Top Five Sports Memories, First Place: Hammerin’ Henery

Posted: August 11, 2011 in Sports
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

(*Author’s note: This is the final post in a 5 part series detailing my favorite sports memories of all-time.)

We’ve covered track, basketball, swimming, and even high school athletics in the lead up to the final post in this series.  I’m sure you’re wondering “where in the H is the football?”  A valid question considering that I’m such a raging, lunatic-level fan of Husker football.

The short answer to that is that if this was a list of 50, or even 20 for that matter, all of the other memories from 19-6 would likely be Husker football memories.  In the interest of a little variety I decided to spare you all my innumerable memories of the Huskers’ dominance early in my life and to narrow it down to the truly unique and most special Husker memory of all.

If you haven’t ever been to Memorial Stadium in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska on a Saturday in the fall then you’re truly missing out.  It’s as if the entire city has just grabbed an electric eel from the water and taken a massive bite.  The state picks up and migrates en masse like a wave of red-clad Steinbeck transplants, hauling beef, beer and state pride to one destination.

They call memorial stadium the “Sea of Red.”  And once the Huskers take the field Moses himself couldn’t part the hard-screaming, riotous waters.

This stadium, long the scene of many great memories, was the scene of the singular fondest sports memory that I have ever experienced in my nearly 25 years on the earth.

It was the day after Thanksgiving and the Huskers were slated to play rival Colorado.  Colorado’s stock has fallen greatly, of late, but that hasn’t stopped me from hating them as bitterly as before.  In fact, it has merely made my derision and disdain for them all the greater knowing that, in spite of our recent dominance of the yearly series, they still feel the need to bother showing up and attempting to overthrow the powers that be.  I felt like they were a way-less-heroic, way-more-THC’d up version of Rocky.  You could beat on them all day and they’d just keep toking up and heading back into the center of the ring.

Couple the obnoxious team, replete with a once-majestic beast of the plains that is paraded around weekly in shackles like some remnant of slavery and degradation, and their moronic fan base that is infamous for their skills with urine filled water balloons and for once having their entire student section ejected from a game after tossing garbage onto the field.

(*Author’s note: Pretty un-hippy-like to litter isn’t it, Colorado students?  Not very green.  Stick that in your pipes and smo– oh, wait, your pipes are already full?  Fair enough.)

The game started raucous and rowdy.  The student section at Memorial Stadium is truly the best place to watch a game.  There’s no old d-bags who are ancient enough to have watched Joe Paterno play football who might wheeze at you to sit down in between re-gumming their dentures with a slathering of Fixodent and you can swear as loudly as you want without anyone hearing you over their own swear words.  Or at least that was the way it was when we were all cussing out Shawn Watson.

Colorado, despite their deficiencies, usually manages to make the post-Thanksgiving day matchup less comfortable than it should be.  In this particular game, as evening fell bringing with it the familiar November chill that hovers with the sunlight and washes down as dusk fades to black, the Colorado Buffaloes simply refused to go away.

The stagnant Husker offense couldn’t seem to break loose.  Despite outgaining the Buffs, Nebraska had 7 turnovers that proved to be costly.  The game was tied at halftime and Colorado held a 4 point lead going into the fourth quarter.  In stepped Sophomore walk-0n Alex Henery.  He had already proven to be reliable weapon for the Huskers, hitting 18-21 on the year, but this was a whole new kind of pressure.

Beating Colorado is a right of passage in Nebraska.  It’s a security blanket for fans.  “Well, at least we beat Colorado.”

Something we could always look to at the end of the year, no matter how rough the season had been.  You know, “I just got fired by my boss. . .on the Jerry Springer Show. . .after he revealed that he was having an affair with my wife. . .who turned out to be my sister. . .who turned out to actually be my brother.  But a least we beat Colorado.”  That kind of security blanket.

Henery kicked a 37 yarder to pull the Huskers within one.  Colorado got the ball back and we were in a state of collectively madness.  Howling like a pack of famished, pissed off Banshees, the stadium was seismically shifting; quaking under the footfalls and handclaps of 85,000 maniacs who firmly believed that their voice might be the difference between winning and losing.  Perhaps it was.

Nebraska got the ball back.  They began one last-ditch cling by the fingernails drive down the field.  With heart-wrenching predictability they sputtered and stalled.

Rookie head coach Bo Pelini was faced with a weighty multiple choice question.  Your offense is floating face down in a drained pool of inadequacy.  You’re roughly 50 yards from pay dirt and it’s now fourth and long.  Do you: A.)  Trust your offense that’s been playing like they belong in Lingerie Bowl 2009 instead of the big 12?  B.)  Pull a Husker Houdini and fake the kick with an all-time great sleight-of-hand?  Or C.) Punt and pray?

Pelini chose option D.

He walked over to Henery and asked him if he thought he could make a field goal from an ungodly 57-yards out.  Henery legendarily responded with a mono-syllabic response that will go down in the annals of Husker lore, “Yep.”  Bo sent the scrawniest player on the roster out with the weight of the entire team and 85,000 shocked-into-“just-witnessed-a-murder”-silence fans.

The entirety of memorial stadium turned into a tomb.  It was suddenly stale and breathless and full of furrowed brows and painfully shrugged shoulders.  “This fake will never work,” one of my buddies said.  “It’s way too obvious.”  I remember distinctly feeling like Pelini had finally gone crazy.  That, perhaps he’d chewed his Big Red Gum so hard that it had exploded and given him an aneurysm; that perhaps he literally just reached into his white stretch-fit hat and pulled out a play.

