It was a stirring, patriotic start to Nebraska’s football game on Saturday in honor of first responders and the military, and as a remembrance of those who died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
First came the national anthem, with a massive flag in the shape of the United States unfurled on the field while the Cornhusker Marching Band played.
Next, came a special Tunnel Walk to honor first responders and the military, just like Nebraska did 20 years ago when it played its first game after Sept. 11 against Rice on a Thursday night nine days later.
There was a video that was filmed this summer in the Havelock neighborhood in Lincoln featuring Damian Jackson, Nebraska’s 29-year-old defensive end who joined the Husker football team after being a Navy SEAL for four years.
Also in the video were first responders and members of the military. The crescendo of the video tribute hit when Jackson saluted a fellow veteran — no doubt a goosebump moment for some in the crowd at Memorial Stadium.
Then the Tunnel Walk began, and repeated the format from the Tunnel Walk in the first game following Sept. 11, 2001, by including local first responders.
Jackson led the team out while carrying an American flag. Right behind him were a doctor, EMT, firefighter and sheriff. Coach Scott Frost stood a few feet behind.
The first responders were Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner, Dr. Alissa Clough, firefighter/EMT Vicki Barada and firefighter/EMT Alex Nobbe.
The first responders walked through the tunnel just like the team does before each game. When the gate to the field swung open, Jackson and the first responders were front and center.
Then the first responders stepped to the side as Jackson sprinted onto the field with the flag, with the rest of the players following behind him. Thousands of fans in the student section chanted “U-S-A.”
Former Husker was pilot in flyover
Air Force pilot Tony Sullivan wasn’t a starter when he was on the Nebraska football team as a walk-on defensive end and special teams player from 2003 to ’07.
But he must be on a very small and elite list of people who have played in a game for the Huskers at Memorial Stadium, and also piloted a military flyover over the stadium.
Sullivan was one of the pilots in the flyover on Saturday, flying an F-16 over Memorial Stadium.
There were four planes in the flyover — three F16s and one KC-135 tanker. One of the other F16s was flown by Sullivan’s younger brother, Robert Sullivan. They each grew up in Wahoo and attended UNL.
They’re both in the South Dakota Air National Guard and flew to Lincoln shortly before the game.
“We took off from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, about an hour before the game and met up with the tankers in air space, took formation with them and got ready and then flew over the field right at the end of the national anthem,” Tony Sullivan said.
They landed in Lincoln and drove to the stadium. The pilots and crew were introduced during the fourth quarter to huge applause. Sullivan got to visit the locker room after the game.
This was the first time Tony Sullivan has done a flyover for a Nebraska game.
“It’s been a dream of mine for a long time after playing here to be able to come back and do a flyover in the F16 with the Air National Guard for a game,” he said. “And to get to do it on the 9/11 memorial game, after 20 years, it’s pretty surreal.”
* Before the game, Frost greeted the family of Marine Cpl. Daegan Page on the field and gave them a jersey with Page’s name. He’s a Millard South graduate who was killed in Afghanistan last month.
* The family of longtime Lincoln Police Department Investigator Mario Herrera was honored during the game, including his son Carlos, who is now a Lincoln police officer. Mario Herrera was killed in the line of duty last year. Many people in the crowd stood and applauded. Also honored was the family of Army Sgt. Jessica Jackson, a casualty of PTSD in 2014. Her brother, Justin, was on the Nebraska football team from 2008-12.