With a tale as improbable as one that finds yourself trapped between nearly 600 pounds of caged fury known as the Peter Brothers, you just can’t start with “That one time…”
It needs some proper backstory. So let’s set the table.
Twenty years ago today, the Huskers played their home opener against Arizona State. 77,418 fans packed in to Memorial Stadium to witness the carnage as the Huskers piled up 686 yards of total offense en route to a 77-28 victory that was nowhere near as close as the final score indicated. Nebraska went to the locker room at halftime up 63-21.
After starting their season on the road against Oklahoma State and a Nick Saban coached Michigan State, it was a much needed welcome home for the Big Red. Following their 50 – 10 blowout in East Lansing, running back Lawrence Phillips was arrested for assaulting his former girlfriend which turned out to be his first major step on a long and winding road that would end in prison. Nebraska didn’t miss Phillips’ absence in the backfield as Clinton Childs and true freshman Ahman Green each racked up over 100 yards rushing and combined for three touchdowns.
While they didn’t make much of a ripple at the time, players of note that day for the Sun Devils were quarterback Jake Plummer, wide receiver Isaiah Mustafa (you might know him best as the Old Spice Guy), and linebacker Pat Tillman.
Also in attendance that day was this guy. I was working my very first game as a Sports Director for 90.3 KRNU.
If you’ve never caught the signal around Lincoln or listened online (hello, future!), KRNU is the official radio station of UNL that’s run by broadcasting students under the very patient guidance of legendary professor Rick Alloway.
To give students the experience of working at a “real” radio station, KRNU’s programming back then was a little bit of everything and on fall Saturdays it wasn’t uncommon for the station to segue from playing the likes of Mercy Rule and Throwing Muses to becoming the Mighty Sports 90 for a few hours.
Being a Sports Director was one of two prestigious positions at the station. While the Music Directors were plied with free CDs and concert tickets, our perks were rectangles of card stock and an elastic string known as the press pass.
To this day, it boggles me how much access the Athletic Department and Journalism School gives to its students. Even with the Huskers in the midst of the greatest run college football has ever known, us dopey kids were treated the same as the rest of the working media all the way down to having our own booth atop the press box, which back then wasn’t the sleek, shining jewel that you see today.
Our little cube of Memorial Stadium real estate wasn’t much more than a tree house built from plywood and corrugated metal that would be right at home in the Diepsloot area of Johannesburg. Couple the lack of structural integrity with a lack of windows and we’d either swelter or shiver our way through broadcasts.
But we never complained. We got to talk Husker football and watch the best team in history from an incredible vantage point just barely to the right of the 50-yard-line. Lunch (plus dessert at halftime) was a catered affair and if you weren’t on the mic for a game broadcast, you’d watch the finish from the sidelines so you could get a head start on getting set up for recording the post-game press conference as part of our duties for the Huskers Sports Service.
Husker Sports Service… sounds impressive doesn’t it?
To help media from around the country gain access to sound bites, the “Husker Sports Service” would make selected clips available, not for downloading but recording, as in with a tape player. Don’t forget, the internet was still a novelty back then.
After recording a press conference, we’d use state-of-the-art Audio Wizard software to chop up a few choice soundbites from coaches and players that we’d then transfer onto Fidelipacs which would then be plugged into a refrigerator sized machine that was connected to the Husker Hotline, a series of telephone numbers that media could dial-in to and record sound bites to use for their own radio shows.
Basically, it was a lot of work to do what could be handled with an iPhone and a Twitter account today.
A few minutes after the Huskers and Sun Devils left the field, Coach Osborne opened the press conference with a story about Kenny Cheatham blaming his muffed punt return on a nasty case of pink eye that was affecting his vision. He got a lot of laughs and was off and running. One thing TO never gets enough credit for is just how funny he is.
Since we were just there to record the thing, we’d usually hang in the back and let the big dogs in the “real media” like Tom Shatel, Lee Barfknecht, and a young gun named Steve Sipple ask the questions. We knew it was a privilege to be in the same room so we always did our best to not draw unnecessary attention to ourselves.
I found a spot on a couch in the back and soaked up the excitement of being at my first press conference. I guess that’s why I didn’t notice the eclipse until it was too late.
If you’ve ever watched a shark attack survivor tell their tale during Shark Week, many of them will say the only warning was how the water around them suddenly shifted a split second before a shark clamped down.
So there I was, on that couch minding my own business when my field of vision suddenly went dark. I looked up and saw the silhouette of something massive blocking out a stand up light. It pointed towards me and promptly plopped down on the open space to my right.
They were both still wearing their uniform pants and were completely drenched in sweat and blood in varying states of dryness. Base layers didn’t exist back then so they both wore chopped up grey cotton t-shirts that had soaked to a few shades darker.
They were two of the biggest humans I had ever seen. They didn’t say word. They just snarled, rumbled, and shook as if they were getting ready to play a fifth quarter.
Meanwhile, I just hoped they didn’t notice the wet spot forming in the crotchal region of my brand new Eddie Bauer khakis. My first day on my job was going to be my last because two of the baddest dudes to ever wear Blackshirts were going to eat me.
There was no way I was going to survive this.
I was more terrified than Ripley was when she met the alien in Aliens 3 except I had two beasts breathing down my neck. I just tried my best not to twitch and wondered where I went so wrong in my soon-be-over 19 year-old life that I found myself sitting in the Daisy Duke seat sandwiched between a pair of future NFL players.
The closest thing to social media back in 1995 was the phone book. All you knew about a Husker player was what you saw on the field or after the game. In the case of the Peter Brothers, they murdered the opposition and then they talked about how they carried out those murders. That’s all that the world knew about those guys. There were no Instagram or Twitter accounts to show off their fun loving, “just like us” side off the field. What you saw was all you got.
And I was going to be disemboweled if I didn’t take decisive action. Getting locked in the pen with the bulls after the rodeo was no place to be for a 175 pounder who lettered in tennis.
I summoned all the courage I could and somehow the words fell out of my mouth with a semblance of order and as little fear as possible.
“You guys played a really good game out there. Really kicked some ass.”
I looked at Christian. He didn’t say a word but nodded his approval at my statement. Before I could even glance over at Jason, I heard a growl that sounded a lot like “Thanks, man.”
And that was my window of daylight to make an escape.
“I gotta go check my tapes,” I announced to no one as I stood from the couch. Realizing my pants were miraculously still dry, I looked back towards my new friends and said, “You guys can spread out if you want. I don’t think I’ll be coming back.”
The didn’t need my permission. The sliver of space I once occupied was already long gone.