I strung together 7 F-Words in a row, changing them slightly so as not to be redundant, as Henery took the field.  I felt a horrifying sensation as I realized that we were poised to lose to Colorado on our home field.  The 11 pounds of mashed potatoes I had eaten the day before suddenly felt like a soon-to-be-ruptured appendix.

Preparing yourself for losing to Colorado feels like you’re wearing a pair of Nike’s newest shoes the “Air Cinder Blocks II” and you’re somewhere in the bowels of the Titanic when you hear someone shout something about icebergs.

I wasn’t sure what to do.  The stadium was silent.  Even the november night seemed to inhale with us.

Alex Henery did not share our concerns.  He was unconcerned with the distance being nearly 20 yards further than his previous long.  Unconcerned with the fact that Bo’s early coaching tenure was about to be stamped with a monumental, game-winning or losing decision.  Unconcerned with the fact that, despite it being in the 30’s that night, I had suddenly begun to sweat like Shaq at the free throw line.

The ball was snapped.

Henery dashed through the night, through the stillness, through the doubt and panic and disbelief.  He took several long strides and hammered the ball.  He crushed it, really.  I know the cliches that come with moments like these but there really is no other, more original way to put it, time simply froze.

Memorial stadium spun on its axis, frozen like a crimson stadium-lit polaroid.  The king hung on November so long that I thought for sure it wouldn’t come down until New Year’s eve.  Suddenly. . .it was through.  A roar that had been building in the throats of thousands suddenly ripped its way to the air.

Alex Henery had done the unthinkable.

He’d stepped into the game a scrawny walk-on and that kick was his Big Bang.  His legend was born of that kick, of an explosion and great roar, and has been expanding ever since.

Chaos was crowned king in the bleachers that night.  I threw my fiance over my shoulder like a plundering Viking warrior as she frantically high-fived people who were three rows back from us.  There are several scenes in Braveheart where the warriors are so thickly interwoven amongst one another that you can hardly discern who is who.  That is the only comparable comparison that I can make for the student section.

People who had been hammered moments before suddenly found themselves sober.  Those who were sober were drunk; deeply drinking in what had just occurred.  I slapped fives with half of the student body in the span of 30 seconds.  It would have been a downright presidential level of face-to-face time, had I not been screaming hoarsely with what felt like a fractured trachea and wildly swinging my hands into the air like a dictator in mid-speech.

When the band struck up the school’s fight song, in spite of the overwhelmingly honky-as-hell crowd, Nebraska Fans inexplicably kept the beat.  Jubilation was smeared thicker on our faces than the makeup and spray tan combo of the Jersey Shore girls.  We were coated in it.

But Colorado still was going to get the ball back with 1:43 to play.  Nebraska would have to hold.

On second down the Buffs QB, prennial Daddy’s boy Cody Hawkins, dropped back and tried to throw.  The ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage and hung tantalizingly in the air.  It landed right in the Andre-the-Giant-sized hands of one Ndamukong Suh, future Heisman trophy winner (*Author’s note: I know this is technically inaccurate, but c’mon.  He was robbed.  Robbed!) and the stadium volcanically erupted once more.

Suh caught the ball at the 30 and it quickly became clear that he was looking to punctuate Henery’s kick with a 300 pound exclamation point.  He built up steam like only Suh could, as even the national media can attest that’s really f-ing impressive for how enormous he is, and was quickly flying towards six points.  The only thing that stood in his way was a scrambling-to-cover-for-his-mistake Hawkins.

For the second time that game time time suddenly ground down to half-tempo.  It was like we had gone another layer deeper into the dream world of Inception.

Tick. . .Suh was closing in on a gamely determined Hawkins.

Tick. . . Suh stuck out his arm, a cock-dieseled, muscled battering ram of an arm that any Medieval siege-ing king would have been desperate to use as a battering ram.

Time leapt forward in a spastic, desperate heave as Suh and Hawkins collided.  Hawkins leapt in at Suh’s groin like a Rock of Love girl going for Brett Michaels.  Suh’s arm and bigger-than-my-entire-mid-section thigh (*Author’s note: believe me, that takes a lot.) slammed into Hawkins’ helmet so hard that 1 out of 4 spectators may have been concussed.

They collided at the 11 yard line and Hawkins ended up somewhere near the 5.  Watching the youtube video of it, it appears as though Hawkins is rigged up to some kind of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon wire that jerks him spontaneously through the air towards his own end zone.

Suh merely blasted through Hawkins like he was the first man through the paper sign at a high school football game.  He dumped the QB in his wake and even spared a passing look back at the obliterated, would-be tackler as if to say, “Wait. . .did I just run over something” in the same way someone in a Hummer H2 checks their rearview mirror to see if they just ran over a bunny.

He waltzed into the endzone no worse for the wear.

The stadium was in complete madness.  Suh spiked the ball into the wall near the endzone and somehow avoided netting himself a fifteen yard penalty.  Probably because the ref’s head was ringing like he’d just ruptured an ear drum.  It was as though our excitement had been drafting behind Suh’s massive airstream and we slingshotted right around him into full blown pandemonium.

I couldn’t talk for an entire day after.  When I finally could talk I sounded like an amalgamation of Fran Drescher and Christian Bale doing his best Batman.  The picture below best describes the state I was in.

Me, post-game. Not even sure where I got the Hawaiian shirt.

Colorado has decided that they are all too happy to become the dirty rug of the newly minted Pac-12 and we’ve moved on to bigger and better things, but as they say, “We will always have Paris.  If Paris is one of the single greatest husker games ever witnessed.”

FIN

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Comments
  1. madhat says:

    You’re making me stir crazy for the season to start again!
    P.S. I think your Uncle Chuck loaned you the shirt.

  2. Sue Tolles says:

    I agree

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