Nebraska wasn’t going to let a little thing like a global pandemic get in the way of putting on a spring game. So rather than on the FieldTurf of Memorial Stadium, Nebraska hosted a virtual spring game using the magic of EA Sports’ NCAA Football 14 to simulate a game between two squads of Nebraska legends.
Streaming the game online and having it called by an at-times-bemused team of Gary Sharp and Matt Davison, Nebraska fans got a few blessed hours of something at least resembling a game day. And the game didn’t disappoint. The White Squad erased a 16-point deficit with under two minutes to play to send the game in overtime, then sealed the win with an interception of Tommie Frazier after the Whites had kicked a field goal.
We got at least something resembling a game (not to mention a smart and particularly handsome analyst nailing the winning squad and the margin of victory), so let’s dust off the cobwebs and do a game review!
What a game! I’m not too proud to admit that I was into the game by the end of it. Yeah, it did feel a little weird locking in on a video game simulation, but by the end I was glued to the edge of my seat. When Eric Crouch was de-cleated at the goal line, I made a disturbingly loud noise (at least if you talk to my wife, she’ll say it was disturbing).
When the Whites tied the score with a two-point conversion, I shouted. When the Reds ran the clock out and played for overtime, I was out-loud criticizing the decision. And when Frazier’s pass was intercepted to seal the game – well, I felt feels I hadn’t felt since sports went away.
Thank you, Nebraska, for that.
All-star rosters. Seriously, how cool was it to see all those Husker greats playing alongside each other? Seeing Bob Brown working to shut down Ndamukong Suh? Watching Mike Rozier truck-stick, well, everyone? Seeing Stanley Morgan catch a touchdown from Crouch? That’s the stuff Husker dreams are made of.
Now, Nebraska, are you going to make those rosters available for the rest of us to use on our old consoles, please?
Nebraska fans show up again. Over 24,000 people were watching the livestream of Nebraska’s virtual Spring Game on Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, and on Nebraska’s website. Take a look at this in comparison.
Nebraska’s virtual Spring Game out-drew West Virginia’s actual Spring Game last year. It had more viewers than last year’s Spring Games of Arkansas, Pittsburgh, and Arizona State – combined.
Never change, Husker Fan.
It’s still not football. The virtual Spring Game was a wonderful little blessing, an oasis of normalcy in the sur-reality that has been life with the novel coronavirus. But once the game was over, reality has an unfortunate habit of rearing its ugly head.
We didn’t get to go to Memorial Stadium on a beautiful spring afternoon. And with the response of the federal government to the pandemic being … not the greatest, it’s an open question whether college football will start on time, or with fans, or with a full season.
Of course, that’s not what’s really important. As of the time of writing, 39,015 Americans have died from COVID-19 or complications from it, a number that is still hard to really grasp in scale or scope. So if college football has to wait to prevent that number from going up, then wait it should.
But it doesn’t make its absence any less sad for those of us who spent an afternoon watching a video game.
Six-year-old technology. I was amazed at how well the graphics of NCAA Football 14 held up, even on a big-screen TV. But, come on, the game is six years old. The real NCAA is just now taking baby steps towards moving on athletes being able to use their own name, image, and likeness, which is the lynchpin for the return of a college football game. Hopefully the loss of revenue from cancelled sports (including March Madness) will spur the NCAA to find new sources – like what could be earned from a next-generation college football game.
Disturbing accuracy. During the virtual Spring Game, Nebraska was consistently unable to manufacture an effective screen game. The first touchdown of the game was set up by an interception of a swing pass out to the flat. And yet again, Nebraska did not score a touchdown in overtime – even though it was Nebraska on both sides of the ball.
Say what you will about the last-gen graphics, but the game got Nebraska pretty spot on.
AND THE RESTORATION OF COMMUNITY
So, why did that work? Why did just about everyone who watched the virtual Spring Game come away with positive feelings?
Well, the most obvious answer is because we’re all starved for sports, and we’ll take what we can get.
But I think it’s more than that. As the game was going on, and I was live-tweeting and interacting with others, it really struck me how much this community of fans is a large reason why sports are so important. People of different ages, different backgrounds, different political persuasions, are all able to set aside whatever differences they may have and enjoy a collective experience watching a game.
Where else in 2020 America does that happen? Even before the term “social distancing” became ubiquitous, the defining characteristic of life in America as been how people retreat to their own bubbles, never interacting with those outside of a very specific circle.
Sports dissolve all of that. Bernie Bros and MAGA enthusiasts have common ground in complaining about how Nebraska’s 3-4 scheme struggles against a power rushing attack. Avocado-toast-eating millennials and OK Boomers can talk for hours about the merits of Luke McCaffrey making a position switch if Adrian Martinez is able to find his freshman form.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that one of the great joys in my life is, on game day, to sit with 90,000 of my best friends from all walks of life and enjoy the shared roller-coaster of emotions that is the big, dumb, loud, stupid, and wonderful game of college football.
I’ve missed y’all. I hope we can get together again soon.