Everybody here is just so darn nice.
That goes for the young man behind the car rental counter, the lady at hotel registration, the waitress who explains what the heck a morning glory muffin is (“Sort of like carrot cake,” she says with a friendly smile) and for the 86,047 (or more) Nebraska Cornhuskers fans who pack Memorial Stadium.
In the often-heated, antagonist world of college football, Nebraska fans have carved out their own niche of niceness.
They don’t boo the opposing team. That would go against the prevailing culture of being pleasant.
“It’s funny to hear someone say not booing is different because it’s so ingrained in us,” said Katie Williams, senior director of marketing and communications for the Nebraska Alumni Association.
“Honestly I think we’d boo Nebraska before we’d boo an opposing team.”
What does this mean for 28-point underdog Fresno State on Saturday evening? It means the Bulldogs may get beat in their season opener, but they won’t get browbeat. They may get unsettled, but they won’t get heckled. Things may go amiss, but no one will hiss.
College football players are accustomed to hearing boos at road stadiums. They’re used to catcalls and jeers. It pretty much comes with the helmet and shoulder pads.
“I don’t know a stadium where I haven’t been booed,” senior receiver Aaron Peck said.
Memorial Stadium will be the first. Far as I can tell, Texas A&M is the only other fan base with a similar attitude toward those in opposing uniforms.
“I think Nebraska has extremely classy fans that want to see great football, and they’ve been treated to it for a long time,” Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter said. “We’re excited to go into that environment, but it’s going to be different. We’re used to going places where there’s an adversarial crowd.”
When the Bulldogs last visited in 2011, the nonhostile reception they received took many players by surprise.
So much so that former Bulldogs fullback Malique Micenheimer made a point of mentioning it to a few of his younger teammates.
“(Micenheimer) said they don’t boo, and that it was weird,” Peck recalled. “He said they just play football out there.”
Evidently, the message hasn’t reached everyone. When junior Chad Olsen was informed he won’t get booed at Memorial Stadium, the tight end’s blue eyes grew wide.
“Really?” he asked. “Why is that? That’s interesting.”
It is interesting. According to the locals I spoke with, the culture of niceness stems from traditional Midwestern values along with the Cornhuskers’ exalted past.
“People here take pride in being hospitable and friendly,” said Derek Engelbart, associate executive director of the Nebraska Alumni Association. “That’s just the tradition of our fans. A big part of it is just the morals and values we were raised with.”
Another part is the glorious history of Cornhuskers football. It’s much easier to be gracious when you’re ripping off national titles and thumping everyone 57-7.
But even though the days of Tom Osborne, Johnny Rodgers and Tommie Frazier are well in the past, the good-naturedness remains.
“Back in the ’70s and ’80s we were winning so much that there was no dislike or animosity toward other teams, so we had no reason to boo,” said Todd Campfield, manager of NZone Sports Bar owned by Clovis West High alum Mike Figueroa. “And like all traditions, it’s been passed down from generation to generation.”
It’s not just that Nebraska fans don’t boo opposing teams. Sometimes they even cheer them. Not as loudly as they cheer for the Cornhuskers, of course, but they do.
In 2011, when Fresno State led 17-14 at halftime, the home crowd gave the Bulldogs a smattering of applause as they headed into the locker room.
“Nebraska fans appreciate good play and good effort,” Engelbart said. “If an opposing team does those things, they’ll tip their cap.”
On gamedays, the only boos heard at Memorial Stadium are directed at the Cornhuskers. And usually only for poor play-calling or perceived lack of effort.
Unless you’re Miami. When the Hurricanes visited in 2014, the 41-31 Nebraska victory was marred by scuffles and cheap shots.
“If you want me to name one time I can remember (Cornhuskers fans booing the visiting team), that’s the one time,” Engelbart said. “If they think the other team is showboating or playing past the whistle, that’s the sole instance where they might boo.”
I’m going to venture a guess and say Fresno State won’t be doing much showboating.
Nebraska fans aren’t just nice to opposing players, they’re friendly and accommodating to opposing fans.
Just try to find someone who’s had a bad experience in Lincoln. It simply can’t be done.
“I talked to a bunch of our fans who were there five years ago, and they said their fans could not have been nicer at tailgates,” DeRuyter says. “That’s just who they are. They love college football, and they love everything about it.”
Considering Saturday will be Nebraska’s 348th consecutive sellout dating to 1962, that their alumni association boasts 70 chapters (plus 20 affiliate groups) and that Cornhuskers games can be viewed at 120 “watch parties” around the country, maybe there’s something to this niceness stuff.
Maybe being nice, just like being mean, is contagious.
Something for Fresno State fans, along with every other fan base in college football, to think about the next time they boo.