LINCOLN — Down Stadium Drive they came. Eight-hundred strong dressed in red Nebraska jerseys with their names on the back.
Kinney and Butterfield. Noonan and Rimington. Jacobson, Stai and Grimminger.
There was Bohanon, Siener, Sorley. Tingelhoff and Bordogna and Naviaux, just to name a few.
And, of course, the big three — Heisman Trophy winners Johnny Rodgers, Mike Rozier and Eric Crouch.
Down Stadium Drive they all came, one big bunch of Husker history running from Edger Sears (1934) to Crouch (2001).
Some were names you will never forget, some were names you would never remember. But they all had one thing in common. They were all part of the Husker Nation.
Into the stadium they came. Legendary coach Tom Osborne led one group through the northwest corner of the field. Mike Devaney, son of the late, great Bob Devaney, led the other half of the lettermen through the southeast entrance.
They circled the field as the fans cheered and the new and improved Herbie Husker was unveiled. Then came a relatively new tradition called the tunnel walk.
As the 2003 Huskers burst onto Osborne Field, the 800 letterwinners converged on them, cheering and giving high-fives to whoever they could reach.
If that didn't give you goose bumps, then you're either dead or an Oklahoma State fan.
All that was left was for the Huskers to go out and win a football game, and the Blackshirts made sure it would happen.
Bo Pelini's unit was nothing short of spectacular in holding the high-powered Oklahoma State offense to just one first-half touchdown and 183 total yards — including 57 in the second half — in a 17-7 Husker win Saturday.
And the lettermen may have had just a little to do with it all.
"It was great to have players from every decade out there cheering you on,” Nebraska I-back Josh Davis said. "It was something that certainly got us really excited and got the fans excited.”
Go ahead Steve Pederson. Take a bow.
The new Nebraska athletic director sent letters out last spring inviting all the former letterwinners to Lincoln to open the 2003 season. The response was rather overwhelming.
"I didn't know how it would be, but I talked to some guys who weren't the real rah-rah kind of guys and they were planning to come,” said Gary Schneider, a Grand Island resident who lettered as a defensive back for the Huskers in 1982, '83, '85 and '86. "There's guys from all over the spectrum.”
There were old guys, middle-aged guys and young guys as well. Guys who looked like they could still play — like Dave Rimington — and guys that, well, looked like they were much better suited to run a remote control than an option play.
"I've seen guys I haven't seen for 15 years,” Schneider said. "I was talking to Swanny (Shane Swanson) and he said it was interesting how we saw guys we watched before we played, we saw guys we played with and we saw guys who won national titles after we played.
"There's guys who are No. 1 draft picks, guys who are dentists, doctors and lawyers. There's Rod Lewis (cornerback, 1979-81) who looks like he could still play. There's Mike Van Cleave (OT, 1995-97) who's lost like 50 pounds. He looks more like a tight end now.”
Rimington, an All-American who played center for the Huskers from 1979 to 1982, said before the game that he didn't know if the lettermen would have any effect on the current Huskers, but it was important to get the older guys involved with the program.
Rimington had one important piece of advice for the current NU players.
"I would tell them to play every play like it was their last play at Nebraska,” Rimington said. "It's an awesome responsibility to play at Nebraska. You have to make the most of it.”
Tom Haase, a standout at Aurora High School in the late 1980s, certainly understands what it meant to play at Nebraska. Haase, who was offensive MVP of the 1991 Citrus Bowl and now sells medical supplies in Omaha, said the Husker Nation idea was a great one.
"It's great to take advantage of the guys who are around here,” Haase said. "Sometimes you forget that there are so many who live in the area.”
Rodgers, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1972, said it should become an annual event.
"I hope we look to do this every year, instead of every 40 or 50 years,” Rodgers said.
There's no doubt the Husker lettermen had a great time this weekend. Jim Scott, a graduate of Ansley High School who lettered for NU from 1990-1992, discovered an interesting fact during Friday's gathering of the lettermen.
"After talking to all the guys last night, I think we all got a lot better in the last 10 years,” Scott said.
In any event, there is a lot of tradition behind the Husker program. A lot of blood, sweat and tears have been poured into it over the years. No doubt last year's 7-7 record hurt the lettermen nearly as much as it did the players.
But Rimington for one wasn't concerned about the future of Nebraska football.
"Last year was an aberration,” Rimington said. "To me, the 'N' on the helmet stands for 'never again' in my mind.”
It's hard to argue with that after what happened on the field Saturday.
HEAD:Contact assistant sports editor Bob Hamar via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 381-9417.