LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) As always, Nebraska fans showed up in big numbers for the spring game.
The vibe was different this time.
This cool, misty Saturday was all about native son Scott Frost and his first appearance coaching in Memorial Stadium, albeit in nothing more than a scrimmage.
Frost led the team for the traditional “Tunnel Walk” entrance with a rocked-up version of ”Come Together” blaring as he made his way from the locker room to the field. He received a standing ovation as he walked back into the tunnel at the end, and he returned the love by raising both arms.
”Personally that was special for me, walking out of the tunnel and hearing the fans,” Frost said. ”That brought back more memories than a lot of other things have. Just the smell of the stadium, with the food in there, it took me back a long time. It was a pretty special day for me.”
How much anticipation was there among one of the nation’s most passionate fan bases? Spring game tickets went on sale the first week of February and were gone in 25 hours. Asking prices on the secondary market for the $10 tickets initially ran into the hundreds of dollars. Attendance was a school spring-game record 86,818.
Yes, all this was for Frost, who grew up 90 minutes west of here in Wood River, quarterbacked the 1997 Cornhuskers to a 13-0 season and a share of the national championship in Tom Osborne’s final year as coach, and returned to Nebraska in December as the hottest coach in the land after leading Central Florida to a 13-0 record.
”It’s like Frost is the second coming of Tom Osborne. You can just sense it,” said tailgater Jess Zeiss, 47, of Omaha, who has been going to games since he was a child.
Frost hype began to ramp up before Mike Riley finished the 4-8 season that led to his firing. ”Come Home Scott Frost” flashed on a message board outside an Omaha store that sold T-shirts saying ”Frost Advisory: Make Nebraska Great Again.”
The state’s largest newspapers run daily stories on the Huskers, and the Omaha World-Herald is even selling a $4.99 comic book telling the story of how Nebraska lured Frost back to his alma mater.
All this brings words of caution from Gary Mouden, who attended his first game in 1945 and is president of the Las Vegas Nebraskans booster group.
”They’re taking the field with a team that won four games last year,” Mouden said. ”I’m hoping everyone will factor that in and realize they probably aren’t going 11-1. This is a murderous schedule Nebraska is facing this fall. You like the enthusiasm this staff brings, and they’ve had a lot of success. But I hope people just relax for a while and let all this unfold. It’s not going to happen overnight.”
As far as the spring game went, it had the regular fare of penalties, missed assignments and botched plays. However, the Huskers might have seen the future of Frost’s up-tempo spread-option offense in freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez. He ran for a game-high 60 yards and three touchdowns and completed 10 of 13 passes for 114 yards and a TD.
Frost spent most of the afternoon standing in the offensive backfield with his hands in his pockets. Offensive coordinator Troy Walters called the plays.
”I was kind of enjoying the day a little bit as a fan,” Frost said. ”I don’t get to just watch football very often. I was coaching some but also just taking it in and enjoying the experience.”
Nebraska football historian and author Mike Babcock said no previous coaching hire inspired so much buzz. The default for comparison purposes is the arrival of Bob Devaney in 1962. Babock said it doesn’t ring true.
Devaney was not celebrated initially. He came from Wyoming, and athletic director Tippy Dye’s first choice was Hank Foldberg of Wichita State. Devaney’s popularity didn’t peak until he led the Huskers to national championships in 1970-71.
The hiring of Devaney’s hand-picked successor, Osborne, elicited a wait-and-see attitude from fans in 1973. Though Osborne never won fewer than nine games in any of his 25 seasons, it took him a decade to hit his stride, and Osborne’s last five teams combined to go 60-3 with three national titles.
The 43-year-old Frost is the fifth coach in 20 years since Osborne’s retirement. He signed a seven-year contract paying him $5 million annually. Given his track record as Oregon’s offensive coordinator and UCF’s head coach, and his national championship pedigree as a player, the fan base is all in.
”I sense that Nebraska fans will give him a little more time than some of the other guys because he is a native son,” Zeiss said. ”I hope he can get it done. I think most fans have faith he can do it.”
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