Published Monday, November 4, 2013 AT 12:57 AM / Updated at 10:26 AM
Mad Chatter: One Husker moment, countless memories; Bo’s good fortune
Dirk Chatelain Omaha World-Herald

Why do you love sports?

I haven’t been asked that question in a very long time, but if someone did, I’m not sure what I’d say. Sports are competitive. Sports are unpredictable. Sports bring people together. Sports make you feel like a kid again. My answer would probably start there.

But it’s one of those things you can’t really put into words. Senses work better. You can’t appreciate a packed gymnasium on a cold night until you hear the pep band. You can’t appreciate a Major League Baseball game until you smell the popcorn. You can’t appreciate the 100 meters until you hear the silence just before the gun.

To love it, you have to live it.

Memorial Stadium has played host to hundreds of football games, each memorable in its own way. I’ve been to nearly all of them the past 20-25 years. But there’s never been one that ended like Saturday’s. Never been one that looked so lost with so little time left — only to be won. Never been one with a sudden roar quite so loud.

When Jordan Westerkamp caught the ball (just barely) in the end zone, hundreds of thousands of Nebraska fans — and to a lesser degree, everybody watching who loves sports — felt the same energy rush. At the exact same moment. Didn’t matter if they were standing in Row 73 or riding a combine in Boone County or sitting in a New York City apartment. Same rush, same moment. How amazing is that?

And yet everybody’s experience and response was just a little bit different. Sunday afternoon — after listening to multiple people at church explain where they were and how they reacted — I asked Twitter followers to share their “moment.”

For the next several hours, emails came in from all over the country. Reading others’ memory of the catch and its aftermath was even cooler than living it myself.

I’ve posted a bunch of responses at the bottom of the blog — I wish I could post them all. Read a few or read ‘em all. Either way, I dare you not to get goosebumps all over again.

***

>> Bo Pelini was snakebitten.

His first three years at Nebraska, it seemed his teams lost every 50/50 game. Every time a bad break could go against him, it did. Nebraska several heartbreakers, especially in 2009.

Any Husker fan would groan thinking about Virginia Tech, Iowa State and Texas. The 2010 loss to Texas A&M belongs in that group, too.

But whatever bad luck Pelini had his first three years, he’s more than made up for it since.

The past 2 1/2 seasons, Nebraska has 10 losses. A few of those games were close, but I wouldn’t consider any of them the product of an official’s call or a quirky turnover or a fortuitous bounce of the ball. On the flip side, look at the “good luck” wins.

2011: 

Ohio State — NU doesn’t rally if Braxton Miller doesn’t get hurt.

Penn State — Happy Valley is generally a tough place to play. But not three days after Joe Paterno’s firing.

2012: 

Northwestern — Give Nebraska credit for the comeback. But the Wildcats dropped two easy interceptions that would’ve sealed it.

Michigan — Big Red may have beaten the Wolverines even with Denard Robinson. But his injury doomed Michigan’s hopes.

Michigan State — A controversial pass-interference on Michigan State on third-and-10 set up NU’s game-winning TD. And Michigan State would’ve sewn up victory had officials not whistled Sparty for a personal foul on an earlier pick-six.

Penn State — The Nittany Lions’ controversial fourth-quarter fumble at the goal-line turned the game in NU’s favor.

Even with all those 50/50 wins, Saturday’s win over Northwestern stands alone. I don’t know if Bo Pelini is a gambling man. But it might not be a bad time to buy a lottery ticket.

Following Westerkamp’s catch, most eyes in Memorial Stadium focused on the celebration in the south end zone — or on other fans. My eyes went directly to Pelini, who stood staring at the big screen in the north end zone, stunned. (By the way, how much easier did his week get with that catch?)

When he realized what had happened, he walked across the field, shook his head and told Pat Fitzgerald and several Northwestern players they didn’t deserve to lose.

Finally, when the sideline reporter arrived to interview him, Pelini cracked a grin.

>> Sam McKewon’s Rewind focused on Ameer Abdullah’s remarkable effort in converting the fourth down on the final drive. But there were plenty of other little things that had to happen in order for Westerkamp to grab his glory.

