Engineering at Nebraska, Spring 2008
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Play-By-Play with the Nebraska Engineering Flag Team

Flag Team
The Nebraska Engineering Flag Team unfurls a tradition. Above are Evan Curtis (senior, BSE), Matt Norris (sophomore, MECH), Bill Poppe (freshman, MECH), Anthony Hanson, Kate Dewey (freshman, CIVE), and William Stewart.

On Husker football game nights, the Sea of Red quickly fills Memorial Stadium. Yet one section of East Stadium seats stays conspicuously clear, except for eight students and a bulky roll of fabric. These young men and women are part of the College of Engineering Flag Team, and their moment is about to arrive.

Set in motion by Dean David Allen, after he saw rousing, oversize flags at Brazilian soccer games, the 80' x 60' Power of Red flag appears at Husker Football home games with an official shout-out to Nebraska Engineering for operating this tradition that's right at home in Lincoln.

Sixteen engineering students comprise the overall flag team roster. On this night, William Stewart, a Lakeview, Tex. freshman majoring in agricultural engineering, and Anthony Hanson, an Osceola, Neb. freshman majoring in mechanical engineering, are team leaders (a duty that rotates for each home game). Their main task so far this week was making sure at least eight people, from 12 names on tonight's available flag team list, show up to "do the flag."

Flag Team unrolls the Flag

They watch and listen for cues that trigger their fleeting but highly visible role in the pregame festivities.

At 7:30 p.m. (mindful of the 8 p.m. kick-off) the flag team, clad in flag team t-shirts, gathers inside Gate 23. By 7:35 they check out the flag from a supply cage in a restricted area under East Stadium and spread themselves out along the length of the big, soft log and lift the flag to their shoulders. They snake through the crowds to their nearby section- the Red Sea parting just a little for this procession.

At 7:40, with the band pooled along the field's sidelines, the flag team takes their stations at the opposite lower corners of the band's vacant seats. The adjacent sections are buzzing with socializing Husker fans, but the Nebraska engineers have a calm focus. They watch and listen for cues that trigger their fleeting but highly visible role in the evening's festivities.

At 7:45, as the band takes the field in formation, the rolled flag straddles the lowest row of the section it will soon span. Along the aisles at the right and left sides, flanking the 40 seats across, Stewart, Hanson and crew have their hands poised on the top edge of the flag that will soon burst up into view.

Flag Team 3

The crowd noise rises at the announcer's words, "THE PRIDE OF ALL NEBRASKA," and Stewart signals the team to start running up the steps, keeping the flag's leading edge taut and elevated. The stadium's giant replay screen captures an aerial image from a video camera perched on a high wire above as the huge flag unfurls.

In scattered spots where there's more flag than team, nearby fans reach in to give the flag a flap. For 85,000 fans present (and more watching via television), the flag impresses in its shining moment, an inspiration to see.

Still, as with many feats of engineering, the view from the inside (or underneath) is not quite as glorious. The flag's nylon, at a consistency like a thick plastic grocery bag, has a few holes despite the care applied during preparations; several flag repair sessions are necessary each fall. And as the pregame proceedings shift attention to the National Anthem, the flag team hastily drifts the Power of Red flag's immense fabric back down to its baseline and gathers up the unwieldy mass to ferry it out and make way for the band's return to their seats. A quick re-orientation in the storage area enables the flag to be ready for its next use, with taped edges indicating "This end up."

It's literally a big deal, but no big deal to the Nebraska engineers who make the flag happen. They say they're just glad to be a part of it.

- Carole Wilbeck