Nebraska first hosted its annual Red-White Spring Game on April 8, 1950. The first matchup — set then between Varsity and Alumni — ended in a 13-13 tie. It proved not to be indicative of the 1950 squad’s ability, as the group went on to become the highest-scoring Nebraska team in more than 40 years following.
Since then, the Huskers have put their squad on display each spring to a variety of fans. Only once has the event been canceled — 2012, because of severe weather. And since that first game in 1950, nearly 1.9 million fans have attended the event inside Memorial Stadium (which holds 90,000 fans).
Yet, there never has been a sellout in Nebraska spring game history. It has come a long way, though, considering only 5,000 fans attended the first one in 1950. In 2017, 78,312 fans watched former coach Mike Riley’s final Nebraska squad.
While exact numbers weren’t figured until the mid-1970s, prior estimations provide context over the growth of the game. It also is worth noting that spring practices ended with game-like scrimmages prior to 1950. The university started keeping track with the creation of the Varsity-Alumni series in 1950, but the scrimmages date back to 1922.
The closest the Huskers have gotten to a spring game sellout was in 2008, when 80,149 fans showed up for Bo Pelini’s first season as Nebraska’s coach. However, as Nebraska looks ahead to the 2018 spring game, there is reason to believe the Huskers could sell out Memorial Stadium for the first time in spring game history.
“I think the enthusiasm is at an all-time high, and it’s the first real opportunity for the fan base at large to share their enthusiasm,” said Keith Mann, Nebraska assistant athletic director for communications. “We’ve had around 80,000 a few times for the spring game, and we’ve had years where we’ve been close to full at capacity, but maybe the whole stadium wasn’t available. This year, the entire stadium is available. There are no construction projects going on.
“We’re hopeful it will sell out.”
With the game set for 11 a.m. CT on Saturday, April 21, Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos believes the Big Ten Network will carry the game live. He is not concerned the early event time or potentially live television option will deter fans from attending.
“I think with the interest and excitement that’s surrounding the program right now, people would show up if it was at 5:30 in the morning,” Moos told the Lincoln Journal Star. “But it’s important we get the exposure we need throughout our conference footprint and beyond as we start this new chapter of Nebraska football.”
Moos and Mann are right about interest. A coach’s first season with Nebraska tends to spike attendance, as it did in 1973 with Tom Osborne. While the 1972 game only drew roughly 9,000 fans, Osborne’s first season with the Huskers more than doubled that with 20,000 in attendance.
More than 494,000 fans have attended Nebraska spring games since 2010. That makes up for roughly 26 percent of the overall attendance numbers since the spring matchups began in 1950.
As for 2018, Nebraska will only add to those numbers with a significant turnout. And if the spring game isn’t sold out, it is hard to believe it won’t be close.
More will be known when tickets go on sale next week. Season ticket-holders will have the first opportunity to secure tickets on Tuesday, while general public ticket sales begin Wednesday.
“Last year — and certainly the buzz is greater this year — by the end of Day 1 of the public on sale, we were just short of 30,000 tickets sold,” Mann said. “That included some groups that had secured tickets before the general public on sale, and the ticket season holders on sale.
“I would expect that will be higher this year.”
Mann suggests fans don’t wait too long to secure tickets. While he expects there to be enough seats available for both season ticket-holders — which also includes individuals who are on the 2018 season ticket request list — and the general public, tickets are expected to sell quicker than they have in the past.
“I don’t want to alarm people that there’s not going to be tickets available,” Mann said. “But I don’t want them to wait and think, ‘Oh, we’ll wait and see what the weather is going to be like.’ I’m not sure I’d recommend waiting until April this year to see if you can get tickets or not.”
Nebraska spring game attendance through the years
|1950||5,000||Varsity 13, Alumni 13|
|1951||17,000||Varsity 27, Alumni 25|
|1952||9,000||Varsity 7, Alumni 6|
|1953||9,000||Varsity 16, Alumni 6|
|1954||5,000||White 25, Red 14|
|1955||4,000||Red 14, White 7|
|1956||5,000||Alumni 14, Varsity 0|
|1957||5,000||Varsity 22, Alumni 20|
|1958||10,000||Varsity 14, Alumni 6|
|1959||7,500||Varsity 22, Alumni 0|
|1960||6,500||Varsity 14, Alumni 0|
|1961||6,000||Varsity 35, Alumni 20|
|1962||5,000||Red 33, White 21|
|1963||5,500||Red 21, White 15|
|1964||7,000||White 24, Red 15|
|1965||7,000||Red 33, White 27|
|1966||8,500||White 28, Red 10|
|1967||5,000||Red 16, White 14|
|1968||6,000||White 26, Red 24|
|1969||7,500||White 10, Red 8|
|1970||13,000||Red 23, White 3|
|1971||18,000||Red 64, White 21|
|1972||9,000||White 21, Red 19|
|1973||20,000||Red 35, White 25|
|1974||21,003||Red 41, White 40|
|1975||19,429||White 20, Red 6|
|1976||18,135||White 29, Red 26|
|1977||13,038||Red 23, White 21|
|1978||16,500||White 14, Red 13|
|1979||20,119||Red 27, White 13|
|1980||20,000||Red 38, White 19|
|1981||25,431||White 22, Red 21|
|1982||23,116||Red 24, White 9|
|1983||20,017||Red 37, White 14|
|1984||23,119||Red 35, White 13|
|1985||22,213||Red 26, White 21|
|1986||23,006||Red 70, White 14|
|1987||22,114||Red 33, White 28|
|1988||30,000||Red 37, White 14|
|1989||25,000||White 40, Red 28|
|1990||23,000||Red 44, White 34|
|1991||23,102||Red 43, White 21|
|1992||24,212||Red 33, White 21|
|1993||25,000||Red 29, White 8|
|1994||29,000||Red 43, White 19|
|1995||40,000||White 40, Red 34|
|1996||48,659||Red 20, White 17|
|1997||42,018||Red 34, White 28|
|1998||60,498||White 24, Red 21|
|1999||29,739||Red 27, White 12|
|2000||22,415||Red 21, White 21|
|2001||30,414||Red 16, White 7|
|2002||31,420||Red 17, White 7|
|2003||33,419||Red 13, White 0|
|2004||61,417||Red 35, White 6|
|2005||63,416||White 42, Red 14|
|2006||57,415||Red 35, White 7|
|2007||54,288||Red 38, White 0|
|2008||80,149||Red 24, White 14|
|2009||77,670||Red 31, White 17|
|2010||77,936||Red 21, White 16|
|2011||66,784||Red 32, White 29|
|2013||60,174||Red 32, White 25|
|2014||61,772||Red 55, White 46|
|2015||76,881||Red 24, White 15|
|2016||72,992||White 46, Red 41|
|2017||78,312||Red 55, White 7|
(All scores via HuskerMax)