A Winter’s Eve Entertainment

jerry fort Photo copyright Husker.com

It was hard to be a Nebraska basketball fan in the middle 1970’s. Still is, as a matter of fact. Though the team has broken through and has participated in multiple NCAA tournaments, they still have not won a game in the tournament, nor have they won any conference championship since 1950. They did win the NIT in 1996, but no luck whatsoever in the NCAA. They are now the only power conference school who has never won an NCAA tournament game.

Nebraska played basketball in the Nebraska Coliseum. This red brick building was lovingly referred to as “the barn”, and held about 9,000 people if a shoehorn was used to cram them in. There was an arch centered over the court, and there were stands in the south end. The north end only had bleachers, and then there were bleachers that lined both sides of the court. The place was so small and tight that if you were on the front row, you had to move your feet so that a player could throw the ball in. When the place was full on a frozen Nebraska winter night, the warmth and crowd noise was overwhelming.

There was a tradition at the games that everyone stood until the first points were scored by Nebraska. One particularly bad game, we stood against Oklahoma for over 8 minutes of playing time. That was the year when the football team scored 77 points against Army. The basketball team, on the other hand, never scored more than 76 points in a single game. Needless to say, it was a quixotic challenge to be a Nebraska basketball fan. The team did have a winning record my last 3 years, but the frustration had built up.

Nebraska had one guard who had the most unusual shooting style I’ve ever seen. Jerry Fort was the guard who would hold the basketball directly over his head, then flick his wrist to propel the ball towards the hoop. He had a long-range shot that would have been of more value if he played in the 3-point shot era. His shooting style and the Nebraska Coliseum bleachers are shown in the picture at the top. I may be in the picture, since I attended every home game during my 4 years in college. But I was unable to find my face in the crowd. You can see how close the feet in the first row were to the playing surface.

College students being as they are, we were convinced that we knew everything, and so even though in our senior year the team had a good winning record, we were leading cheers against our coach, Joe Cipriano. He went by the diminutive of Cip, and so we were calling out to “Fire Cip”. One game we had assistance from one of our dorm floor residents who worked in the computer science program. He was able to write a program that printed out on those old green computer printout sheets the words FIRE CIP across multiple sheets of paper. A group of us sat together, and at an opportune time during the game, we unfurled the banner and chanted our little chant. Some of the crowd joined us, but the chant never reached full volume in the place.

The game ended, and I was walking out with my roommate, Sam. Sam was tall, about 6’4″, and we had just left the court area and were walking next to the trophy case. Suddenly Sam was accosted by this small person, probably about 5’7″, who took a swing at Sam and was ready to go at it with him. I grabbed this guy by the arms and pinned him up against the trophy case, where a lot of the football championship hardware was displayed, and told the guy to calm down. He did, I released him, and we went back into the cold February night air for our walk across campus. Back then, in college, I gauged whether it was cold based upon whether I had ice crystals form on my mustache by the time I got to my destination. I think that night, it was cold.

We got into our room later, and found out from a friend that the person who had accosted Sam, was the coach’s son. Never did hear anything more about the incident. Nowadays, with all of the increased security and police presence, we probably would have ended up being charged with some sort of offense, but not then.

My senior year in college was the last year that basketball was played in the Coliseum. The following spring in 1976, my graduation ceremony was held in the new Devaney Center. We even had President Gerald Ford give our commencement address, although I couldn’t tell you one thing that he said. Since I left campus, even the Devaney Center has been supplanted as a basketball arena, though it is still used for women’s volleyball for the NCAA champions. I guess I must be getting old when my memories are two basketball arenas behind the current arena. Well, hope springs eternal, and I will be rooting for Nebraska basketball to shed is oxymoronic status, and win a game this year in the NCAA tournament.

After Vietnam Protests at College, Streaking!


Photo courtesy of the UT History Center of the crowd watching streakers in Austin, Texas.

