Husker fans build strong community around the country, world with watch sites

Story and video by Andrew Ward, NewsNetNebraska

Loren Likes sits at a table and sips a beer.

He wears a red Nebraska long sleeve T-shirt tucked into his jeans. A white hat with a red N in the middle sits on top of his head.

He pumps his fist in the air.

“Lets go Red,” he yells, clapping while watching a TV.

Surrounding him, Iowa football fans in their black and gold apparel give him a look and jeer back. All eyes soon travel back to that TV screen though.

It’s Black Friday, and that means Iowa vs. Nebraska—taking place in Lincoln this year—at Beef O’Brady’s in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Outnumbered but loud

Hawkeye fans fill most of the restaurant, but Likes isn’t the only one cheering for the Huskers.

His family sits around him at the table, while 10 to 15 more Nebraska fans are scattered throughout the dining area and bar. And if it the game weren’t in Lincoln, 50 to 75 Husker fanatics would be around Likes.

“Most people went to the game,” said Likes, a member of Eastern Iowans for Nebraska. “So we’re outnumbered today, but we just got to be that much louder.”

Likes, along with other avid Husker fans, have a lot of places—similar to Beef O’Brady’s—to watch Nebraska football around the country, said Derek Engelbert, director of University of Nebraska alumni relations.

Chicago, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, New York. You name it. More than 100 such bars and restaurants throughout the country are connected to one of 90 regional Nebraska alumni groups. And finding these groups is just a click away, as many fans connect via the Nebraska alumni website, Facebook page or other social media outlets.

Click on map to see details about Big Ten Husker watch sites:

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Of course, the organizations do things other than watch football. They host fundraisers and other charity events. But even those somehow become centered around Husker football, Engelbert said.

“It’s just a nice way to connect with everyone,” he said. “It also helps us recruit and network around the world.”

That’s right, the world.

A week before Nebraska hosted UCLA on Sept. 14, a UCLA graduate student called Engelbert, looking for a place to watch the game with some Nebraska alumni — in London. Engelbert made a few calls and connected him with some Nebraska graduate students.

“They got together and had a pretty good time,” Engelbert said. “It was pretty cool.”

Husker and Hawkeye fans gather at Beef O’Brady’s to cheer on their teams: 

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It’s the places closer to home, though, where the Nebraska watch sites thrive. Places like Kirkwood Bar and Grill in Chicago, the official watch site of one of the more enthusiastic alumni Nebraska groups in the country: Chicagoans for Nebraska.

The bar plays Nebraska’s fight song while the group sells T-shirts and holds a raffle during the games. Husker memorabilia is displayed around the restaurant as well.

John Vonterbandt, a Kirkwood manager, is an alumnus of Southern Illinois and has never seen anything like Nebraska’s fan base until he began working at there three years ago. He wishes Southern Illinois had something equal to Nebraska.

“We aren’t very good at anything though,” said Vonterbandt, laughing. “But on a serious not, Nebraska fans are genuinely the nicest people I’ve ever met.”

Carol Overbeck agrees.

Dedicated and genuine 

She has owned Beef O’Brady’s for the past five years now with her daughter and a family friend, who happens to be a Nebraska alumnus. The restaurant has been a Husker watch site for almost as long as it has been in business.

Although she isn’t a fan herself, she  appreciates the fans’ dedication, and especially how genuine the people are.

“If there are two Husker fans sitting in a booth and we are starting to get full, they will automatically let two complete strangers sit with them,” Overbeck said. “Even though they are a tight community, they don’t care who they are with while watching the game.”

Likes sees it that way too.

On Black Friday, as Iowa scores another touchdown to go up 14-0 on Nebraska in the second quarter, Likes sneers in disgust. A Hawkeye fan smacks him on the back of the shoulder and makes a comment. Likes just laughs and gives the guy a colorful remark back.

Sure, Nebraska is losing, but he would rather watch the game with 50 Iowa fans and 10 Husker fans than by himself.

“The camaraderie is great here,” he said. “You just can’t get enough Nebraska football.”

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