Dan Ziegler shows off a lifetime of Husker fandom

Walking down the basement steps in Dan Ziegler’s Aurora home is a little bit like entering a Husker museum.
Truth be told, I felt just a tad guilty that he didn’t charge me admission.
One of the first things I encountered was a beautiful wooden antique cabinet filled with Husker items from the past. Mostly on the wall, but also around the room, visitors will see framed photos, autographed photos, old Husker helmets, bobbleheads, books, old Husker game programs, DVDs and the list goes on.
There’s even a framed note to Dan from the crew of one of the old ESPN college football roundup shows, one his wife Dixie was able to secure a few years ago, spotting the guys at an airport.
“To Dan, Best Wishes, Mark May #73” was one of them. And “To Dan, Dixie says you are the (best) husband and father in the world. Wow. Happy birthday. Don’t count the years but make the years count. Lou Holtz.”
Very cool.
In one of the framed photos from Sports Illustrated, Dan can be seen in the background, just a few rows up in the stands, when Nebraska’s Neil Harris knocked the ball away from Sooner receiver Buster Rhymes with just 32 seconds left in the 1983 game in Norman. That play preserved an undefeated regular season and a 28-21 Husker victory that sent them to the Orange Bowl to play for the national championship against Miami.
So why all this fascination with Big Red?
“I remember watching the game of the century in ’71,” Dan pointed out. “Dad up and down pacing, and Johnny Rodgers running that punt back. And then the next year out at UCLA, I think the game started at 9 o’clock our time. Lyle Bremser on KFAB. I think it was the first time I stayed up past 11 in my life.
“In ’72 I got to my first game, against Minnesota. I was 7. That was it. You’re hooked. That game program is my favorite. That’s the one. You see Johnny win the Heisman and Glover the Outland. I was a young, impressionable kid. Some good stuff.”
Dan said he always buys a program when he attends a Husker game, going all the way back to Tom Osborne’s first year (1973). And some of the old Big 8 pre-season magazines on file bring back a lot of names from the past as well. He said he misses the Big 8 Conference because of the relative close proximity of all the different campuses, being able to make day trips to Ames, Manhattan, Lawrence and more.
“I miss playing Oklahoma,” Dan reminisced. “I did get to all the Big 8 stadiums, but I didn’t get to Texas or Baylor in the Big 12. I remember going to Big 8 games with my dad. He would tell me stories about sitting in the end zone (in Lincoln). I’d hear about Paul Rodgers, Tony Jeter and Freeman White.
“Now, next year will be 30 years I’ll have season tickets. I‘m in the same north stadium, row 24, but when they redid the handicapped seating below, they moved us back 10 rows. But what I like is you can see whether it’s a run play or a pass play, you can see it open up. The play I remember the most is that Oklahoma game in ’01, when they did that pass back to (Eric) Crouch. I like watching the linemen, and then I’ll look up and ‘oh, we caught a pass,’ or, ‘we got 15 yards.’”
He said his fondest memory at Memorial Stadium would be the ’78 Oklahoma game. Dan’s hometown hero (Monroe, Neb.), defensive back Jim Pillen recovered a fumble near Nebraska’s goal line when it looked like Billy Sims would score to beat Big Red in the final few seconds.
“The tickets are framed here somewhere,” Dan said proudly. “We were 10 or 12 rows up behind the Oklahoma bench. I had gotten hit by a pickup and had a broken leg. I’m in a walking cast, but I snuck out on the field afterwards, limping. Today they would charge you $25,000 if you rush the field, or something like that.”
He also has another special memory.
“The ’74 game and that hit that (John) Ruud made on that kick returner that was a fumble, but they said wasn’t. Dale Pillen (Jim’s father) got me into the locker room after the game. I’m 9 years old and I didn’t know how to act. He and Devaney were good buddies. He lived seven miles north of Monroe. I met Coach Devaney, Coach Osborne, a bunch of the players. I didn’t know what to say. I was in awe of all of these guys. Dad waited outside, probably eating popcorn.
“And Dad about got us in a fight in Seattle,” he recalled. “Dad was nuts. We were at the Washington game in ’97 (a 27-14 Husker win) and we were on the Sound. There was a rock patio at a restaurant, and we’re sitting there after the game. It looked like a group of fraternity guys sitting at the next table. He asked them how Washington did and he kept egging them on. I thought I was going to come back home with a black eye. And then they said, ‘Can we buy you a drink?’ But that was Dad. I inherited quite a bit from him.”
These days something has to really pop to catch Dan’s eye in order for him to add it to his collection. Sites on Facebook, Ebay and hey, even Christmas presents are now sources for new material.
“I’m getting to where I like some of the older pictures, the old books,” he pointed out. “I can go onto YouTube and find about any game I want, but I want the hard copy.”
These days, attending Husker football games is certainly a family affair for the Zieglers. Dan will take either son Noah, or daughter Grace, and then switch it up the next time with Dixie taking one of the kids. The trips to Lincoln are good for some quality one-on-one time.
“The running joke when we got married was that Dixie married me for my Husker tickets,” Dan laughed.
Strange as that sounds, around this state it’s probably been known to happen.
There was one additional message to Dan scribbled on that piece of paper, the one Dixie secured at the airport.
“To Dan, Thanks for watching. Best of luck to the Huskers. Rece Davis.”
Given the recent state of affairs in Lincoln these days, true fans, such as Dan, will keep watching. Watching, cheering and collecting.
Cheering on their beloved Cornhuskers, win, lose or headed into overtime. Because that’s what Husker fans do best.
They’ll keep donning their scarlet and cream, their Husker jackets, Husker necklaces, Husker hats and Husker jerseys. Maybe even their Husker underwear, just for that much-needed luck.
That’s who we are, and Dan’s got the stuff to prove it.
DAVE BRADLEY can be reached at advertising@ hamilton.net

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