will look like after Maryville’s first game with Lawson or Northwest’s opener with Emporia. Those games might actually be close. Halftime tailgaters might have to stick around for the second half.
The games may come down to that last possession. Just like when Billy Sims fumbled on the two yard line, the crowds should be really into football this season. Go nuts because there is something new to cheer about in Title Town.