Consider three:

1 — If officials rule forward progress on Sam Burtch’s sideline catch with 11 seconds left, the clock would’ve started and it may have run out with NU snapping only one play — not two.

2 — If Quincy Enunwa catches Ron Kellogg’s penultimate pass near the 30-yard line, it’s possible NU doesn’t get another snap — remember, a new rule says you can’t spike the ball with less than three seconds left. Even if the Huskers do kill the clock, Bo Pelini would’ve sent the field-goal unit on and Pat Smith would’ve had to hit a 45-yarder just to send the game to OT.

3 — If Ron Kellogg releases the ball one yard farther away from the south goal line — just one yard! — the deflection doesn’t get over the goal line. Westerkamp comes back to the ball and falls to the ground outside the end zone. Imagine the agony of completing a Hail Mary one yard short.

>> Best single moment in Memorial Stadium? You gotta put Saturday near the top of the list. Eric Crouch’s catch from Mike Stuntz is certainly in the same class, earning a bonus point for the importance of the game. I’m sure Billy Sims’ late fumble in 1978 was wild — I didn’t quite make that one. Those have to be the top three, right?

>> I hope you read Lee Barfknecht’s dispatch from Michigan State/Michigan. Bruce Feldman covers the same ground in his Sunday “Big Picture.” Pat Narduzzi really is something.

>> Dan Wolken’s “Misery Index” includes Michigan, Kansas and, of course, Northwestern. It should. I don’t know how Pat Fitzgerald is gonna sleep this week.

>> Hold your worrying about BCS controversies until Saturday night, George Schroeder writes. Much could change this week when Oregon faces Stanford, Alabama draws LSU and Baylor meets Oklahoma.

>> One quick basketball nugget: Husker men’s basketball plays its first game at Pinnacle Bank Arena tonight. The opponent is Nebraska-Kearney. Tim Miles had a press conference Friday, where he expressed his respect for Tom Kropp. (Go to the 12:10 mark of this clip).

I was in Wayne the 1999 night Miles is talking about — Anthony Harms had about 35 points in the first 30 minutes of the game and UNK eventually upset Wayne State. But what struck me about the clip is Miles’ comfort with Nebraska. He spent hours and hours in Nebraska gymnasiums as he bounced around the Midwest. There’s something appealing about his familiarity.

It’s something neither Doc Sadler, Barry Collier nor Danny Nee had.

>> OK, where were you and how did you react? As I mentioned, skim the list or read every one. They’re snapshots of sports at its purest. Share your memories in the comments and then email us your photo of the moment. We’ll put the best stories and photos in Tuesday’s paper.

Josh Hobson

I’m in a dorm room in San Antonio, here for a six week class that the Air Force sent me to…after the play happened, I jumped off the edge of my bed, ran outside, past a group of guys BBQ’ing in the courtyard, all the while screaming “Go Big Red!”. Grabbed a beer out of the hand of one of the guys and began drinking/spilling it and generally being looked at like an idiot.

In the excitement of it all, I forgot I wasn’t wearing any pants (boxers, yes).

Hannah Sughroue:

I was so stressed that I was outside, pacing the driveway like an expectant father. We had the game on a slight delay and I could hear people in other houses yelling, so I ran to the door just in time to see the play. I ran inside and jumped up around yelling with my friends, then laid a giant smooch on my boyfriend.

Troy Fedderson:

Sect. 39, Row 67, Seat 5, standing next to my beautiful wife. Felt like the whole stadium gasped when the ball was released. Then it came down, and thunderous joy. It was louder than that Colorado game – never thought that would be possible. Everyone jumped, cheered, high fived, hugged, etc. unbelievable finish.

No one wanted to leave. Fans cheered the players into the locker, then we scrambled down to the field to get a photo of the old scoreboard in the NE corner.

Randy Deprez:

I was at the game with my son … but not long enough to see “the play”.  He came down with a fever during the game and wasn’t feeling well.  We had to leave during the 4th quarter.

