Why Nebraska fans say a spring game is a hard habit to break, even at $643 a ticket
The score didn’t count, but the memories did. At one Nebraska spring game, Roger Benes’ nephew turned a corner and found himself being stared down by 6-foot-4, 240-pound Trev Alberts, who then smiled, kneeled and posed for a picture. A lifetime keepsake.
At another spring junket, a dozen years later, his sons corralled Cornhuskers quarterback Zac Taylor. More pictures. More keepsakes. More memories, thickening Big Red bonds forever more.
“That’s how they got [their fandom],” says Benes, a Huskers loyalist of more than 40 seasons from Winterset, Iowa, 3 hours due east of Lincoln. “They’re Huskers fans at heart.”
For years, they’d bring the family — and extended family — and make a game weekend of it, give everybody a taste of what was to come in a few months. Players aren’t the only ones shaking off cobwebs in April.
More often than not, the Red-White game was the perfect storm, as long as it wasn’t storming: A beautiful spring afternoon where everybody won. It underscored the family part of a family program in a family state.
“That’s the one thing with the spring game: No one loses,” Benes laughs. “You go there and everybody’s happy.”
And without it?
“My kids wouldn’t be fans,” he replies. “We took them to a game [in the fall] and we took them to the spring game — that’s the one we knew we could go to and could afford back when they were 5 and 6. There’s no worries. It’s just fun.”
One of those boys, Cory, grew up to study genetics at Iowa State. A Cyclones degree and a Huskers heart. Always.
“They really understand what it means to be a Husker, even though they didn’t grow up in Nebraska,” Benes says.
Roger says he’s missed one Big Red spring game since 1976, the one in 2013 when Jack Hoffman stole the show and a nation’s heart. His sons had a golf tournament.
“I think it’s just really important for families,” he says. “You’re never sad at a spring game. Everyone’s always happy. It’s so much fun.”
Only last month wasn’t. At all. Benes isn’t a Huskers season-ticket holder, so he and his family scrambled to get their usual handful of seats to witness one of the defining April moments in Nebraska football history, the first Scott Frost spring game.
“I’m like, ‘What the heck?’” Benes says. “My nephews got two. We heard season-ticket holders could get 20. We know people who got 60 and put them on StubHub. It was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’
“It’s really frustrating. It’s something we’ve always gone to. We’d take the kids to one game a year, but then we’d always do the spring game, because it was so affordable.”
‘If we’re going to do this because of the tremendous enthusiasm for Scott Frost — which is legit and warranted — are we going to do this next year?’
This time, not so much. Market forces can be unforgiving, too; because of Big Red enthusiasm, Frost Mania and the ability of season-ticket holders to reportedly snatch as many as 20 spring game tickets each, the game sold out in roughly 26 hours. The tickets remaining for the general public were allegedly gone within 90 minutes.
And the secondary avenues, no shock, haven’t been especially kind since: Last month, tickets to the April 21 exhibition were going for up to $657 at TicketCity.com — a higher top end than the most expensive regular-season seat at 22 other Power 5 programs. The market is, as expected, walking a bit back to sanity as we get closer to kickoff; pairs of seats could still be had for as low as $25 each as of early Monday afternoon, although the priciest ticket was listed at a hefty $643.
“And I can understand being frustrated by it,” counters Wayne Dolezal, a Nebraska alum in greater Des Moines. As a season-ticket holder since 1990, Dolezal snapped up eight tickets when they went on sale at face value: $10 each.
“I hope the university can find some way to improve the system next year so that season-ticket holders can be rewarded for that, but it’s also an important [event] for families who aren’t in that type of position to be able to get access.
“And if they can open up some practices, all the better. Back in the day, you could just take your sack lunch and camp out where they were just practicing and just sit in the sun and enjoy it. I don’t think we’re going to go back to that, given how security- and privacy-conscious [teams are]. But it would be nice to be able to do something.”
To Frost’s credit, the coach has floated that sort of something, suggesting last week that Nebraska officials have discussed opening up a second spring practice to the public, ostensibly aimed at those who were shut out of the Red-White game.
