On the cusp of the final Husker football game of 2017 — one with no prospect of a bowl game for the first time since the 2007 season — the traffic jammed, music blared from “Do the Dock” at 10th and Q streets and a sea of red converged on Memorial Stadium on Friday.

But season ticket-holders and longtime fans Tod and Carla Ochsner were in their seats as they always are before kickoff — and the crowd was light.

“That was disappointing,” Tod Ochsner said.

Still, the stadium filled up — and Nick Fox’s straw cowboy hat flew into the air six minutes into the game when the Huskers scored the first touchdown.

Brent Thelander drove nearly 300 miles from his home in Grant and spent the night in Lincoln like he always does so he could see the Huskers play — and didn’t consider not coming Friday.

But this year was different for Jay Grossnicklaus, who grew up in Shelby and came back from his home in Las Vegas to spend Thanksgiving with his family and go to a Husker game like he always does.

“Coming up here, for the first time in my life, I didn’t really care about the outcome either way,” said Grossnicklaus, whose family has had season tickets since 1966. 

He's been to three national title games, and is still a fan who follows recruiting news. He had high hopes at the beginning of the season. 

“At this point, you just want it to be over,” he said.

Dan Treat, who coaches junior high football in Doniphan, was optimistic at the beginning of the game, thinking the Huskers could win the season finale.

“We have a shot. We always have a shot,” he said, and it’s no different at the end of this season. “It feels like a game. To me, that’s the great thing about Nebraska. Each game is an event.”

Fox, whose overalls, Husker shirt and cowboy hat hint at how deep his loyalties run, remains a fan despite the Huskers' setbacks but would like to see enthusiasm from the team, its heart and spirit.

“That’s been missing. I haven’t seen the passion this year,” he said. “We need someone to come in here and light the fire. To start it.”

Debbie and Steve Jensen of Omaha — season ticket-holders for a decade — brought their granddaughter to her first Husker game and say there is still nothing like being at Memorial Stadium on gameday, despite the disappointing season.

“They need to rebuild,” said Debbie Jensen, who would like to see Coach Mike Riley get another year.

That wasn’t Eric Arneson's opinion, which was emblazoned on his T-shirt, which read, “FROST: Make Nebraska Great Again.”

“We need a change,” he said while tailgating before the game.

Eric Knutson agreed. Riley’s a nice guy, he said, but nothing is happening and fan apathy has set in.

Arneson wants the team to be competitive again.

“I’m not saying it’s supposed to be the '90s, I just don’t want to be embarrassed every time we are on TV.” 

Todd Buel, who farms near Roca, came because it was a nice day — and he couldn’t give his tickets away.

“It’s just been one thing after another this year.”

Kelli Anne Francis of Omaha, who hosted a tailgate near the stadium, said she’s sad for the players — especially the seniors — who are talented, work hard and represent the team well.

“As a fan, I’ll have other seasons,” she said. “These players won’t.”

By the fourth quarter, the crowd had thinned out, with much of the red sea opting to miss the end of a painful 56-14 loss to finish the 4-8 season.

Still, early on, when the Huskers scored first, the stadium was full and anything was possible, Fox said he was still in it — no matter the outcome.

“A true fan comes no matter what’s going on,” he said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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