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2009 Sep 03

50 Husker Fans, 50 States: Big Red in the Big Sky

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By HuskerLocker

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Our next fan story comes to us from the incredible state of Montana, where John Ilgenfritz has been living in Helena for many years. There are some terrific memories from this Fremont native that we suspect you’ll identify with quite a bit. Gameday memories that make us wish that it was the old days again.

We also think you’ll really like the comparisons John makes of Nebraska and Montana, which is NU…on a smaller scale.

And read until the end, Husker fans. There is a story about commitment, passion and the enduring ties of Nebraska football that you’ll want to share with your friends and family.

Enjoy, and remember: If you want to be a part of this series…you can! Just email us at sam@ne.statepaper.com. We’ve got quite few stories to tell yet, but we want yours, too!


Q: Tell us a little of your personal history as a Husker fan. Were you born into the Big Red Nation? Did you attend school there? Just decided to follow the program from afar? Did you grow up in Nebraska? How did you get to living where you are today?

A: I was born in Fremont in 1946, graduated from Fremont High in 1964 and Midland Lutheran College in 1968. I met my future wife, Sheena in May, 1976 when we were both in Glasgow, MT. visiting students we recruited for Mountain Plains Education Program, a program to teach low-income families job skills and help them find jobs upon completion. Sheena was working out of the Idaho office and I the Nebraska office. In September I moved to Idaho, we were married on Jan. 1, 1977. Two years later we moved to Montana to be close to her mom after the death of Sheena's dad.

How hard, or easy, is it to follow the Huskers from where you live? Do you watch the games at home? Listen on the radio? Use the internet? Is there a “watch site” in town you like to frequent? Also: How many Husker fans are there in your area?

It is difficult to watch the games. Most games are only cast regionally, so we receive the Pac 10 games. If it is a national telecast only available on cable I locate a tavern that carries it. Sometimes I have to drive to 2 or 3 before I find a bar that carries it. Even if it is on network TV sometimes it is preempted by a Montana Grizzlies game.

If I cannot watch it, I listen to the game on the computer. No watch site that I am aware of, most folks watch in their own homes. Whenever I see someone with a Big Red hat or T-shirt I will talk with them, inquire where they are from and talk about the team.


How often do you get back for games? What’s the last game you’ve been to? How has the Husker experience changed over the years? Will Nebraska be playing a game in your area any time soon? What’s the predominant college or pro team in your area? How is that fan base similar or different to Nebraska’s fan base? Hear a lot of trash talk about the Big 12, or anything like that? Give us an example of how Nebraska fans might be the same or different from some of the fans in your area.

Montana is like Nebraska in that there is no predominant pro team. As for college, Carroll College at the NAIA level and Montana and Montana State at the higher level.

I get back to Nebraska every couple of years, over the past 10 years, primarily for funerals. I haven't been to a game since the 1980s. When my dad and mom moved to Arizona in 1982 they gave up their football tickets.

The Nebraska experience, for me, was all about family and tradition. I loved the Devaney-Osborne-Solich link. I was very disappointed by the decision to replace Frank with Bill Callahan. No offense to Callahan. It felt like a messy divorce.

The closest Nebraska gets to Montana is probably Colorado.

Living in Helena, the home of the Carroll College Fighting Saints (NAIA), we have grown accustomed to national championships. I believe they have won 5 or 6, were runner-ups last year and are rated 2nd in the polls this year.

The Montana State/Montana game is always a big deal . . . it feels like Oklahoma/Nebraska on a smaller scale. My wife is an alum of U of M and we go to the games when she can get a ticket. It’s about a 100-mile drive to Missoula on game day. You will see a stream of cars all with bumper stickers or special license plates. At the stadium there is quite a tailgate, with big RVs parked close to the stadium. I believe the stadium seats around 20,000 and it always seems full. The U of M has won a national championship and they played in the title game last year. They often win the Big Sky Conference Title .

Nothing compares to Nebraska fans . . . they are the best bar none. However, I do enjoy going to the U of M games as the electricity in the stadium gives me a small reminder of Nebraska. We only go once or twice a year and sit with friends of my wife that she has known since college.


What’s one or two unique things about where you live? What makes it stand apart from other places?

We have lived in Helena for close to 30 years. It is the capitol city and about 28,000 in population. Most any place we want to go we can walk to. Within a mile of where we live are Carroll College, the Myrna Loy theatre (musical presentations and special movies in the former jail - beautiful building), GrandStreet Theater (local plays and musicals held in a beautiful old building that formerly was a Unitarian Church), the Holter Art Museum, beautiful Helena Cathedral, movie theaters, children museum and more. It is a beautiful community in the mountains.

The people are friendly like Nebraska.


Give us one or two of your favorite Husker memories. They can be from any time period.

My dad and mom had 4 tickets and I would go to games with them. I can remember times when it was so cold that we wrapped our legs in plastic garbage bags to keep warm.

The game day ritual was to stop at Irv's Market on Highway 77 in downtown Fremont to pick up ham and cheese sandwiches on rye. We would take 77 to just past Ceresco, I believe, and, then turn east on a dirt road for 3 or 4 miles so we would enter Lincoln on a road that went under the interstate near the stadium.

I lived in Kansas and Utah from 1968 to 1973, moving to Lincoln in 1973 and which time I met Mike and Sue, neighbors in the apartment next to mine.

I kept in touch with Mike after moving away in 1976. If the game was on TV, we would talk before the game and at the end of each quarter.

If the game was not on TV, mike and I would still talk between quarters and, if it was a barnburner, Mike would place the radio next to the receiver so I could listen to it. Course, this was before computers. We carried out this routine for 25 plus years.

About three years ago I was back in Lincoln to visit Mike, he had MS and had been in Lancaster Manor for a few years, and he passed away while we were watching a game. Mike passed away in the first quarter, but I like to think that Mike saw the last 3 quarter and the Nebraska victory from his own skybox. I miss talking with Mike during the game. That was probably the best part of "Big Red" - the people it brought together.

Since my wife and I married on January 1st, our anniversary often included a 3 or 4 hour window which was reserved for watching the game.

We have been married 32 plus years and this Cornhusker obsession has not adversely affected our relationship.

I am old enough to consider myself a Cornhusker fan, not a Husker fan.


Feel free to add anything you like. It can be a story, an anecdote, a saying, or a simple “Go Big Red!”

I was always a Bo Pelini fan...his hiring as coach feels like a return to "family"...a restoration of the Devaney-Osborne-Solich tradition.

This year I have corn growing in my back yard . . . there are only 6 plants and they only have 5 ears, but it makes me smile. Go Big Red!

Tags: 50 husker fans 50 states

Comments (2)

Profile image for schuskerfan
schuskerfan

Good story!

– May 5, 2010 at 9:03 am

Profile image for Big_Burruss
Big_Burruss

I have a bunch of family from up in MT and I was just up in Helena a few weeks ago; I can definitely second John's comparison of NE people and MT people. They are very similar in their down-to-Earth manner and stuff.

– Sep 3, 2009 at 7:35 pm

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