The radio broadcast on the way home wasn’t making him feel any better.  We were rolling through Greenwood when the Hail Mary came.  It would be an understatement to say the car got a little loud then but it was just what the doctor ordered. After cheers, a fist bump, and lots of smiles he felt a lot better. Though we didn’t see the play, that memory will be just as strong.

 

A few responses from Twitter:

@wardlyone: across the street at a tailgate in the PBA parking lot. Heard the crowd noise before the tv delay caught up. #spoileralert

@SchwarzJim: watching on my iphone in a hot tub overlooking the ocean in s. Padre island. Ran out like a crazy person with my son.

@bfr1224: In the van outside a wedding reception screaming like a mad woman!

@ScottPastell: Took my mom from Va to her 1st game. With 4s left, she hugged and thanked me for the tix. I said, “hold on, its not over”…

 

Abigail Fellows:

I watched the game with my 2 month old son, mom, dad, and younger brother. Usually my husband and I watch, but he was gone at a work conference. It was fitting since my dad taught me to love Husker football when I was 6 and Nebraska beat Miami in the 1994 Orange Bowl.

We’ve experienced so many Husker moments together since then. When the Hail Mary worked we were both screaming and I hugged him and danced around the living room. My son was also screaming-but in terror. He’s never seen his mom act like that. But I’ll train him. He’s destined to be a Husker fan.

Kevin:

I was watching the game in an apartment overlooking The Railyard. For most of the game, my friends and I had been paying attention to the view and each other more than the game. We had made a pact with each other not to get too emotionally involved in the game …

By the time the last drive of the game began, all of that was out the window. We were glued to the TV in the apartment, and the cube TV in The Railyard. People were complaining about who was quarterbacking that final drive, but mostly people were hushed…not sure if they were ready to acknowledge they had hope for a Nebraska win.

All kinds of emotions erupted once we saw it happen. We started screaming and running laps in the apartment. We hugged. We high-fived. We then stepped outside into the West Haymarket and did that all over again with complete strangers.

Monte Boydston:

I was traveling down I-70 in Kansas because that’s where I live but not where I grew up (Cody, Neb.). I decided to go help family work cattle because I was tired of volunteering Saturdays to watching a football team that was bound to upset me. Although I took a few peeks on my phone at the score during the game I didn’t know much about it.  Started heading home and listened to the last 6 minutes.

When 4 secs was left and all had seem lost, I thought I made a wise decision by not watching. As I listened to the final play I was in disbelief, but I loved the call by Greg Sharpe and Matt Davison. Moments later I felt horrible for missing one of the best moments in Husker history.  But yes I had the DVR set and watched the full game Sunday morning.

Josh Bauer

I was at DJ’s Dugout in aksarben.  We had been sitting all day long, waiting for something to happen.  The whole place was filled, not an empty seat to start the game.  When that crazy “geronimo” hail mary pass was was caught by Westerkamp, everyone freaked out and there was a solid roar of people yelling.

Several of us leaped up on the stage to celebrate when I jumped into the arms of a complete stranger and he carried me for a solid 30 seconds.

Craig Beck:

I was along the red fence that borders the west sideline, even with the front of the end zone about 20 feet from where Jordan caught the Hail Mary. I had climbed about halfway up the fence so I could see above the NW sideline.

When Jordan caught the ball my fiancé and I were jumping up and down and I picked her up and shook her. It was pandemonium. I’m not 100% sure but, I would guess I was one of, if not the, closest person to the play. Pretty damn fun…

 

@DrDeltron77: husker viewing party in louisville ky. 40 husker fans screaming their heads off!

@AndrewClement8: My home in Chicago, my family out, texting w/ my sis in Omaha. Our texts crossed each other: “No F*****g Way”

@taylor1l: in a mexican restaurant in Auburn NE ran around the place with arms flailing embarrassing teen daughter – priceless

@jeremynearng: Behind a bunch of NW students in sec 40 with my son, you could barely hear their hearts break over the roar of the crowd

 

Tim Woodward:

I was with a couple of old-timers (also Nebraskans), Doug and Joe, in Lake Forest.  It’s Orange County, 50 miles south of L. A.

