Level of respect
For only the third time in college football history, two teams with 800 or more wins in their histories met when Texas and its 806 wins visited Nebraska with its 800 wins on Saturday in Lincoln.
It was a game with two of the great programs in college football showcasing their abundant tradition in a setting where both teams and their fans could not help but share a profound respect for what each has accomplished.
"With two teams like that, you've got to have respect," said Texas RB Selvin Young. "Both of us expect to win and hold up the tradition you're a part of. When you talk about 800 wins, you feel like you're a part of that, and you've got that in the back of your mind as extra motivation, extra push, which also makes for a great game with two teams with so much respect and pride. Those games always come down to the end."
And come down to the end it did, as the Longhorns converted a field goal with 23 seconds remaining for a 22-20 win. The margin of victory was a representation of how closely the programs mirror each other, and with such a dramatic ending, it would be understandable for the team that came up short to have bitter feelings, but not in this case.
"They do a good job of recruiting classy kids," said Texas OT Justin Blalock. "It would have been easy for them to go running off the field and not talk to us or not shake our hands, but they were good guys who came up, looked us in the eye and shook our hands, and we would have done the same if the tables were turned."
In fact, the tables did not have to be turned for the Longhorns to show their level of respect. They made their feelings clear as the teams met at midfield after the game.
"They were saying to us, see you in Kansas City [site of the Big 12 Championship game]," said Nebraska DE Jay Moore. "They showed a lot of respect in the game. They didn't play dirty or make any cheap shots. I would love to play these guys again."
The Texas players echoed those feelings, and just might have the opportunity, as both teams are still in position to be able to reach the Big 12 Championship game on December 2.
"They stood and looked in our eyes and still had pride and respect, because they knew they let it all hang out," Young described. "We did the same, but they showed us a lot of respect after the game, saying things like, 'Hopefully we'll get to see you guys again,' but not in an arrogant way, in a respectfully way, like, 'You keep doing what your doing, and we'll keep doing what we're doing so we can meet again.'"
What both teams were doing was letting the pride and respect of their programs reflect in their play. Just as Moore described clean play from Texas, the Longhorns matched the description for Nebraska.
"I could just tell from the first play of the game, battling out there, a lot guys had respect for each other," said Texas DE Tim Crowder. "There weren't dirty plays, and everyone was helping each other off the ground, and that's just the respect we have for each other."
"When there are that many good players, you want to play against the best fairly to test yourself and see what you've really got," Blalock added.
It is also no wonder the Huskers would act as they did once you take into account the atmosphere that is bred in Lincoln and the respectful nature the Nebraska program has surrounding it from the fans to the staff to the coaches to the players.
"They have one of the greatest groups of fans I've seen in the country," Crowder said. "Just the fact that even after they lost a hard game like that, they stay after the game and cheer, 'Go Big Red.' That was a highlight for me."
The quality of the fans was not limited to their own team. Both on the way in and the way out of Memorial Stadium, the Longhorns found themselves welcomed every step of the way.
"The administration and support staff at Nebraska treat you better than anyone in America," said Texas head coach Mack Brown. "They really make you feel like they are happy you are there and want you to have a great visit. I've been to Nebraska with Iowa State, Oklahoma and Texas, and they've been very consistent. No matter where I was, they always treated us the same way, with kindness and respect."
As the game approached, the Longhorns made the walk from the visitor's locker room, down a hallway with year-by-year results displayed on the walls documenting most of Nebraska's 800 wins and were greeted with smiles from the security staff.
Once through the long hall, in order to reach to the field, the visiting team has to pass through the concourse under the stands where only two thin ropes held by the staff separate players from fans. It is a situation that in most places could potentially cause problems, but not in Lincoln.
"We were coming out to warm up, and there are Nebraska fans wanting to shake our hands and wish us good luck," Blalock recounted.
And returning down that path after the game, it was no different.
"Everyone from the people running the stadium to the fans, they were all saying, 'Great game; you play hard. You're a great group of guys, and we love having you here,'" Young described. "It was a lot of respect for us that they had, and we have the same for them."
Despite the bitter cold of the day, which was joined by fourth-quarter snow flurries, Brown described the trip to Lincoln as a wonderful experience, and would have been regardless the outcome of the game.
"The fans are loud and cheer hard, but in the end, they applaud the performance of the opponent and make playing in Memorial Stadium a memorable experience," Brown said. Walking off the field on Saturday, I was reminded of what great people they are when they applauded our team, and that was after a very tough loss."
The programs are separated by just seven wins, and a margin that small might be the only difference.
"They're a lot like us," Blalock said. "They have a great storied tradition, a great program that's back on the national scene now, and we're both in that position. They have talented kids, great coaches and that's shown by the 800 wins and the great history of success."
As Brown would after the game, when two programs with more than 800 wins and among the proudest and richest traditions in college football history get together, you would expect a hard-hitting, physical and competitive game, but when it's over what's left is mutual respect.
"That's what we got on Saturday," Brown said. "It was one of the best games in the country this year between two of college football's premier programs."