Night news editor

I am night news editor of the Lincoln Journal Star.

Karan Birdsall didn't have to do much searching for the perfect drink to round out an elaborate menu that was supposed to usher in a new season — along with a new era of Nebraska football — Saturday night.

Mother Nature opted not to oblige her.

Nebraska's game with Akron was officially cancelled after a rain delay of more than 3 hours of waiting and spoiled the coming-out party of a drink that had been in Birdsall's arsenal for at least a decade.

The beverage: A refreshing raspberry and pomegranate concoction served on the rocks — in a red Solo cup, of course — is called a Paradigm Shift.

That drink, at least in name alone, might best epitomize a promised change in attitude among Big Red Nation, which has picked up a reputation for impatience and intolerance since winning its last national championship 21 seasons ago.

Four head coaches later, the fan base finally believes it has its man in Scott Frost, who's been the toast of the town since December — and Saturday, all glasses were raised in his honor.

"We're toasting this paradigm shift," Birdsall said a couple of hours before Nebraska's season was scheduled to begin against Akron. "The paradigm shift might be patience — and we can be patient."

Husker Nation showed some patience on Saturday night, no doubt. But there's a difference between waiting out a rainstorm and giving a new coach the time needed to retool. It's going to take time, most agree. Then again, it might not. Maybe there's no need for patience — or a paradigm shift (unless you're thirsty).

"It’s probably not going to happen this year, but it could," Birdsall said. "Look how fast (Frost) turned around Central Florida."

Rome wasn't built in a day, but the universal sentiment remains resolute: In Scott we trust, even if he can't control the weather. 

Interlude: Favorite T-shirt seen Saturday: Red, duh, and these words: "Devaney. Osborne. Some other guys. Frost."

"There's definitely a new excitement," said Lincoln UPS driver Al Chambers, who sipped a Diet Coke as he looked toward a sky that promised to become threatening by kickoff. "But we have no control over the rain."

The mugginess and light afternoon sprinkles did little to dampen the excitement, which manifested itself in tailgaters arriving as early as 10 hours before kickoff to begin the festivities.

But while Mother Nature didn't stop the tailgating festivities, she did put her stamp on the game.

The kickoff came on time, then lightning forced both teams to their locker rooms.

It cast a pall on a day that began with such unbridled excitement. Chambers and Scott Frankforter got to their familiar grassy knoll outside Haymarket Park at 9 a.m., where they set up their generator, satellite dish and 70-inch high-definition TV, with more than 35 friends and family members eventually arriving.

The technology has become more advanced, but Nebraska football has been one of life's constants for years. Frankforter, a Grand Island pathologist, hasn't missed a Husker home game since 1993. That's saying something, especially when you take into account last year's four-win season, where he and Chambers — try as they might — couldn't give away tickets that once were considered rare commodities.

"We ate tickets all last season," Chambers said. "People were always telling me, ‘If you ever have tickets, I’m interested.’ Then last year happened and it was the first day of duck season. First day of deer season. It’s on TV. It’s too hot. It’s too cold. It’s too windy. It’s not windy enough."

Maybe it was too Riley.

"It's different this year," Frankforter said. "We now have a coach who understands the culture. He grew up in the state. We took it for granted. We thought we’d always be good."

The Huskers hit rock bottom by giving up at least 54 points in each of their last three games —  all losses. Birdsall and Tracey Domgard decided they had seen enough. For Nebraska's final home game, they printed gray T-shirts that featured a snowflake and these words emblazoned across the chest: Pray for an Early Frost.

They'd seen enough, which is saying something. They've been tailgating at Husker games for years and had followed the careers of any former Nebraska player who found his way to the National Football League.

That's how Birdsall discovered the Paradigm Shift. While preparing for a Super Bowl party in 2004 that featured former Husker Grant Wistrom, she did some research on the best drinks being made in Seattle, where the former All-America defensive end was playing.

"It's been on our menu for years," she said. "It just seems more appropriate now."

Birdsall might be Lincoln's queen of cuisine, at least where tailgating is concerned.

With the help of Domgard and Laurie Sieg, the menu for their three-family gathering — and at least one freeloading party crasher — consisted of no fewer than 15 food items, from savory to sweet. 

And she was also smart enough to unpack her bounty beneath the overhang of a parking garage.

Photos: Highlights from gameday


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