Those old codgers were griping about how bad things were going, and I was saying, “Hold on, the defense is really keeping us in the game now, but we have to score!”  …

Fast forward to 4th and 15, Ameer making 16, and the first down – YES!  Long pass through Enunwa’s hands.  NO!  Four seconds left.  Everyone still in the room.  I’m sitting down, knowing the Hail Mary is coming, but not likely to be successful.  The older folks are just holding their tongues, giving me a little positive-mental-attitude courtesy before the inevitable.

And here’s the play, unfolding slowly, Kellogg scrambling, taking forever, fleeting thought of ‘it’s good he took so long – it lets the receivers get to the end zone’, now the ball is in the air, everyone jumps, I see it bounce up, tumbling slowly, there’s Jordan (!)… TOUCHDOWN!!

I exclaimed it repeatedly, in the most enthusiastic, still-in-polite-company voice that I have, “Touchdown! Touchdown!”  There was a gutteral growl in my voice, too, expressing a mix of disbelief at seeing the unbelievable happen right in front of me.

Scott Clinton:

I flew in from Charlotte,  NC to watch the game with my college friend Mark (Washington University, St Louis), who drove in from Wilmette, IL.    This was the third year we have viewed the game live together…   Me in my scarlet and cream, Mark in his purple.

We were sitting in south end zone, 17 rows up.

As I watched the play develop,  I held my breath…  I think most of us did.   From where we were standing, we could see the tip…  But I seemed to be the only one to see Westerkamp come down with the ball (I am taller than those who were standing around me).

I remember jumping up and screaming with my arms above my head…  High fiving all the husker fans around me.  My friend Mark was beside himself…  Shocked and amazed.

Ryan Hansen:

My girlfriend and knew going into the game that my younger brother was playing at 6 p.m. and had to rush home to watch as much as we could of his game on ESPN3. After the final NW field goal, we agreed to leave if we didn’t return the ball beyond the 35 yard line. Sure enough, Quincy takes it from 8 yards deep to the 17.

We leave, and I tell the people in our row to keep cheering for us. We were standing in from of Henzlik Hall when we heard the TD announced over the stadium P.A. We both started yelling, I picked her up and spun around twice, the. We sprinted to a tailgate lot and watched the replay on TV. It’s a story I won’t soon forget when I’m debating leaving early.

Andrew Robinson:

I was at my apartment in Louisville, Ky. And we only get one HD BTN channel, so the Indiana/Minnesota game was on the HD channel. I was left to watch in standard def. …

And as Nebraska was struggling to drive in the final seconds, I was regretting the plans to go to Ann Arbor. And couldn’t imagine what this week was going to hold. I really didn’t think Nebraska had a shot. But there was something about the way the ball came off RK3′s hand that I sat up and thought ‘oh this has a chance.’

Sure enough, Jordy caught it. And I just remember covering my mouth with my sweatshirt and saying “Oh my god” over and over. I was shaking too. I don’t think a finish of any game, Nebraska or not, has moved me more than that one has.

Paul Niedbalski:

I was sitting in my house in Evanston (thought about driving down for the game, decided against it), watching the game while catching up on some work. A few of my roommates were home, and one of them had apparently dozed off while watching the oh-so-exciting fourth quarter.

I stopped what I was doing to focus on that last play, then started yelling something to the effect of “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?? WHAT?” In the aftermath, I sat in my desk chair just giggling for the next five to 10 minutes while reading the twitter reactions and watching the post-game wrap-up. Wild night!

 

@JamieMartin6: in my living room in NC. My brother in law asked me right before the last play, “you sure you want to watch.”

@ScottSchoneman: On mission trip with 16 youth in Colorado driving back in bus caught last 1:35, bus goes crazy. God is good!

@jjromano151: sec 603 remember saying “get lucky” right as RK3 let go. After the catch it’s a blur just high 5s and hugs for everyone. Nuts

@Schiebur: I was in the living room jumped and screamed touchdown! Touchdown! Touchdown Nebraska.  Scared my dog.

