The last time Nebraska football played a home game, it was 349 days ago in front of a sold-out Memorial Stadium crowd.
Among those in the crowd were parents of Husker players. This Saturday, those parents will be the only ones allowed in the stands when Nebraska takes the field against Penn State.
Before reaching this point, the season went under many changes. After the standard 12-game slate was dropped due to the spread of COVID-19, the Big Ten introduced a conference-only 10-game season and then postponed the season to the spring before finally implementing an eight-game season that kicked off in late October. Nebraska was initially set to have its first home game on Oct. 31, but a coronavirus outbreak within the Wisconsin program caused the game to be canceled. Now, both Husker players and parents are ready to see the team on the Memorial Stadium turf for the first time in almost a calendar year.
“It’s going to be hard to describe the emotions I’ll be feeling when they start playing,” Gene Benhart, father of redshirt freshman offensive lineman Bryce Benhart, said. “This is a football season we’ve been waiting a long time for, and we definitely want to take in the moment.”
When the Big Ten announced no fans would be in attendance for the season, it did not announce whether that applied to player’s families or just the general public. Eventually, the conference decided to allow family members of players from both the home and road teams in a limited capacity, socially distanced in the stands. This decision came as a relief to Glenn Snodgrass, father of redshirt freshman linebacker Garrett Snodgrass.
“These kids have worked their entire life to get to this point, but most of the time the parents have been right there beside them,” he said. “The parents are the ones washing the jerseys, bringing them to camps. We care about these kids more than anything else in the world.”
The Big Ten made its decision with safety in mind and have strict protocols for the parents in attendance. Masks are required upon entry to the stadium and can only be removed once the family group is at least 6 feet apart from any other group. This policy can vary from team to team based on local health guidelines, as Ohio State requires a mask at all times in its stadium this season.
The family-only crowds are undoubtedly a change of pace from the normal, full stadiums the parents have been watching their kids in throughout their college careers. Although the parents who have made the trip to the road games this year in Columbus, Ohio, and Evanston, Illinois, have got a taste of what family-only football is like, seeing Memorial Stadium largely empty will be a completely new experience.
The Big Ten is allowing stadiums to pipe in artificial crowd noise up to 70 decibels during normal play and up to 90 decibels after a home team scoring play, which, while loud, is well below what an amped-up crowd of Husker fans can produce. Even though the parents acknowledge that a sellout crowd is hard to beat, they are still looking forward to the gameday experience, and they believe their sons are too.
“I know when the players see us and hear us in the stands they’ll appreciate it,” Mike Henrich, father of redshirt freshman linebacker Nick Henrich, said. “As a parent, you always want to be there for your kid when something important happens.”
Even without 90,000 fans cheering along with them, the experience of watching their children play in person is still a sense of pride amongst Nebraska parents and offers something they can’t get from watching it on TV. The parents have been going to their games since they started football as a child, and Snodgrass said that even though the stakes have gotten higher over the years, the responsibility of being there for your kids has always been the same.
“I hope to go through Garrett’s whole career and never miss a game,” Snodgrass said. “It’s going to be tough getting to Ireland for that one next year, but I’ll do everything I can to be there for him.”
With only three Nebraska home games currently on the schedule and no current plans to bring back full crowds, both the parents and the players will be in for an abnormal gameday experience, but they will have their family there to make it all worth it.
“I remember when I was playing, I always had my mom and my dad there to support me,” Snodgrass said. “People love having people there to support, especially when they’re the people that mean the most to them.”