Brennan and Brian Downs

Brennan and Brian Downs haven't missed a Husker game — home or away — in a decade. The father-son drive each week from Indiana.

It's roughly 600 miles between Evanston, Indiana, and Lincoln.

More specifically, the distance separating Brian Downs' home and the House that Tom Osborne built — currently being remodeled by Scott Frost & Co. — is 8 hours and 45 minutes, as the Ford Econoline conversion van flies.

Downs knows the journey by heart, as well he should. He and his son Brennan haven't missed a Nebraska football game — at Memorial Stadium or on the road — in more than a decade, and they've skipped just a handful since 2003.

"It’s an addiction," Brian said. "My wife despises football season because we disappear."

Elesha Downs chooses to come on a couple of trips a year, but more often watches the Huskers from the comfort of the family living room.

She wasn't in Lincoln on Saturday, but Brian and Brennan were — along with about 30 others at the loading dock of the Journal Star printing facility at 10th and Q streets.

Yes, they made the long drive this weekend for a scrimmage that consisted of green-shirted quarterbacks (green, in this case, means stop — a don't-tackle reminder to defenders), some of the most talented players on the sideline in street clothes as a precaution and the typical Sea of Red.

"It's been a long four months," Brian said. "We need a little football."

Or in this case, something that looked like football. 

Billing the spring game as football is not exactly accurate. It's like thinking cottage cheese is really cheese. And that it comes months before the next meaningful snap shows the hold this program has on its fan base.

It's much like the creators of "Star Wars" having the gall to announce in April with great fanfare that the next edition of the long-running franchise will hit the silver screen — in December.

But this is Nebraska, a place that has two seasons: Football and the other 35 weeks or so, which allow plenty of time to discuss those 17 weeks that matter each year.

And in Evanston, it allows the Downs family to chart its mileage and create its elaborate itineraries for the upcoming season.

Consider that Brian was feeling pretty satisfied with himself this week that he was able to smooth-talk his way into the purchase of 30 tickets for the Sept. 7 game at Colorado — even after an edict from the Buffalo faithful to keep Folsom Field free of NU fans.

"They're going to be surprised when we show up in our red," he said.

It's those kinds of shenanigans that have made Brian and Brennan's father-son relationship something special, if unorthodox.

"I've had the chance to spend some great time with my son as he grew up," Brian said. "Our family mantra has been, 'We're going to see the entire country, one game at a time.'" 

It hasn't always been easy. And there were a few seasons when it wasn't always fun. But it has never lacked excitement.

So how does an addiction to something like Nebraska football begin from afar? Brian became a fan of the Huskers in the 1980s, when he adopted the program as his favorite.

It was still nearly two decades before he would make his first trip to Memorial Stadium. And then he was officially hooked. It didn't take much to get Brennan on board.

In 2003, then a third grader, he attended his first Husker game, against Troy State.

"There was no encouragement," he said. "I went to the first game and that was that. There was no coaxing."

His school years included a football trip each weekend in the fall. And with the trips came a lot of driving time — and a lot of time for father-son bonding, the chance for open communication and the seeds of a truly special relationship.

When it came time to choose a college, it's no surprise he chose Nebraska.

"There’s not a lot of kids my age who looked forward to their parents visiting, but we always had this and it was fun," he said. "We always looked forward to this."

Brian is back in Indiana. He brought a Lincoln-raised wife with him, and the father-son trips continue like clockwork.

On Friday morning, Brian drops off the dogs at a kennel. They're on the road by 7:15 a.m. There's one pit stop — the replenishing and depositing of fluids — in Booneville, Missouri. They arrive in Lincoln by 4:15 p.m. and check into The Embassy Suites.

For the past six years, Room 901 has been their home away from home. Once there, they clean up, change clothes and grab a bite to eat.

Depending on the game time, they're usually to their parking spot and ready to begin tailgating by 7 a.m.

"We've developed a pretty good strategy on tailgating," Brennan said. "We've gotten pretty good at it." 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7391 or psangimino@journalstar.com. On Twitter @psangimino


Load comments