 

Donnie

I was watching it In my living room in Denton, Texas with my son and we are both huge Husker fans!!!!! We both went nuts yelling and screaming so much that my neighbor across the street came running over thinking someone was hurt and asking if everything was ok!!! We just told him we were watching the Huskers!!!!

Rob Greene:

My boy woke me up at 10am because of back fusion, we went down watched game, he’s in a Magic jersey and a NU helmet. The pass goes up, Westy comes down with it and he looks at me and I look at him and I stand up then sit down. Pain, but my boy is 6 yrs old and is trying to understand sports. He understood that one, ran over to me and hugged me tight and said GO BIG RED Dad. And I said go GO BIG RED Ryno!

And he didn’t let go for at least a good minute knowing I was the happiest he’s ever seen me. Just having back fusion surgery he knew I was happy as hell by the words I was yelling. I think it’s something we’ll never forget in our lifetimes. One of those binding things. I love Nebraska football and I love my boy. The greatest thing he’s ever seen and I was there with him to see it.

Joe Hahn:

It was move-in day and friends and family were finishing up bringing in the last of the boxes in right before the game started. We all watched the game unfold, and I was being hassled, as they claimed my new home was bad luck. We all hung on until the last play, and watched the Hail Mary sailed down field.

As Westerkamp came down with it, I began jumping up and down, yelling “oh my God!” with every jump. My newly christened living room exploded, with shocked husker fans hugging and high-five-ing. Needless to say my new house is now considered a good luck charm for watching the Huskers.

Jill Bates

My husband and I began the long walk down from Row 87, South Stadium after Northwestern made the FG.  We stopped midway to watch the last few plays and immediately following the TD, I found myself jumping up and down, hugging a woman I’d never seen before in my life!

Rodney Dorador:

I was inside Memorial Stadium, section 38 all the way at the top in row 96. With about a minute left to play I was questioning our fan base and wondering why they were leaving. …

When the pass left Ron Kellogg III’s arm I knew we had a chance and when I saw the refs hands go up I just lost it!

Hugging the other fans, high fives and I could even hear the fans behind me in the suite screaming. Not only did I feel joy for our team but to me it really had another effect. Not only did I just see a miracle play to win a game, I also saw a Nebraska native fulfill his dream and become a Nebraska legend.

I’m sure like all other kids, Kellogg came to Nebraska because he wanted to be part of something big and his moment finally came. I think this is something that Husker fans will remember forever.

Terry:

I was running the grain cart, my uncle had just swung the combine auger out as I pulled under it for him to unload.  Sharpe and Davison were describing what Nebraska needed to do on this last play and I was feeling pretty bleak as I had taken the huskers as one of two teams in a $100 betting teaser because I’m 23 and for some reason still haven’t realized to never ever bet on the Skers as they always let me down.

Anyways, I hear the call and as the announcers scream the HE CAUGHT IT!! I throw my arms up in the air, bump the steering wheel and almost swerve into the combine as he’s unloading on me. I caught it in time and we both just look at each other as we’re driving alongside the other and we just smiled and shook our heads.

 

@NMumm13: at the game with my 3 year old son. His first game ever!!! Almost missed the last play because he needed to go to the bathroom

@BBusselman: home with my daughters. 2young to know why we were runnin around the house screamin’ but joined in anyways #celebratelikeakid

@spanderson114: In my basement. Wife & kid gone. I jumped up, spiked my hat & screamed. Windows were open, so my KC neighbors heard it all.

@drusifur: left with 1:39 seconds left in the game. #Smart

 

Margaret Donovan:

I was at my aunt’s house at a family gathering.  Approximately 30 of my family members had gathered together to remember my grandma on the one-year anniversary of her death.

My aunt does not have cable television so we could not listen to the game.  The men in the family decided to listen to the game while they helped fix my aunt’s chicken coop.  Several others of us were outside talking and keeping track of the game.  We were all were discouraged about how the game had gone, and then suddenly there huge cheers erupted and the chicken coop was forgotten for a while!

