When the University of Wisconsin football team first visited Memorial Stadium, Nebraska was working on a modest streak of 15 consecutive sellouts.
That was 47 years and more than 300 home games ago for the Cornhuskers, who haven't stopped drawing capacity crowds to their on-campus palace, which can hold as many as 86,000-plus fans.
When UW (3-1) and No. 22 Nebraska (3-1) meet Saturday night in a Big Ten Conference opener in Lincoln, Neb., it will mark the 322nd consecutive sellout for the Cornhuskers. The 50th anniversary of the streak, which dates to a game against Missouri on Nov. 3, 1962, is being celebrated this season.
To put that streak in perspective: John F. Kennedy was the president of the United States the last time Nebraska failed to sell all of its available tickets at Memorial Stadium.
"You have to understand," said UW athletic director Barry Alvarez, who played at Nebraska from 1965 to '67. "The state of Nebraska has less than 2 million people. There are no pro sports. That state lives for Nebraska football."
Alvarez was a sophomore linebacker for the Cornhuskers when they beat the visiting Badgers 37-0 at Memorial Stadium on Oct. 9, 1965. UW's most recent trip to Nebraska came in 1973, when the second-ranked Cornhuskers pulled out a 20-16 victory. Selvie Washington returned a kickoff 96 yards to give UW, a three-touchdown underdog, a 16-14 lead late in the game, but quarterback David Humm led a seven-play, 83-yard drive to rally the Cornhuskers.
Thirty-nine years later, the Badgers return. What should UW and its fans expect at one of the most prominent venues in college football?
"I think our people will be impressed," Alvarez said. "They are very knowledgeable fans — probably the most knowledgeable. I think they're really fair."
The Badgers should get a pretty good scouting report on Memorial Stadium from their coach, Bret Bielema, who has been on the visiting sidelines as an assistant at Iowa and Kansas State.
"I think the stadium itself has a Big Ten feel to it," Bielema said. "The fans are on top of you. They're very engaging. They've won a lot of football games over there. …
"I don't know if I notice it as much as a head coach because I've got my headset on all the time. Back when you coached on one side of the ball, after you got your corrections, you kind of watched, and they're engaged in the game. They're definitely very educated to the game. They appreciate good football."
Harry Argue, a 1968 graduate of Nebraska who was in the stands for the 1965 game against UW, appreciates Cornhuskers football so much that he spent 10 years on a waiting list before landing season tickets at Memorial Stadium.
Argue lives in the Madison area — he's a member of the Mad City Huskers, a group of Nebraska fans that gathers to watch the Cornhuskers — and also has season tickets Camp Randall Stadium. So if there's anyone who can compare the venues from a fan's perspective, it's Argue.
"They'll find a very spirited atmosphere that is the ultimate in college football," Argue said. "That's to take nothing away from what the atmosphere here in Madison."
One of the things Argue is most proud to disclose about the Memorial Stadium experience is a tradition that dates to 1980, when No. 16 Florida State came to Lincoln and left with an 18-14 upset victory over the No. 3 Cornhuskers. As the Seminoles left the field, a group of Nebraska fans in the southwest corner of the stadium waited and greeted them with a standing ovation.
Alvarez couldn't believe it when he witnessed the tradition first-hand while at Memorial Stadium in 1998 for a game between Nebraska and Texas.
"They lose to Texas (20-16) and their fans cheer Texas coming off the field," Alvarez said. "You don't see that very often. I think our people will be welcomed there. I think they'll be very impressed with what they see."
Argue has a feeling UW fans will notice one thing about Memorial Stadium immediately.
"I guess I'm expressing my pride here, but it's factual and will be noticed Saturday night," Argue said. "Prior to kickoff, all of the Nebraska students are in their seats and ready for the game."