Lincoln - Sun Devil Stadium holds a special place in Nebraska rover back Mike Brown's heart.
The stadium, on the campus of Arizona State University, was the site of Brown's final game as a high school player. In nine days, Brown will suit up for the last time as a Husker and play his final game as a collegian on that same field when Nebraska faces Tennessee in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
"It's hard to put into words what it means to be going back home," Brown said. "But this is going to be a big game for me - my last college game - and I get to play it in my own backyard. It's going to be a special moment for me."
Brown is one of three Nebraska players with Arizona ties who will be returning home to play in the Jan. 2 game against the fifth- and sixth-ranked Volunteers. Linebacker Eric Johnson, who attended Alhambra High School in Phoenix, also will be playing in his final game as a Husker in the Fiesta Bowl. Redshirt freshman nose tackle Jon Clanton, who is from Glendale, Ariz., also is making the trip back home.
Clanton will be playing in his home state for the first time since becoming a Husker. Brown and Johnson played at Sun Devil Stadium as true freshmen in 1996, when Arizona State pulled off a shocking 19-0 upset of the Huskers.
Brown's memories of his other appearance at the stadium are much happier. It came in December 1995, when Brown helped Scottsdale Saguaro High School win the Arizona Class 4A state championship.
"That was an awesome feeling," Brown said. "My sophomore year we were 2-8. My junior year we were 8-3, a big improvement. My high school was one that would normally win one or two games a year, so 8-3 was spectacular for us.
"That gave us a lot of confidence going into my senior year. It was a weird feeling because at the beginning of the season, we knew we were going to win the state championship. Before the season started, we went to Sun Devil Stadium and said this was where we would be ending the season."
Brown played a prominent role in Saguaro's championship season. As a running back, Brown gained 2,036 yards and averaged 9.6 yards per carry. He made 69 tackles and intercepted two passes on defense. He averaged 33.9 yards on kickoff returns and scored a total of 32 touchdowns.
In spite of missing two games because of injury, Brown was named the winner of the Whizzer White Award as Arizona's top offensive player and the Tyrone Byrd Award as the state's best defensive back. He was the first player in 10 years to earn honors as the state's offensive and defensive player of the year.
The individual awards, Brown said, paled in comparison to the feeling he got from being a state champion.
"We won the state championship game 42-7," Brown said. "To this day, I'll put the tape in of that game and watch it over and over again. It was a sweet moment."
There will be no championship at stake this time for Brown and the Huskers. The national title will be decided Jan. 4 when No. 1 Florida State plays No. 2 Virginia Tech in the Nokia Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. A midseason loss to Texas cost Nebraska its chance to play for the title, leaving the third-ranked and 11-1 Huskers instead to finish out their season at the Fiesta Bowl.
"Coming into this season, I had no idea that it could play out like this," Brown said. "It's kind of strange, almost eerie. But it's also going to be something that's going to be very special for me."
Brown, who earned All-America honors this season, has had to come up with 16 tickets to take care of family and friends who will want to be on hand for his final game. That's half the amount that Johnson had to scramble for in an attempt to fill his ticket demands.
"I've been trading them with the freshmen throughout the year just in case," Johnson said. "Once I found out we were going to the Fiesta Bowl, I really had to get on it.
"This means everything to me because it's where I pretty much started my career and it's going to be where I end my college career. My sister is coming from California, and I have people from all over the West Coast coming to the game to see me play."
Obviously, Johnson wouldn't have passed on a chance to play for another national championship in New Orleans. But given the alternative, he said, he couldn't have picked a better place to play his final game.
"This is the next best thing we could have possibly hoped for," Johnson said. "We have three guys on the team from Arizona. We're ready to go back home, and this is just a great deal for us. I'm really looking forward to this game."