We then were able to watch replays of the play on our smart phones.

Greg Smith:

My son Nicklas (8 years old) and I.  With about 5 minutes to go, gametime, Nick told me he needed to go to the bathroom.  Normally I go pretty close to when he asks.  This time I asked if he could wait until after the game.  …  He asked again with about 3 to go.

NU then got intercepted and he saw our fellow fans leaving and asked again.  I convinced him to stay.  More fans left after Northwestern kicked the field goal, and he asked again.  I asked how bad it was he said it was starting to get bad.  I asked if we could stay, if we got up right when the game was over.  He agreed.  We’re both glad he did.

We hugged and high fived, first with each other, then with everyone around us.  Some we sit with every week and a few that were in the seats for the first time.  This will be one of those father and son moments that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Sasha:

I stood up in my apartment and started screaming “Go Big Red” at the top of my lungs. My kitten became so “pet”-rified that she hid underneath my couch for 20 minutes while I was still jumping up and down like a little child. I live in Houston, TX so I’m positive that everybody in my apartment complex thought I went nuts.

John Gaskins (Program Director, 93.7 The Ticket FM):

My co-host Adrian Fiala offered me one of his tickets, but I gave it to one of our radio station producers who rarely gets to go to games. Felt good about how surprised and happy he was for the last-second gift. I had a press pass anyway. Then I realized 45 minutes before kickoff that my press pass was at my apartment by the Capital.

As I ran home, I thought of my uncle Jeff, my best friend and bar buddy, sitting in his apartment without a decent TV and having to watch crummy picture on his computer. Called to invite him over to watch the game on my big TV since I was coming back to the apartment anyway. …

The plan was to leave him there and still go to game, but I could tell he was so jazzed to watch on my 40 inch HDTV and he wanted to enjoy it with me, not alone. Jeff and I rarely watch home games together because he doesn’t like big crowds and I always “have to be there.”

So I stayed, planning to leave at halftime. But stayed, planning to leave sometime in 3rd quarter. “Can’t miss the 4th,” I thought. This could be a historical finish, for better or worse of Pelini era. …

But I never left. I rarely watch games with Jeff, like I used to when I was a kid, either in stadium or on TV. It was nostalgic. He gets so into it, which gets me into it. “I have to finish watching with him,” I thought. “If history happens, I will never forget watching with him.”

Well, it did. We went bonkers on the catch. Stunned, jubilant disbelief. But I also immediately thought and said, “I just missed history, one mile away from here. That’s why I go to all these, because even if it is a poor, blah game like this, you never know what you’ll miss in person to say, ‘I was there.’”

I was in the student section for the 2001 Crouch flea-flicker to beat Oklahoma when the joint shook. … Same thing for the epic comeback vs Ohio State in 2011. Saw Burkhead rumble into end zone in front of me for winning TD.

But I wasn’t there for Hail Jordan. … I might regret that forever. At the same time, I will never regret nor forget the tears in my uncles’ eyes when I told him I was glad I got to witness that slice of Husker history with him, just like old times.

We’ll leave the last words for Scott Wilson:

I was sitting in the last row of Section 610 of the new east stadium expansion for the Northwestern game.

From that seat, we could see the empty patches of seats that had formed around the stadium by the last Nebraska possession. We could also stand on our seat and see over the stadium wall to the east and see people streaming out to their cars. There was a sense of resignation in the crowd.

We had a great angle for the catch. When Westerkamp caught it, there was this immediate release of noise and commotion in our section: a blend of celebration and relief.  Strangers high-fiving and celebrating like they were old friends, talking about how those who had left missed history. …

Just before Westerkamp caught the ball, I pulled out my phone and set it to “video”. I recorded this. 

What a memory. I started at UNL in the fall of 1992 and was there for the glory years. This game was easily one of my best memories of Husker football.

About Dirk Chatelain

Dirk Chatelain is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and general assignments. You can follow Dirk on Twitter (@dirkchatelain) or email him at dchatelain@owh.com