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A unique Husker gameday: What's it like to do public address to no public? Was that the band on the field?
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HUSKER FOOTBALL

A unique Husker gameday: What's it like to do public address to no public? Was that the band on the field?

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Penn State vs. Nebraska, 11.14

Husker fan cutouts fill the North Stadium stands before the team takes on Penn State last Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

What is it like to be a public address announcer at a football game when there really isn’t much public to address?

What information do you put on a video board when there are only so many eyeballs in Memorial Stadium to see it?

What else might be ahead for Nebraska football fans who are now relegated to watching Saturday’s game against Illinois — like Penn State last week and the rest of NU’s games this year — on television, with a second screen to help take them inside Memorial Stadium at least in spirit?

The answers to those questions, in order: It’s weird. Replays and not much else. An up-and-coming country music act as virtual halftime entertainment.

That’s all part of a very odd gameday experience at Memorial Stadium in 2020, but one NU officials are hoping that planning and creativity can help make as good as possible.

For Nate Rohr, public addressing is, perhaps not surprisingly, a little bit odd when his booming voice reverberates more off empty metal bleachers and cardboard cutouts than anything else.

“It kind of reminded me of doing some high school games and, when I was the (Nebraska) softball public address announcer, you’d do a regional game between Leigh and Maine and nobody was there,” Rohr said. “There were times when you definitely felt it. Especially after a big play, I was as excited as I would be normally, but you also sort of ran in your head, 'OK, should I be as loud and as big as I would be?’”

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Somethings don’t really change.

“The basic information is always going to be the same and the other thing is, especially with Nebraska football PA as opposed to basketball or some of the Olympic sports, the public address announcer does more to explicitly hype up the crowd, whereas Nebraska football, one, the crowd’s really smart," Rohr said. "And two, there’s enough going on between the marching band and the HuskerVision sound folks, all of that, to where the crowd knows where to go.

“So what I’m saying didn’t really change much during the game. There might be a little less oomph on it. … At the same time, it’s still the Huskers. It’s still the red jerseys and the white helmets with the red N's and it still matters a great deal to me, so I’m still excited.”

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You may have noticed another familiar sign after Luke McCaffrey’s 1-yard touchdown plunge in the first quarter: red balloons. Not 90,000, mind you, but a good amount. That was Nebraska’s cheer squad, releasing them from each tunnel to the concourse.

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“Luckily, they didn’t have to wait very long,” said senior deputy athletic director Garrett Klassy, who oversees all external operations. 

That, the music and the video replay are all part of walking a line between providing some normalcy for the players and coaches on the field but also understanding where the audience is watching.

“We have to draw a line between creating an environment for the players because they deserve it, versus not having fans in the stands, so we had to split resources really to the second screen to bring the game into people’s homes. Our feedback from the players and the parents of the players was that it felt like a gameday.”

To that end, NU’s streaming efforts racked up more than 90,000 views. They featured a pregame show with local television broadcaster Kevin Sjuts and former NU offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles, and then in-game features like performances by the marching band and the Scarlets, who were let into Memorial Stadium on a Sunday when the football team was off to record their performances.

“I give a lot of credit to HuskerVision because not only are they running in-venue, but they’re also running the second screen and broadcasting on Facebook Live and Huskers.com for the fans, and they have some furloughs in their area, so that group really is spread thin and I thought they did an excellent job,” Klassy said.

The digital production is getting at least one addition this week: a halftime performance from country performer Runaway June.

“We want to find ways to keep engaging our fans, and when you have the best fans in the country, getting artists that want to perform for you is pretty easy,” Klassy said.

Putting on a gameday in the middle of a pandemic, though, is not easy. So far, so good, according to Klassy.

“A lot of the people that work here are either graduates or grew up here, and they take a lot of pride in what they’re doing,” he said. “It’s just as important to the staff as it is to our fans to put on a great performance.”

Contact the writer at pgabriel@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraPG.

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Husker football reporter

Parker joined the Journal Star as the University of Nebraska football beat writer in August 2017. He previously covered Montana State athletics for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2012.

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