By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) In June 2010, I was walking to my gym in Chicago when I spotted a vanity plate on a BMW parked in the lot outside. It read: “CHI TWN” – on a Nebraska plate.
A moment later, the car’s owner – a Chicagoan now living in Omaha – walked up to the car and said to me about the plate, “When I applied for it, they asked me at the DMV, ‘What’s Shy Twin?’
“I was like, oh, jeez.”
Three years later, having since joined the Big Ten headquartered in Shy Twin, er … Chicago, Nebraskans have likely gotten much more familiar with their Midwestern neighbors to the east, from the Windy City to Madison to Columbus.
But not Champaign, a place the Cornhuskers football team still won’t visit as a Big Ten member until 2014. On the flip side Illinoisans have also been missing out on a chance to visit the other Memorial Stadium in Lincoln for a football game – until this weekend, that is.
Yes, two years after Nebraska officially entered the Big Ten, Illinois is finally officially entering Nebraska. And I’m looking forward to being in attendance on Saturday morning when the Illini (3-1) open the conference season against the Huskers (3-1).
Gameday at UNL (that’s what the locals call it) is quite the experience – and something that I experienced previously in 2009 when the Huskers’ opened the season by crushing Florida Atlantic 49-3.
As Illinois preps for their game, however, here’s some knowledge to help you prep for Nebraska – in case you’re headed to Lincoln too, or ever end up there. Know that Husker fans like their unique beverages. That includes the Elk Creek, an orange juice-flavored cocktail available at Sandy’s on O Street where the ring a bell when you order one. Another favorite is Red Beer, which is beer mixed with tomato juice … really.
At Memorial Stadium in Champaign, fans chant “ILL-INI.” At Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, they chant “HUSKER-POWER.” And at Huskers games, they don’t launch T-shirts into the stands, they instead launch hot dogs, using a funky contraption called “The Wienerschlinger.”
Nebraska also begins each game by entering the field in a deafening ritual called “The Tunnel Walk” and, in perhaps my favorite college football fact, on gamedays Memorial Stadium (pop. 92,000) becomes the third largest “city” in the state, behind only Omaha and Lincoln itself.
Nebraska fans are also very classy. After every game, those seated in the section near the visitors’ locker room applaud the opposing players as they exit the field.
No matter if the Huskers win or lose.
Here’s to hoping they lose.
Bowling ’em over
How significant is the Nebraska game for Illinois?
If they pull off the upset – and it is conceivable considering the shakiness of the Huskers’ defense – the Illini are possibly, and perhaps even probably, a six-win bowl team.
Who would have thought that at the start of the season?
If Illinois loses to the Huskers, however, they have tough home games against Wisconsin and Michigan State lined up next, leaving the ultimate direction of the season anyone’s guess.
Red vs. Big Red
The Illini and the Huskers haven’t met since 1985-86, when Nebraska smoked Illinois 52-25 and 59-14 in a home-and-home series.
But neither of those contests are the most interesting Nebraska-Illinois game in the schools’ history. That would have to have been on Oct. 6, 1923, when Red Grange donned an Illini uniform for the first time and kicked off his legendary football career by romping for three touchdowns and 125-yard punt return yards in a 24-7 win in Champaign.
The Illini don’t have a Red Grange this season, but with Bill Cubit’s offense they may have more than a Galloping Ghost of a chance vs. the Huskers.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.