A sign above each entrance to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium reminds students and fans alike, “Through these gates pass the greatest fans in college football.”
Home to the NCAA record of more than 340 consecutive sellouts, Memorial Stadium is the center of what is known as one of the most loyal college fan bases in the country. Each home game day, fans fill the stadium with a sea of red and transform it into Nebraska’s third largest city for the day.
But Nebraska fans are known for more than loyalty. They’re also known for their sportsmanship, said Lura Parrent, a sophomore chemical engineering major and a volleyball sport director in the Iron N, a student-led organization whose goal is to unite the UNL student body behind Husker athletics and create “the ultimate home advantage.”
Parrent said sportsmanship has become the brand of Husker fans.
“It’s what everybody looks at us for,” she said. “That’s really important to us; that we’re not booing them, we’re not saying rude things to the other teams or doing inappropriate chants.”
The Illinois native said the Nebraska fan base is unlike anything else she has ever seen.
“I’ve never been to a sporting event where when the other team’s being introduced, we clap for them,” she said. “(It’s) just something you never see anywhere else.”
The out-of-state student was also surprised by the turnout rate Nebraska sports have.
“It doesn’t compare to anything I’ve ever seen before,” she said. “Regardless of how good or bad the team’s doing and whatever sport it is, they’ll always have a lot of fans there supporting them.”
Parrent said she was shocked when she found out the volleyball team fills seats in the arena the basketball team used to play in.
“You go to a volleyball game here and it’s full, like 8,000-people full,” she said. “We fill it up and sell it out for over 100 games straight, which is just crazy to think.”
She credited the fact that while many states have multiple state colleges and universities, dividing their residents, Nebraska has only one large state university. Because of this, one can find Husker fans throughout the entire state.
While Husker fans are known for sportsmanship, not every game or fan is perfectly polite. The Iron N is often tasked with controlling the student crowd’s attitude during games, a feat that isn’t always easy, according to Patrick Luddy, a senior computer engineering major in The Iron N. He said The Iron N’s tactic when things get crazy is to distract the giant crowd.
“If it seems like it’s going to be a bad point in the game where something might start, we’ll try to start a ‘Husker Power (chant)’ between the two student sections or something not bad,” he said. “Normally, that’s ‘Husker power’ between the south and east student section or a ‘Go Big Red’ chant.”
Brendon Henning, a senior marketing major and a member of The Iron N, said the success of The Iron N’s ability to control the crowd has a lot to do with the age of its members.
“I feel like when it’s your peers that are attempting to do something, it mobilizes our student body a lot better than adults with an agenda trying to make something happen,” he said. “You see people your age wanting to do something cool, it resonates better with the student body.”
Besides politeness, The Iron N strives for Husker fans to be known for making gestures of kindness in difficult times, for example in 2013, when Nebraska fans let loose blue and yellow balloons and held a sign that read “N #36” to honor Nick Pasquale. The walk-on UCLA receiver had died the week before the Huskers played the Bruins in Lincoln.
After the game, UCLA sent a sign back thanking Husker fans for the gesture. The sign hung below the student section for the rest of the season.
Henning said The Iron N organizes such gestures because they believe it’s the right thing to do.
“I feel like it’s kind of what the nation has come to expect from Nebraska,” he said. “They get treated the right way here, and overall, their experience is great.”
Other schools are noticing Nebraska’s great fans as well. Earlier this month, a Brigham Young University fan sent the Daily Nebraskan a letter thanking Husker fans for their hospitality and attitude.
But that isn’t to say all Husker fans were perfect sports during the game.
Parrent said during the BYU game, some fans seated in the south section began a derogatory chant directed at the opposing team. While The Iron N does control a lot of the cheering, Parrent gave credit to the upperclassmen in the east stadium for shutting down that particular cheer.
“Everybody at east stadium just turned around and cut them off and shut it down immediately. It’s really cool to see that we as students are able to stop that,” she said. “We don’t want to be known as that nasty team, we want to be known for good sportsmanship and encouraging the other team.”
Luddy said he believes the Huskers’ reputation as the friendliest fan base is what has helped keep it going for so long.
“The fact that we’re known that way has shaped how we continue to work on it,” he said. “I think it’s definitely something that, one, will stay around, and two, we should keep around. It’s a cool culture to be a part of.”