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Lincoln as quiet as its football team
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Lincoln as quiet as its football team

By HOWARD RICHMAN - The Kansas City Star
Date: 01/03/02 23:25

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Halftime had not arrived yet, and Byron Yung's remote-control finger was already itchy.

"Should we see what else is on?" Yung said.

Yung was among a dozen firefighters, relaxing in their matching recliners Thursday night, at Fire Station No. 1 at 18th and Q Street. Although the thermometer outside had dipped to 28 degrees, they were toasty, munching on smoked salmon, nacho cheese dip and shrimp.

That had been tasty. They couldn't stomach what they were watching. On the 57-inch big screen that each of the firefighters at the station chipped in $90 apiece to buy, their beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers were being devoured by 34 points at halftime by No. 1 Miami.

"It's not looking too good," firefighter Tod Allen said. Another, Mark Darrington, said: "Time for a new game plan."

Too late. By the time the carnage was complete, the Hurricanes had feasted on Nebraska 37-14 and wrapped up the Rose Bowl and the national championship.

Before the game, Lincoln actually was a hectic spot even though an estimated 60,000 Nebraska fans had gone Hollywood and traveled to southern California for the game. Still, there was a sense of anticipation. At least until it got ugly. More than two hours before the game, Nebraska fans were lined up around the block outside Rococo Theatre on North 13th Street, waiting to get inside where they would watch the game on a big screen.

Lesli Joseph, a sophomore at Nebraska, is a ticket-taker at Cinema Twin, where business was anything but brisk. Joseph's shift began at 6 p.m., but 30 minutes later, she still was laughing at a co-worker.

"I told the girl who worked the shift before me that I expected it to be quiet tonight," Joseph said. "She said, `Why?' I said, `The Nebraska game is tonight.' She said, `It is?' "

Although the university students haven't returned for second semester, Lincoln police were expecting at least 3,000 people to mill around O Street downtown in celebration. That's if the Cornhuskers had won. There were 65 extra police officers were on duty. They weren't needed after all. By the second half, even the city's finest were reeling after hearing the score.

"This is depressing," Lincoln police captain Allen Soukup said.

When Nebraska won its last national championship, overzealous fans broke into Memorial Stadium and tore down the goalposts. This time, the goalposts already had been removed by the athletic department just in case. Late Thursday night, it didn't appear anyone was hanging out at Memorial Stadium.

And, so much for the carton of unopened memorabilia of hats and T-shirts at a shop called Husker Headquarters. Inside the box? Stuff that had Nebraska as national champions emblazoned on it. But the box came with a warning. A note on it read:

It is illegal to open this box unless Nebraska wins. If Nebraska loses, you are required to ship back this box with the seal unbroken or your account will be closed.

It is assumed the box never was opened.

"This is bad. (Eric) Crouch didn't have any help," said David Seefeld, the last die-hard still left for a watch party at Embassy Suites. "I'm not very happy. At all."

Once the game ended, that theme was common in these parts. If you could find anybody. It became desolate. In a hurry.

"When you're a Nebraska fan, you expect to win," said Nebraska student Tad Edeal, a junior. "This is not as bad as getting beat by Colorado. But it's deflating. A lot of people around here feel embarrassed. But we'll bounce back from this."

To reach Howard Richman, reporter for The Star, call (816) 234-4701 or send e-mail to hrichman@kcstar.com

All content 2002 The Kansas City Star