Published Saturday, November 2, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 7:11 pm
FOOTBALL
Shatel: A catch for the ages, a season revived

LINCOLN — Remember that sound. Remember that feeling. Remember where you were when Jordan Westerkamp shook up this place like it hadn't been shaken up in years.

OK, everyone except Jeremiah Sirles. You're excused, sir.

Poor guy. All around the Nebraska offensive tackle, the madness from one of those historic Nebraska football moments was collapsing on the field. The Hail Mary. The Catch. Then the sound of a rocket ship taking off.

And then came a glorious mound of humanity, near the south end zone. Sirles ran down and joined in the fun.

Fun?

The big man couldn't breathe. But then again, who could?

One problem. He was at the bottom of the celebration pile. Trapped.

“I'm claustrophobic,” said Sirles, who had to breathe into a bag amid the chaotic locker room celebration. “I was having a panic attack. That was one of the worst experiences of my life.

“But it was worth it.”

They'll be talking about this one for years, the ones who were here, the ones who stayed, probably even the ones who left, who thought Northwestern had driven a stake through this Nebraska season.

I can only imagine what that roar must have sounded like outside the stadium, to folks walking to their cars.

For those still waiting in the stadium, hoping, praying, it was unbelievable. Then again, it always is.

What I'll always remember is that sound. I haven't heard that sound in a long, long time.

“Thunder,” said Ron Kellogg, whose pass to the end zone was like a pen writing his name into Husker lore in indelible ink.

“It was a roar,” said NU coach Bo Pelini. “It reminded me of the (2008) Colorado game.”

It reminded me of history. And a couple of other Nebraska freshmen who fell out of the sky.

I watched the scene from the north end zone, waiting to make my way to the Nebraska postgame room. It reminded me of a similar view I had 16 years ago this month — Nov. 8, 1997 — at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo.

The similarity was uncanny.

Back in 1997, I stood in the far end zone — next to longtime Nebraska sportswriter Mike Babcock — and watched Scott Frost's pass bounce off something in the end zone and seemingly fall to the ground.

The next sound I heard was silence — as Nebraska players celebrated wildly on their sideline.

Sixteen years later, I was in the far end zone, again standing next to Babcock (I've learned now to stand next to the man — he's a good-luck charm for seeing history), seeing the ball soar into an end zone scrum and bounce up into the air. And once again, not knowing where it landed.

This time there was quite the opposite of silence. That sound is one you never forget.

Or a feeling. Chills.

Perhaps similar to something that happened down there on Oct. 27, 2001.

That was the day that Mike Stuntz threw a pass to Eric Crouch, wide open, to seal the win over No. 2 Oklahoma. I was in the press box that day and couldn't fully hear the thunder after the lightning bolt.

But you could feel the earth, or stadium, move.

It's not fair to those storied moments, or any of the others, to try to rank their significance. They all have their own place. Matt Davison's catch kept alive a national championship run. The Stuntz pass put NU in position to play for one.

The Hail Jordan play simply looks like the biggest play of Nebraska's season, no matter how it plays out. From Nebraska sitting at 5-3 with two straight losses and a long, bleak march to the finish, to a jolt of adrenaline and energy and momentum. And who knows what that can mean?

For now, it doesn't matter. Take this moment for the thrill ride that it provided.

What I know is that this will be remembered as one of the greatest plays or moments in Nebraska history. Where would you put it? Depends on how good your memory is. Not top five. Maybe top 10-15. Definitely top 20.

What I know is it belongs on the wall of fame. What I know is it will be a story that will be told as long as stories like this are still told.

Don't misunderstand. This wasn't the greatest game. The slugfest was a 10-round brawl, with blood and gauze and bodies being carted off.

There were mistakes and gaffes on both sides. Not pretty. Two teams scraping with desperation to keep something alive in this autumn campaign.

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And then this happens. These things always fall out of the sky. You can't predict them. You just try to stay out of the bottom of the pile.

The sheer beauty of this moment, and maybe how this one will be defined, is that this sound, and this feeling, hadn't come around this stadium in a long, long time.

It came at a time when it was most needed, a time with vultures circling and fans desperate for a sign, in a new conference, that Nebraska football could feel like Nebraska football again.

You can echo Kellogg, who said, “Thank God for Jordan Westerkamp.”

And don't forget Ameer Abdullah. Every great moment has an underrated moment doing the heavy lifting. This one was Abdullah catching a pass on fourth-and-15 and grinding 16 yards out of it.

Abdullah is a star. But this one wasn't about stars. It was about a third-team quarterback, a best supporting actor, Kellogg. And that may have been the best part of this.

You give a kid a moment to remember the rest of his life. Let the hard-working guys in the background grab some history.

Especially when the kid's dad, Ron Kellogg Jr., was once a star himself on the 1986 Kansas Final Four team. No wonder Kellogg III was talking hoops.

“I feel like I hit a shot to go to the Final Four,” Kellogg said. “I'm still stunned.”

Kellogg didn't see his moment. He took a knee to the head. Then he lost his helmet in the chaos.

Good thing Westerkamp didn't lose his head. Where do these kids come from? Davison was a freshman. Stuntz was a freshman. Westerkamp is a redshirt freshman, one who made big play after big play on Saturday with receivers hobbling left and right.

He was playing in the back of the designed play, named “Geronimo.” As in what you say when you jump off a cliff.

Westerkamp jumped and caught the tipped pass over the goal line. Touchdown. He was mobbed. He kept the ball. He won't say where it is.

You'll always be able to find it in the history books.

Sixteen years ago, Davison walked onto the team bus at Missouri and heard coach Tom Osborne say, “Nice catch, Matt.”

Sixteen years later, Westerkamp found his head coach, Bo Pelini, in the locker room. What did Bo say?

“Great catch.”

It never gets old, does it?

* * *

Video: Postgame analysis with Sam McKewon:



Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini talks after Nebraska's win over Northwestern:



Video: Nebraska quarterback talks after Nebraska's win over Northwestern:



Video: Nebraska wide receiver talks after Nebraska's win over Northwestern:

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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