The lights dimmed. A piano melody began its crescendo. Snapshots of Memorial Stadium flashed on the screen at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Someone in the crowd of about 7,500 whispered, “You think it’s Jack?”
“Oh, it has to be.”
A woman leaning over a railing cried: “I have goosebumps already.”
And then the announcer’s voice: “Our 2014 Cornhusker State Games torchbearer — Jack Hoffman.”
The crowd cheered, a different kind of cheering than earlier in the ceremony — none of the waving and whooping that family members did during the parade of athletes or the performance of the trampoline-jumping basketball team AcroDunk or even during the tribute to the troops.
Friday marked the opening ceremonies of the 30th annual Cornhusker State Games, this year held at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The games will run through July 27. This was the first time the opening ceremonies had been held indoors.
This year’s games feature 63 sports — including table tennis, baseball and skydiving — and will have 13,000 participants, the most the games have attracted since 2001.
Next year, Lincoln will host the State Games of America, a national event expected to draw more than 20,000 athletes.
But the anticipation of that event could not overcome the excitement the crowd displayed for Jack on Friday.
When Jack came out holding the torch, the cheering was subdued and yet more resounding.
The torch’s flames illuminated the long, arcing scar running along the left side of his shaved head.
Nebraskans know this kid. They know him by his No. 22 jersey, matching Rex Burkhead’s. They remember his 69-yard touchdown of spring 2013. And they know that although his cancer is in remission, there’s a 50 percent chance it could come back.
The clapping continues as Jack makes his way across the floor. He’s waving his free hand quickly, and he’s only looking at the stage, where the big cauldron awaits the flame he’s carrying.
When he gets there, two members of the Nebraska National Guard lift him up onto their shoulders. He tips his torch and the cauldron flares.
The announcer’s voice again: “Let the Cornhusker State Games begin!”
Outside the arena, 7-year old Avari Osentowski is telling her parents about how awesome it was to be on the floor for the parade of athletes, waving her little green flag at the crowd.
She’s bouncing as she talks, the hem of her too-big Lady Stars hockey jersey bobbing over her knees. She interrupts herself to say how cool the fireworks were at the end, right after Jack lit the cauldron. “And did you see trampoline basketball guys? They were so awesome.”
Her mom, Tiarra Osentowski, looks down at her daughter, who plays so many sports she can't even list them without taking a deep breath.
It’s the family's first State Games, but Tiarra can’t imagine what the opening ceremonies could have done better.
And Jack carrying the torch?
“Oh, I definitely had tears in my eyes,” she said.