LINCOLN — Nebraska fans know what it’s like to sit in Memorial Stadium, hear the familiar chords of “Sirius” by the Alan Parsons Project.
They have seen the videos on the big screens. They have felt the energy level go up and up and up. They have heard the crowd noise rising to a crescendo, finally coming to a head as the Huskers burst out of the tunnel and onto Tom Osborne Field.
The Huskers will feel all that excitement and all that emotion when they take the field for Saturday’s game against Southern Mississippi.
Fans get into it, but what they can’t really comprehend — simply because they have never done it — is what it’s like for a player to come out of that tunnel.
And what it’s like is, well, pretty cool.
“It was the biggest adrenaline I’ve ever experienced, hands down,” offensive lineman Spencer Long said of his first walk through the tunnel. “It was an experience I never felt before.”
Offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles agreed.
“My best memory is probably when I got my first start here my redshirt freshman year,” Sirles said. “When I ran out in front of the crowd with 85,000 screaming fans, it’s a dream come true. I can’t wait to relive that moment, to run out there on the field and hear them announce, ‘The Nebraska offense takes the field’ and go out there and do the best we can.”
Senior linebacker Will Compton has his own little ritual he goes through on game day in Lincoln. He listens to coach Bo Pelini’s pregame speech and the team has its prayer.
Compton then goes to his locker and has his own private prayer and tries to keep his emotions under control.
“Just live in the moment, but not get too high, too amped up with it,” he said. “Still the goose bumps. It’s awesome. It’s an unbelievable atmosphere, but you have to control what’s going on inside. You don’t want to get too overwhelmed.”
There’s that word again, “overwhelmed.” That first game day in Lincoln can indeed be overwhelming for a player. Senior safety Daimion Stafford, a junior college transfer, was a junior before he got his first taste of life as a Husker.
Stafford didn’t say he was overwhelmed. He was just plain scared.
“I remember being scared,” Stafford said. “I don’t think I slept the night before. I had never played in front of that many people and then when I went on the field I didn’t know a football game could be that loud. I had a lot of different emotions out there.”
Compton was a bit scared too the first time he heard that music and walked out in front of a sellout crowd of around 80,000. There just aren’t any words in the English language to explain that feeling.
But it certainly can start for a young player with a sleepless night. Compton is a veteran, and he sleeps fine now.
“If I do stay up it’s more anxious and excited about it,” Compton said. “Back then it was, ‘Don’t mess up. You’re about to play in front of 80,000 people.”’
Yeah, players get used to the tunnel walk, but that doesn‘t mean it becomes mundane by any means.
“It’s kind of weird for me,” senior tight end Ben Cotton said. “I’ve kind of gotten calmer as the years have gone by. I’ve played a lot of games here. I think that’s a good thing. It’s probably different for other people.
“Everybody still gets the chills that first tunnel walk. It’s something really special and it really gets you ready to play in front of these fans. I think that’s the best part about game day.”
And now, the end is near for a large group of Husker seniors. They have seven more home games to go, and then their tunnel walking days will be a thing of the past.
After Saturday, players like senior linebacker Alonzo Whaley will only have six tunnel walks left.
“There are going to be extra emotions every Saturday because this is my last time around,” Whaley said. “I’m going to try and soak it in, but not be too emotional about it because at the end of the day when the last game is played, that’s it.
“I’m a Husker for life but there is no other way I can step on the field other than be a spectator.”
While the seniors are winding things up, the freshmen are just getting started. Guys like Imani Cross, Avery Moss and Charles Jackson — all expected to see action on Saturday — will get their first chance to take the field at Memorial Stadium.
Compton for one will try to help the younger players from being overwhelmed.
“You try to,” Compton said. “You just try and stay in their ear. Hopefully they listen to you and hopefully they use it. I hope they’re all able to sleep well.”
In any event, the season starts on Saturday and it’s not a moment too soon.
“I don’t care if I start. I don’t care if I don’t start. I just want to get out there and play,” Sirles said. “I just want a chance to get out there and hit someone in different colors besides red and white. Between spring and fall camp we’ve seen quite a bit of the same person over and over again. We’re ready for a change.”