I’ve been to several breast cancer fundraisers since I was diagnosed in 2008, but I’ve never been to anything like the one I attended on Wednesday. It was Football 101, put on by the Bo Pelini Foundation and Southeast Nebraska Cancer Center at the University of Nebraska Hawks Championship Center and Memorial Stadium.
In case you don’t live in Nebraska or follow college football, I should tell you that Bo Pelini is the head coach of our Cornhuskers football team. I should also tell you that college football is more than a tradition in Nebraska. It’s a religion, and I’m a believer (or Boliever, as we like to say here. The guy is a rock star.)
The fundraisers I’ve been to before were of the women sitting around eating and listening to speakers variety. I’m not knocking eating; it’s one of my favorite pastimes. But this all-day event was different. Here you had a bunch of men who look great in shorts showing 900-plus women (and a handful of men) the finer points of strength training, throwing, catching and tackling. I left the throwing and catching to others; the drills where you ran into things and knocked them over were more my speed. (I do that without trying half the time anyway.)
The coaches were funny and wonderful but we learned things too. And when we finished each drill, they all had us huddle, do their chants of “D Line!” or whatever, and touch our raised hands like real players. Coach Sanders even had us all jumping up and down. I’ll sure be thinking of that the next time I’m at a game.
There were also times we sat and listened, learning about offensive plays with really weird long names like Winston Zebra Cobra Something, and then watching the play films. I kept wondering how the quarterbacks would remember the names, much less the moves.
And there was some plain silly fun, like Coach Bo and his brother Carl (our defensive coordinator) giving each other the kind of grief only brothers can give, or the players doing their version of American Idol. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this event since it was my first time, but I didn’t think I’d start the day laughing so much.
If we started the day laughing, we ended it in awe. All 900-some of us got to do the Tunnel Walk that our guys do before every home game. They crank up the Alan Parsons Project music and show them coming out of the tunnel on that huge screen, and I get goosebumps every single time.
The day ended with all of the breast cancer survivors getting to go back to the locker room with Coach Pelini for a private reception and a chance to get our pictures taken with him. The only house rule that day was to not ask the coaches for pictures or autographs, so this was huge.
His players usually don’t repeat what was said in the locker room so I won’t either, but it was one of the most special things I’ve ever been a part of. He kept thanking us, but he has no idea what a privilege it was to be there. Thanks, Coach.