Bill Kuhlman, a builder of custom houses from Seward, is a love-at-first-sight type of guy.

It was that way when he met Linda, his wife of 32 years.

His move from Glendale, California, to Nebraska in the early 1990s, too, was blissful from the beginning — as was his introduction to college football and the Huskers.

"I love this," he said Saturday from a small, tree-lined parking area just west of Memorial Stadium. 

What's not to love? The bright-blue skies and crisp early-autumn air gave the first hint that the summer heat looks to be on hiatus for another year. It was a perfect day for tailgating — and an ideal day for football.

But you get the feeling Kuhlman and his clan of tailgaters — friends and family members that include sons Russell, a Blackhawk helicopter pilot with the Nebraska National Guard, and Rob, the fitness manager at Genesis Health Club on Old Cheney Road — would be soaking up the same kind of enjoyment in 20-below-zero conditions.

Saturday, they dined on submarine sandwiches and all the trimmings, which could be considered a step down from past pregame meals that have featured Kuhlman's famous Billy chili, a concoction that contains both steak and ground beef, as well as the usual four-alarm ingredients.

There have even been pregame meals prepared in a wok and there were times when grilled octopus — that's about as exotic as it gets in land-locked Nebraska — is the chef's special.

"We like to have fun out here with our menu," he said, saying as many as 70 people stop by each week.

Simplicity was a prerequisite Saturday. After the glitz, glamor and gaffes of last week's ESPN "College GameDay" appearance and nationally televised thumping at the hands of Ohio State, homecoming Saturday was a day to cautiously get back on the horse.

"I was a little disappointed last week," Kuhlman said. "I didn't want to get embarrassed. I was certain we were going to lose, but I didn't want to get embarrassed. Ohio State was a far superior team. They're on a different level."

But even with the 48-7 loss to the Buckeyes, Kuhlman was proud of the fan base.

"We were getting our asses handed to us by Ohio State, but the stadium stayed full," he said. "It was sold-out again and the stadium stayed full."

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Notice the word "we"? It's allowed. Kuhlman considers himself a true Husker fan in spite of his California roots. No, he wasn't born into it, but he took his vows freely and without reservation. 

Funny thing is, he never saw it coming.

"Being from LA, I am a pro football fan," he said. "I never watched college football. I never watched UCLA. I never watched USC. I was a Rams fan."

That changed when he met Linda, a native of Nebraska who had relocated to southern California. She continued to follow the Huskers from the Left Coast and would eventually take him to his first college football game — Nebraska's 18-9 victory against Arizona State in Tempe, Arizona — in September 1991.

From then on, he was hooked.

"I loved that these kids plays with such heart," he said. "There's no money in it. They have heart."

A year later, with three young kids in tow, they left California and moved to Nebraska, a move that coincided with the Huskers' run of national championships in 1994, 1995 and again in 1997.

"I've seen how great this football program can be," he said. "People our age know how great it was and we want to see that again."

Nebraska's football success was just an added perk to a new life — and a new lifestyle.

"It was a better place to raise kids," he said. "I got out of life in the fast lane. I traded concrete and steel for the country."

That sound you hear is the echo of contentedness. When Kuhlman said he loved this, he wasn't just referring to his Husker Saturday.

He loves the whole package. His family. His lot in life. The Huskers represent a weekly affirmation of a 58-year-old guy who believes he's hit life's lottery.

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


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