“How about those proceeds [from a second public event] go to a charity in Lincoln or Omaha? Or to Nebraska farmers? I mean, you could really do something cool with the funds, even if it was free and people just donated money.”
— Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo on the possibility of Nebraska holding a second open practice for fans this spring
“My first impulse was, ‘Sure, I think it’s a great deal,’” Big Ten Network football analyst Gerry DiNardo says. “You want to perform; human nature is that you want to look good in front of other people. So I do think it’s going to be very beneficial for Scott Frost in this environment. New offense, new environment, new enthusiasm, why not do it?
“I was thinking, because of my background, with a second spring game, how about those proceeds [from a second public event] go to a charity in Lincoln or Omaha? Or to Nebraska farmers? I mean, you could really do something cool with the funds, even if it was free and people just donated money.”
As an All-American lineman at Notre Dame in the early 1970s, DiNardo often played in front of massive spring game throngs, at a time when a comparatively limited television exposure for the sport and generations of loyalty made the Fighting Irish — like the Yankees, the Cowboys, the Celtics, the Lakers — the closest thing to a national team, the salad days of the subway alums.
“But I think to myself, OK, that’s the upside, there has to be a downside,” DiNardo continues. “So my downside to it is this, although I think [Frost] defused this a little bit. The downside is, if we’re going to do this because of the tremendous enthusiasm for Scott Frost — which is legit and warranted — are we going to do this next year?
“What happens if Nebraska only wins 3 games [this fall]? I’m just saying. So my conclusion is this: If you do it, Nebraska, define why you’re doing it. And whether you’ll do it again the following year.”
They’re doing it for Jeff Fisher, another out-of-town Huskers fan who isn’t on the season-ticket roll. Although he was one of the lucky ones: His brother-in-law had a three or four browsers open when spring game tickets hit the streets, and “ended up clicking refresh a bunch of times,” scoring four seats.
“He’s in IT, too,” Fisher chuckles. “I think it’s in his blood.”
Fisher has the Big Red in his, having grown up in Omaha and graduated from Nebraska in 1997, a few months before No. 7 quarterbacked the Cornhuskers to a national title. We agreed that the course correction going forward is more likely a stricter limit on spring-game seats for season-ticket holders and more windows for the general public as opposed to, say, two open-to-the-public scrimmages every April.
But love is love. And if the Frost honeymoon burns as hot and fast next winter as it did during this one, kids, anything’s possible.
“I wonder if it kind of isn’t the perfect storm and next year [will be different],” says Fisher, who now resides in greater Des Moines and married an Iowa fan who doesn’t mind twisting the occasional knife. “I don’t know if [a second event] has a lot of long-term potential. I think just the timing is right, and Nebraska fans will gravitate toward anything.”
Even $643 anything?
“The majority of people in my inner circle, a lot of them whom I would describe as diehard fans, would not pay that amount,” Fisher says. “I can honestly say I don’t know anybody that would pay.”
‘What else are you going to do?’
Benes won’t. He’s planning on having a Nebraska watch party at his man cave instead, treat it like an away game Saturday. He’ll invite over the usual four or five families who cheer the Big Red on in Winterset and try to make a silk purse out of the whole thing.
“But what else are you going to do? I’m not going to spend that much to get in,” Benes says. “It’s a spring game, it’s on TV [live], now.
“People say, ‘Well, it’s more fun to watch at home.’ No, it’s not. I just love to [be there]. I’d rather do that.
“But we’ll have a good time. It’s just, hopefully, we don’t have the same issues that we had [this winter]. It was a cluster.”
If there is a second event coming, well …
Let’s put it this way: Old habits are the hardest to break.
Old friendships, too.
“Yeah, probably, we’d still go,” Benes laughs. “If they had it on the weekend, we’d go. It just depends. But if they’re talking a weekday, it’s like, ‘Well, we’ve got to take vacation time.’ If it’s on a weekend? We’d go.”