By: Jack Mitchell
In October, 2011, Nebraska football and its fans made their initial trek to Madison, Wisconsin as members of the Big Ten. The game didn't go well, but afterwards, there were glowing reports of the electric stadium atmosphere that the Badgers' people had whipped up. Those dispatches led to some discussion on the morning show I was doing at the time with John Bishop and eventually a piece in the Lincoln Journal Star by Jeff Korbelik. In talking to Jeff about the article on-air the week after the game, we openly wondered if Memorial Stadium could add something new in the vein of "Jump Around" in Wisconsin or even "Sweet Caroline" at Red Sox games: An in-game tradition that becomes a destination moment for fans and that enahnces the Husker home field advantage a bit. I assumed that the people behind the in-game experience at NU weren't necessarily looking for something new, and I never really intended it to be some sort of formal proposal, but it was an entertaining discussion and quest, and talk radio hosts like those.
In the process of looking for musical uniqueness not found on any volume of ESPN's Jock Jams CDs, I hit Johnny Cash's "God's Gonna Cut You Down" while browsing my music catalogue, which I'd always liked, but had never thought of as a stadium anthem. There was something about the "Man in Black"/Blackshirts concept, the rigid ethic of the song and its foreboding beat that made me wonder if it could help restore some of that intimidation factor that's occasionally lacking in our fan and family-friendly venue. After floating it a bit on social media and making the case for it on the show for a couple days, I got a little bit of positive feedback, which eventually led me to suggest it to some of the NU programming people.
Nothing much came of it, which I wasn't surprised or offended by in any way, and I essentially forgot about it until yesterday's Tunnel Walk of Shame article. After Mr. or Ms. TWOS somehow recalled my two-year-old, short-lived campaign for the song and the ensuing discussion with Dave and Chris on today's morning show, I started getting a lot of new questions about it, and a fair amount of people letting me know I should push for it again. I certainly don't expect the NU people with gobs more expertise, experience and training in branding, marketing and in-stadium experience than me (many of whom I know and are ridiculously talented) to fall over themselves about this suggestion, but I thought I'd spell it out again in full, mainly because it's a fun thing to think about and it beats the crap out of this week's never-ending "Should we fire our coach?" drone.
So, go ahead and fire up the song below and continue reading...
Imagine the third quarter in a tight game having just ended and as soon as the PA announcer finishes his spiel, every non-essential scoreboard, ribbon board and video screen goes blank for a few moments and the stadium knowingly goes church-like silent. After a few seconds of nothingness make it a little eerie to newcomers, the powerhouse Memorial Stadium speakers pump out that sound of the sinister Plains winds that prelude the song. Then, without singing along, without screaming, without screwing with their cell phones, 80,000+ start stomping, slapping the benches or slamming plastic cups together in unison with the kick drum beat. The Marching Band's drumline is placed somewhere conspicuous, maybe even in alternate black unis, pounding away in cadence with the rhythm, leading the creepy church service/death march. The sound in and around the stadium would be completely unique, and after an extended lead-in, the song begins.
You can run on for a long time/
Run on for a long time/
Run on for a long time/
Sooner or later God'll cut you down/
Sooner or later God'll cut you down.
And I'll leave it to the video production experts here, but it's pretty easy how some football imagery, maybe even in the old-style, quick-hitting way done in Cash's music video, could be employed in perfect sync with those lyrics. Maybe Blaine Gabbert getting stuffed by the 'Shirts at the goal line. Maybe J.J. Flanagan inexplicably fumbling. Maybe Russell Bellomy desperately heaving ducks. There are literally hundreds of ways you could go to channel those moments where the opponent was overwhelmed by Memorial Stadium, past and present, throughout the video.
Go tell that long tongue liar/
Go and tell that midnight rider/
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter/
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut 'em down/
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut 'em down
I know, we're nice people, but how cool would it be to see video of Nebraska's most villain-like opposing coaches in history being frustrated by the Huskers during these lines? Barry Switzer. Steve Spurrier. Bill McCartney. Heck, even Kirk Ferentz or Mark Dantonio.
I think you can let your imagination run from there. Mix in highlights with more cold, quick-hitting imagery, which wouldn't all have to be football related. Quick black and white shots of bugeater-era team photos, shots of unforgiving landscapes, tornadoes, I don't know--this is where the creative types finish it up. Mix it all together in one slightly dark, creepy melange of Husker football, Nebraska ruggedness, and the bad guy going down.
Is it perfect? Probably not. You probably would have to transition it into something upbeat to really maximize the energizing potential. Would it seem weird in games where Nebraska was way ahead (or behind)? Yeah. Does it have potentially controversial religious overtones? Yup. Is it theologically perfect? This pastor's son doesn't think so. But flaws aside, there's something uniquely appropriate about it that I can't quite totally put into words. Johnny Cash singing about getting what you deserve is more Nebraska than anything I've heard in a stadium. I know there's probably concern about being demographically divisive with any in-stadium music, but Cash has somehow managed to bridge the rural farmer and the college hipster as much as any artist I can think of. Plus, I get the feeling that it'd eventually get shown on TV, passed around youtube, etc., like all those videos of the Ohio State band we've been seeing.
In any case, If you like the idea, suggest away to the powers that be at the Department. If they think it's a good idea, maybe it'll go somewhere--I trust their judgment after having spent some real time actually delving into the process with them two years ago. If you creative types have more ideas or want to try and conceptualize it, go for it. And if it goes nowhere, that's fine too, I'll still be that media member who's admittedly a full-out fan, wearing my lucky jersey and yelling at the refs. I'll just be really sick if someplace like Kansas State steals the idea.