As another football season comes to a close, for some 3,000 Miami football fans, one game will be long remembered above all others — and it was not the heartbreaking loss to Florida State. It was the Sept. 20 game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Lincoln, Nebraska.
Every year I go with my son, cousin and assorted friends to a Miami away football game. This is not something that I do as a trustee of the university, but rather as a way to visit other college campuses, athletic venues and, of course, express our passion for the Hurricanes. Being harassed by fans from Seattle (home of the Washington Huskers), Blacksburg (home of the Virginia Tech Hokies) and Boston (home of the Boston College Eagles) is part of the fun. It helps to build memories that bind family and friends in a way that is unique to college athletics.
Shortly after arriving in Omaha for the University of Miami/Nebraska game, someone said, “Good luck tonight.” My first reaction was that it must be a sarcastic Nebraska fan who probably had too many beers. However, this fan was not drunk. His well wishes were followed by an endless stream of people saying “Welcome to Lincoln.” “Enjoy the game.” “Is there anything we can do for you?”
For the Miami fans who traveled all the way to Nebraska this was a surreal experience. We could not have been further from Miami culturally and behaviorally. This was the heartland of America, where most people seemingly look and act alike. These are the people you believe embody values of family, service, religion and hospitality. Even the one Nebraska politician I know, Sen. Bob Kerrey, was a Medal of Honor winner and incredibly authentic.
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Lincoln Field is a beautiful stadium. It has a capacity of 87,000 but it feels intimate. It encourages you to know the people you sit next to. For the past 340 home games, during winning and losing seasons, Nebraskans had faithfully gone to Lincoln Field and filled it to capacity to support their beloved Huskers in a sea of red. The sell-out streak was, at that time, an NCAA record.
For Miami fans, it was a singular experience. We were all dazzled by the genuine sincerity and well wishes of the people we encountered at the stadium. Would it surprise you to know that it was contagious? Miami fans were not only nice to each other but also responded in kind to the Nebraska fans. You can’t make this stuff up. Ask anyone who went to the game, and they will tell you it was one of the best college football experiences they ever had.
Back at the hotel after the game, I asked one of the bartenders why everyone was so welcoming. He said, “We don’t get many visitors, so we think we should be nice to the ones we do meet!”
So it obviously begs the question of what people are like in Miami. Even those of us who love Miami have to admit that people here can be rude. You say hello and get a blank stare in return. People hold up rush-hour traffic while they text. We support our home town teams more with our mouths than with actual attendance, and only then if the teams are winning.
We hear outsiders characterize Miami as an event town, more interested in style over substance. Never mind that in the last two years we have voted to tax ourselves to support our public schools and the public hospital.
When enough people say things like that you start to believe it. But that would be wrong, and here’s why: What is a football game without a hot dog and Coke, right? At halftime, my son and I went to the concession stand and, unbelievably, a Nebraska fan paid for it. This seemed like too much hospitality, and I tried to demur. Finally, I asked why they would possibly buy my refreshments. They told me the night before in a local watering hole they met some wonderful fans from Miami, who ended up buying their drinks. The people left before they could say thank you. Buying our refreshments was their way of
repaying that kindness. So smile, Miami — we are nicer than we think!
Mike Abrams is former chairman of the Dade Democratic Party, former state legislator and currently a policy adviser to Ballard Partners.