OMAHA, Neb. — When comparing the Nebraska and University of Wisconsin's football programs, one word, other than red, comes to mind: passion. It's the common denominator between Badgers fans and Huskers fans.
I've seen both sides of the Big Red — in Wisconsin as a Bucky fan in college and sportscaster at both WKOW in Madison and WISN in Milwaukee, and in Nebraska as sports director for the ABC affiliate in Omaha.
Last fall, I had my first taste of Nebraska's Big Red fever. The majority of my job is coordinating and executing Huskers football coverage — even in the offseason. But in fact, there is no offseason in Huskers football. The regular season gives way to bowl season, which is followed by recruiting season, the spring game and offseason workouts. Then, the next year begins with training camp.
Nebraska fans don't just expect a win each week, they demand it. They are disappointed in a season that ends without a championship. They are knowledgeable and personally invested in football.
It's not that Badgers fans are uninformed, but for most Wisconsin fans, having a good time is the top priority on game day. A good time, of course, is made easier with a victory. But it's not essential.
If Nebraska loses a game, a cloud hangs over the entire state for days and doesn't begin to lift until Thursday, when the hope of the next potential victory allows a few sunbeams to penetrate the gloom.
When it comes to in-game fan participation, Nebraska can't compete with UW and its rowdy student sections. I am certain rival sections O and P will be in rare form Saturday, and I look forward to gauging the reaction from my Nebraska media colleagues as they see the Badgers fan variations of the stadium wave. I also can't wait to look at the fear in their eyes when the press box begins to shake at the end of the third quarter during "Jump Around."
When it comes to fan loyalty, I give the edge to Nebraska. One of the most incredible records in all of college football is Memorial Stadium's 314 straight sellouts. It started back in 1962, well before Barry Alvarez arrived in Lincoln.
Huskers season tickets stay in the family, passed down from generation to generation. A trip to Memorial Stadium is treated with the same reverence as a visit to Lambeau Field. There are as many people taking pictures in front of the Tom Osborne statue in Lincoln as there are folks smiling in front Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi in Green Bay.
The biggest difference between fan bases could be that there is more competition for your attention in Wisconsin. The Badgers are Wisconsin's only Division I college football team, but they battle with the Brewers and Packers (and occasionally the Bucks) for attention.
In Nebraska, the Huskers are top dog. There isn't even a close second. In Wisconsin, you have some Marquette and UW-Milwaukee grads who wouldn't dare root for Bucky.
In Nebraska, many Creighton and UNO (Omaha) alumni adopt the Huskers football team as their own.
Badgers fans are fun-loving, good-natured, spirited and they absolutely love winning. Huskers fans are well-informed, intense, polite and they absolutely love winning.
I've seen both sides, and I can't wait for Saturday.
UW and Nebraska fans have their many similarities and differences. They are good, hard-working people who love their football. Both programs' fans respect one another, and they know what happens Saturday night will go a long way in determining who will play in the Big Ten Championship Game in December.
All I can say is Go Big Red.