99-year-old Husker fan finally gets chance to see game

Ninety-nine-year-old Jerry Lamason cheered the Huskers on to victory at their first game of the season Saturday. He had never before seen a game except through a television screen.

Jerry Lamason watched, along with the more than 80,000 people in Memorial Stadium, as the Cornhuskers beat Western Michigan in their first game of the season Saturday.

Standing among the crowd, Lamason was unique: This was the 99-year-old's first Husker football game.

Born in 1909, Lamason has lived all of his 99 years in Page, Neb., a town of fewer than 200 people. Like any loyal Nebraskan, Lamason grew up a Husker fan - but had to wait nearly a century to finally make the pilgrimage to Memorial Stadium.

"He's a regular good ol' Nebraska Husker guy (and) watches them on the TV," said Sheryl Rugge, Lamason's granddaughter. "He got this chance to go (to the game) and loved it."

Lamason and his late wife Eva used to attend as many sports games around Page as they could, cheering and supporting the local kids.

Eric Allen was one of those kids. He grew up knowing Lamason, who worked as a mechanic for Allen's father, and valued the attention Lamason paid to the children around Page.

"Everybody knows Jerry," Allen said. "He did a lot of nice things for the community, and he was part of my young life."

Now a businessman in Grand Island, Allen ran into Lamason about six months ago on a trip to Page. When Allen found out Lamason wanted to go to a Cornhusker football game and didn't have tickets, Allen offered to share his season club-level tickets and bring Lamason to a game.

"There wasn't much thought in it, I just saw him driving his big red Ford truck, and he parked in the road, and I went over there and talked to him," Allen said. "I asked him, and he said, 'sure' - and that's how it happened."

For decades, Lamason has driven a red pickup truck that he trades in every year or two.

"It's always a big red Ford," Rugge said. "He's a Nebraskan through and through."

Lamason beamed with that Nebraska pride as he sat watching the larger-than-life version of something he'd seen so many times before. Like a wide-eyed child, he saw the wave and movement of the sea of red, the congestion of the masses of people and every sensory detail that doesn't translate over television or radio.

"I thought it was out of this world," Lamason said. "Seeing all of them people there, there wasn't an empty seat."

The marching band's halftime show especially made an impression - Lamason couldn't believe the coordination and training it took to make those shapes across the field.

"Whoever supervised that knew what the hell they were doing," he said.

After a long, eventful evening, Lamason woke up late the next morning, pleased, slightly beat-up and with only two regrets.

First, despite the view and comfort of the club level seats, Lamason insisted that if he comes to another Cornhusker game, he'll get a seat down on the sidelines.

Also, reminiscent of the cheering section he and his wife formed at the sports games in Page, Lamason wished she had been able to come to the Husker game with him.

Married at 18, the couple was two weeks shy of celebrating their 70th anniversary when Eva passed away about 11 years ago.

"They were quite a pair - one of the best marriages I ever saw," Rugge said. "Probably Grandma, if she would've gone to the game, she still would have been jumping up and down on the sidelines."

Despite missing his number one co-cheerleader, Lamason more than enjoyed his Husker experience.

"I think he said about four times, 'I don't know how I could ever repay you,'" Allen said. "He said everybody in Nebraska should go (to a game) at least once."

Now, finally having a Cornhusker game under his belt, Lamason can keep bowling, playing bridge and celebrate his 100th birthday as a complete, fulfilled Nebraskan.

And his secret, he says, for reaching that 100th birthday is that he "never missed a chance to say hello."

"He was always nice to be around, and he always gave a lot of attention to kids around town," Allen said. "So it (the game) was kind of payback."

andreavasquez@dailynebraskan.com