From cables to sound cones, workers bring game to Husker nation

Ben Blowers holds camera cables for ESPN at the Nebraska-Michigan game Saturday. He says he loves his job, which gets him closer to the Huskers than most all fans. Photo by Nickolai Hammar.

Story by Faiz Siddiqui, NewsNetNebraska

He’s the guy sprinting down the sidelines 30 seconds after the play’s blown dead.

But he’s not crazy. Not that crazy.

Ben Blowers tells friends he works for ESPN, which is technically true, but his job is a little less cool than that sounds. He admits as much himself.

Mostly, he works for the camera, running – and running and running – yards of cable on game days for ESPN’s coverage of Nebraska football. He is, simply put, one of the on-field workers who make game day at Memorial Stadium happen. The people who work the basic, sometimes menial, jobs that the Husker experience would be doomed without.

Camera goes forward? So does Ben Blowers. Camera goes backward? He’s following. Camera topples over and a million screens simultaneously go black?

Safe to say Blowers is out of a job.

But lucky for him, in four years and thousands of yards of cable running from end to end – if somebody were counting, he’d be sitting comfortably ahead of Taylor Martinez in yards rushed – the 23-year-old has never encountered a mishap.

Having worked dozens of games from up close, the guy who saw Alex Henery’s 57-yarder closer than any Husker fan could dream says he still gets chills every time coach Bo Pelini and the players sprint out of that end zone tunnel. He still never misses a chance to high five someone on the sidelines when the Huskers score.

Blowers’ running supports the on-field camera that lets viewers analyze every detail on Martinez’s face, focusing in on the quarterback and the offense for the candids fans crave. He’s probably walked past the two-story camera hundreds of times, but he admits he still doesn’t know what it’s called.

If you’re curious, it’s a Canon Digi Super 72 HD Field Lens.

But among on-field workers, Blowers is quick to describe himself as one of the lucky ones – those who are allowed to stand and actually face the field – though sometimes he can’t see the game over the players.

Jaron Dock cares for the field goal and extra point net during Nebraska's 23-9 win over Michigan Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Dock loves his job despite once getting hit in the face by a Longhorn pass. Photo by Nickolai Hammar.

If Ben Blowers is among the lucky, consider Jaron Dock the luckiest. Say, remember that guy behind the end zone you used to make fun of all the time? You know, the guy who helps raise the field goal net for field goals and PATs?

Dock is that guy. And he says to eat your heart out.

The 26-year-old might have worked a total of three minutes – maybe less – in Nebraska’s 23-9 routing of Michigan on Saturday. Otherwise, he’s on call, watching the game. Calls his “the best job in the state, hands down.”

Two years ago, his new Oakley glasses broke in half after he got hit in the face with a ball thrown by Texas’ Garrett Gilbert. He describes the experience as “cool.”

“Just another reason to hate Texas,” he says, with a laugh.

Oh, and he calls himself a “pulley operator.”

Libby Henschke, 20, of Lincoln, stands within arms’ reach of the action on the field, but usually, she can’t even watch it.

She gauges the Huskers’ performance by fan reaction, something she has plenty of opportunity to analyze as a member of Husker event security.

Henschke works as one of hundreds of orange-vested people-watchers – security officers who stare at crowd members from the field’s outside ring, making sure their intoxication doesn’t pose a threat to those around them. Sometimes, she says, she’ll stand idly for a whole quarter.

But “every so I often I turn around,” she says, referring to the luxury afforded to 86,160 people Saturday night – none of them her.

Rich Dittenber knows the feeling. As the gate operator for reporters’ and photographers’ on-field access, he has to stay on constant alert to make sure fans aren’t running onto the field. For him, that means staying turned around, with his back toward Martinez and Kenny Bell, and face glued to an LCD screen.

“I hardly ever see anything on the field,” the 60-year-old says, from a post about 10 yards to the side of Memorial Stadium’s 25-yard-line.

Sound cone operator Bill Lahnam, who also works for ESPN, stands directly opposite of Dittenber. Wearing a transparent, UFO-like hemisphere on his chest, the 44-year-old says he has an almost exact-opposite experience from Dittenber, too.

The device on his chest is loaded with parabolic transmitters, sound receptors that feed 90 percent of Memorial Stadium’s noise to TVs. In order to collect all that noise – a balance of crowd yelling, loud hits and audibles on the field – he stands facing the action on the sideline, with a clear line of sight.

“Any time you watch a football game on TV, this is what puts you in the action,” he says.

Blowers and company dabbled in work that may have seemed trivial to some on Saturday night. But for them, the posts are sources of pride – any fan’s dream, they all admitted.

In the age of technology, Blowers said, he just hopes the on-field workers will be needed down the line. Like Dock, the glowy-eyed fan said he’d be comfortable working his position for the rest of his life.

He only hopes society continues to rely on cable-runners for as long as he lives. With a laugh, he’ll defend the reliability of cable streaming the death.

But he knows some things are inevitable.

“Of course, once they go wireless, I’m out of a job.”

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