Washington vs. Nebraska @ Omaha | December 7 |4PM (Pacific) | ESPN3
OMAHA—The billboard was our first clue.
It was our inaugural visit to Lincoln, Nebraska, part of a cross-country summertime journey. Looming next to the freeway was a huge outdoor ad: an image of a hard-hit volleyball, splintering a gym floor.
The message: Get your Nebraska Volleyball season tickets before they’re all gone.
Here in Nebraska, volleyball long ago arrived. It ain’t football, but it’s at least as big-time as any other collegiate sport here. Our hotel bellman knew the heights and blocking stats of the Huskers’ front row.
We’ve covered NCAA volleyball tournament matches across the country, and one thing is constant: Nebraska fans turn out in droves. Folks book their Sweet 16/Elite 8/Final 4 tour packages months in advance, even with no assurance the Huskers will still be in contention.
In 2010, there were busloads of Nebraska backers at the Kansas City Final Four, even though their team wasn’t there. The same was true last season in San Antonio, where the Riverwalk was a sea of red windbreakers and ballcaps, each sporting a bold “N”.
We saw that same red wave at championships in Tampa and Sacramento, and should expect to see them again next December at Seattle Center when the Final Four comes to Key Arena.
So, who are these fans? Mostly, they come in pairs—husbands and wives—most born before JFK was President.
“Many of us are in agriculture,” one woman told us. “In December, the fields are frozen. It’s a good time to travel. And many of us consider volleyball our second-favorite sport.”
“When the football team isn’t so hot,” her husband said, “volleyball is number one.”
In 2006, Washington reached its third consecutive Final Four, hosted that year by Omaha. Two other Pac-12 schools—Stanford and UCLA—also qualified, but it was Nebraska that won its first title since 2000. As you might guess, it seemed every seat was filled with someone wearing red (and not Stanford’s cardinal red.)
But if there were any Nebraska students in the 2006 crowd, we had to strain to see them. Mostly, they were middle-aged (or older), and enthusiastic without being raucous. In truth, they weren’t even loud. Supportive? Yes. Respectful? Absolutely. Intimidating? Not really.
And when the Huskers won the 2006 title, a Seattle contingent gamely headed for Omaha’s bars and restaurants, expecting a post-championship celebration. But to our collective surprise, all that red had simply vanished, leaving Husky purple, Bruin blue and Stanford cardinal at the barstools and on the dance floors.
“Oh,” a lone Nebraska couple explained, “folks gotta get home. Many got a long drive. And there’s church in the morning.”