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The Killigans bring back 'The Cornhusker' fight song

The Killigans bring back 'The Cornhusker' fight song

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Nebraska fans know “Dear Old Nebraska U (There Is No Place Like Nebraska)” and “Hail Varsity.” But there’s another rarely heard Nebraska fight song titled “The Cornhusker.”

Written in 1909 by Robert W. Stevens, it was dubbed “The Official Field Song of the University of Nebraska” and became deeply ingrained in Nebraska football culture.

"I have so many great memories about Nebraska, and when I think of my experiences there, many of our traditions come to my mind,” 1940 All-American tackle Forrest Behm told Husker historian Mike Babcock. “I guess the thing I will always remember fondly is when we would gather together in that old, crummy locker room before the game and sing 'Come a Runnin' Boys,' and then rush out the door ready to dominate. I still know all the words."

Behm and his teammates had a strong, emotional connection with “The Cornhusker,” Babcock said.

“It sounded like it was a big part of the preparations for the game," he said. "They also tapped the horseshoe back in the '30s. I think it was a tradition that got lost over the years. But it meant a lot to those guys. It was kind of a bonding thing. …We talk about the Tunnel Walk now, and they play the Alan Parsons Project at the intro. At the time, that (singing of ‘The Cornhusker’) was the equivalent of that.”

“The Cornhusker” faded away after World War II and has, of late, been little sung.

It’s being brought back by the Killigans, Lincoln’s Irish folk punk band of Husker fans, who’ve revitalized the old song, probably better known as “Come a runnin’ boys,” its first line. The Killigans version of “The Cornhusker” is premiering now on JournalStar.com. You can hear it here.

“We thought it would be fun to put a Killigans twist on it and maybe start a new tradition,” said bassist Trevor Nebesniak. “We want to get it out and see what people think of it. It could be really cool to have it get out there and have people singing along and have it used for Husker stuff.

“We’ve always talked about doing something neat, and we’d heard of this song. We’d tried writing some of our own stuff. But the more we heard about this song and about how the coaches used it to get the team rallied up way back when, we thought we should just find a way to do ‘The Cornhusker’ Killigans style.”

That process happened like this:

Pat Nebesniak, the band’s accordion and mandolin player who graduated from UNL’s School of Music and was first trumpet in the Cornhusker Marching Band when Nebraska played in the 2002 Rose Bowl, found “The Cornhusker” sheet music in an archive.

During the summer, singer Brad Hoffman and guitarist Chris Nebesniak rewrote the old-fashioned melody and inserted a gang chorus that revved up the song, turning it into a modern singalong anthem. The band worked up the new version and decided it wanted to record it and make a video.

That led to a call to Fuse Recording and producer Charlie Johnson.

“Charlie said, ‘Come on in, let’s make this happen’,” Trevor Nebesniak said. “We went in one Sunday and recorded the song. Charlie mixed it, and we’re just letting the cat out of the bag. Nobody’s heard it until now. We’d still like to do a video, but I don’t know if we could do it justice. We’d like to get some help with that.”

“The Cornhusker” is streaming on Journalstar.com. It will be available on iTunes and on thekilligans.com and will, of course, be heard anytime The Killigans play a show.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7244 or kwolgamott@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSWolgamott.

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