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Huskers Fans Pour into Streets to Celebrate Fiesta Bowl Victory

January 3, 1996 GMT

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ Mike Olson walked slowly down O Street videotaping the thousands of people who packed downtown Lincoln in celebration of Nebraska’s second national football championship.

Olson said he was making a tape for his 1-year-old son, Devin, to watch when he’s old enough to enjoy this thing called Nebraska football.

``Last year he was five days old and he fell asleep on my chest during the game,″ Olson said Tuesday night. ``This year I put him to bed at 7:30.″

That tape will show the more than 1,000 people who jammed one downtown intersection just three blocks south of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus to watch as young men without shirts scaled traffic signals and trees to wave inflatable alligators.

Others waved huge red flags with white N’s and still others paraded an assortment of well-worn Christmas trees.

``This is just a slice of Nebraska,″ Lincoln police officer M.C. Stahlhut said as he directed traffic at an intersection on the perimeter of the central business district.

Celebrant Jeff Gaertig, a Hemingford native, said the crowd ``was typical of Nebraska, just people having a good time. Any other city and this would become a riot, but not here.″

Despite attempts by police to hold them out, a crowd of about 200 revelers broke down a gate at Memorial Stadium about midnight and dashed onto the snow-covered field. Thwarted by the absence of goal posts _ they were taken down last week _ the crowd left without further incident, police said.

A firetruck _ appropriately from Station No. 1 _ was dispatched to handle a minor medical emergency downtown.

Fire Capt. Mike Clements, a 22-year veteran of the department, said his crew got to watch the whole game without being called out.

``We figured if anybody was going to have a heart attack they’d likely wait until the game was over,″ Clements said.

Bob Bohrer, a construction worker in Sutton, said he drove to Lincoln to watch the game and ``to see this awesome event.″

``Nebraska really surprised me. I had heard they were good and I thought they might have to come from behind. But this was just too much,″ Bohrer said.

College student Tom Matzke and several friends watched the game in Seward and then drove to Lincoln for the party.

``This is a good time, but last year was better because we got the goal posts,″ he said.

While more than 5,000 people milled about in downtown Lincoln, all over town the Cornhusker faithful spilled out of their warm houses, where they watched the Cornhuskers post a 62-24 national championship victory over Florida.

In Omaha, an estimated 10,000 fans converged on 72nd and Dodge streets during the final minutes of the game, police said. Traffic was backed up for more than 40 blocks to the west, while officers sealed off the intersection from other directions.

``I think this is the best behaved bunch of fans you’ll ever see,″ officer Dave Baker said as he stood next to his cruiser surrounded by a crowd of screaming fans. ``We haven’t had any problems. No cars being tipped over here.″

Fans climbed the traffic lights and hung inflatable alligators while chanting ``Go Big Red!″

The Omaha revelers tore down a traffic light. Police said several people were arrested for disorderly conduct.

At a party in southeast Lincoln, federal employee Mike Anderson lit several artillery shells left over from the Fourth of July. The loud pop and sparkling fireworks were greeted with cheers from several nearby houses.

Fellow party-goer Steve Merriman said he had been waiting all year for this championship.

``It was awesome. Nebraska dominated from beginning to end. It’s sort of what we live for here in Nebraska,″ he said.

All along Lincoln’s O Street _ the main east-west thoroughfare in the capital city of 200,000 _ people milled about, dancing, clapping, shouting, holding up their index fingers in the No. 1 salute.

They converged on downtown Lincoln in pickups, convertibles and cars with sunroofs open. One young man rode a bicycle on the lightly snow-covered streets. A young woman wore a multi-striped bikini as she perched on the shoulders of a young man. Friends covered her with a blanket.

Lincoln police officers added 20 patrolmen to the streets, but police Lt. Kent Woodhead said there had been no serious incidents.

Fans at a party in the Omaha suburb of Ralston became bored midway through the third quarter. By the fourth quarter, they were tired of standing up and giving each other high-fives.

``It meant much more last year because we hadn’t won it (the national championship) for so long. I never expected to be like this,″ said Tim Schmitz, 26, of Omaha.

Chris Sawers, 28, agreed. ``Last year was much more exciting. It was better because we were picked to lose then. This year was just a blowout.″