Spring, in 1974. The cloying stench of Watergate hung over the nation’s senses. Vietnam remained in the nation’s conscience, even though US troops had pulled out the year before. In early March, an unseasonable warm spell brought the college students outside at the University of Nebraska. And the attention of the country was drawn to – Streaking!

I was a college sophomore at the time, trying to make it through my classes of organic chemistry, engineering calculations, classical physics, and partial differential equations. Meanwhile, my roommate who had a ROTC scholarship, but had decided by that time to deliberately flunk out since he would not have a service obligation if he didn’t finish his sophomore year, was drawn to the ongoing pursuit of women. He and I were polar opposites when it came to our success with women at that time. There was once when I went to bed in the bottom bunk, and awoke the next morning and found that the top bunk held two people, but I digress (I was a sound sleeper).

March 6 dawned chilly, but by the afternoon, had warmed up into the 70’s. The first warm day in spring on a college campus brings out the hedonism of the students. Blankets were stretched out in our quadrangle, and shirts are shed in order to soak up the first of the spring’s sun rays after the horrendous winter weather on the prairie. After supper, as we should have been studying, word started spreading from floor to floor, and from door to door. “Hey, they’re streaking around the fraternity houses”.

Our quadrangle was smack dab in the middle of campus. On the far side of our dorm, along 16th street, stood the large fraternity houses – Sigma Phi Epsilon, Sigma Nu, Kappa Alpha Psi, Phi Kappa Psi, Pi Kappa Phi. And then there were the sorority houses – Alpha Omicron Pi, Alpha Phi, Chi Omega, and others (Google Earth is great for reconstructing these sorts of memories). Beyond 16th street were other high rise dorms, so all in all, a critical mass of horniness and hormones flowed out onto the streets of Lincoln that night.

For those of us in our quadrangle dorm, we wore our non-Greekness as a badge of honor. In fact, I had penned a t-shirt with the symbols of ΣΦØ, or Sigma Phi Nothing. But if the Greeks were putting on a free show, me and a few thousand of my close friends were more than happy to share in the event. A group of us from our floor first fortified ourselves with a toke or two, and then joined the thronging crowd that quickly grew large enough to block the arterial 16th street. Lincoln suffered a traffic infarction that evening, as the campus police did nothing to disburse the crowd, but instead redirected traffic around the blocked artery. There were thousands of men and women out enjoying the warmth and the wild experience.

We were out there, wondering when the show was going to start, when suddenly a group of naked men dashed out of their fraternity and ran around the building, going back in through a side door. The crowd cheered as we inhaled the aroma of released inhibitions. Then at one of the sororities, someone appeared at the window, topless. The crowd surged towards the sorority house just as the fraternity’s show ended. Then another fraternity joined in the display, with a group of men jumping out from the bushes and taking a quick lap around their house. Back and forth went the show, and there was even a sorority house that joined in the naked laps. Eventually, though, the show quieted down, and folks drifted away. Traffic flow was reinstituted, and we went back to our own rooms to reflect upon the night’s events.

Not my roommate, though. He proceeded later in the night to streak the girls portion of the quadrangle, and was rewarded for his deed by having someone join him in a combined streak. He never did come back to our room that night.

Thus ended the great streaking surge at the University of Nebraska. Incidents of streaking broke out sporadically, but never again was there a huge surge in place to watch a few exhibitionists strut their stuff. It turns out that the first week of March 1974 was the peak of the streaking epidemic. Ray Stevens had his novelty hit The Streak that very month:


Though for a few years, some schools kept up the tradition, it now is a rarity for a streak to break out, and it will never be the phenomena it was in ’73-’74. And if a repeat were to happen today, the videos would be all over the internet instantly.

It makes me wonder what the next faddish behavior will be. A generation before I went to college, it was the era of the panty raid. My father had mentioned panty raids at Purdue when he had gone to school, but I never knew if he took part in one of those raids. One of the questions you wish you could ask, but never will be able to now.