Charboneau: Foltz, Sadler tributes highlight Week 1

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

The opening weekend of the college football season is wrapping up and there is plenty to talk about in the Big Ten.

There were dominant performances from Ohio State and Michigan and there were some ugly ones, too. Rutgers getting rolled at No. 14 Washington was one and Northwestern’s loss at home to Western Michigan wasn’t so much ugly as it was disappointing. Sure, the Broncos are a good team, but the Wildcats have high hopes this year and losing at home to a Mid-American Conference school puts a dent in those hopes.

Throw in the huge win by Wisconsin over No. 5 LSU at Lambeau Field and it was a heck of a few days for the Big Ten.

But nothing — absolutely nothing — was as moving and emotional as watching Nebraska go three-and-out on its first drive of the season and then line up in punt formation with just 10 players.

There was no punter on the field as the play clock ticked and the 90,000-plus at Memorial Stadium stood and cheered as if the Huskers had just won the Big Ten. Players and coaches knelt on the sidelines.

A penalty was called for delay of game. Fresno State, in its own show of respect, declined.

It was just one moment of many on Saturday as the Cornhuskers try to remember Sam Foltz, Nebraska’s punter who died in a car accident in July along with former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler.

“It was really awesome,” Nebraska senior guard Sam Hahn told the Omaha World-Herald. “The crowd started going nuts.”

To say it was an emotional day in Lincoln would be an understatement. Hahn was one of Foltz’s closest friends. On the big screen before the game, Hahn said he was from “small town USA,” the same way Foltz handled his introductions.

Before the game, kickers Drew Brown and Spencer Lindsay carried Foltz’s No. 27 jersey out for pregame warm-ups and placed it on the Nebraska bench.

“The kickers and punters and snappers are always the first ones on the field for warm-up,” Brown said. “Me and Spencer just felt that his jersey should be out there with us just like he was watching over our head.”

And as the Cornhuskers came running out of the tunnel to start the game, Foltz’s two nephews led the team onto the field.

“It was an incredible feeling,” quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. said, “knowing how much he meant not only to us, but to the community and the fans out there.”

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Nebraska will soon get back to just football, though that will be a long and slow process. They won the game on Saturday, 43-10, over Fresno State. Like most teams, there were some good things and some bad in the season-opener.

But it will always be a memorable one, when the Cornhuskers reminded everyone what really matters.

Gone but not forgotten

The memory of Foltz and Sadler was on display in other stadiums in the Big Ten over the weekend.

At Spartan Stadium, there were hundreds of shirts with the No. 3 being worn with Sadler’s name on the back while in Green Bay, Foltz’s No. 27 took center stage as two of his close friends kicked for both Wisconsin and LSU.

It was LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye who was injured in the same accident that took the lives of Foltz and Sadler, but he was back and kicking for the Tigers. Wisconsin kicker Rafael Gaglianone, who got to know Foltz well over the past couple of years, wore No. 27 as well as wristbands with the letters “SF” to honor his friend. And when he came out to kick what would be the winning field goal in Wisconsin’s 16-14 victory, he was sure he had some help.

“I knew Sam was with me on that kick,” Gaglianone said. “It was good by about an inch. Sam had to have an eye out for me from above, holding back the winds a little bit for that one to go through.”

Gaglianone and Delahoussaye spent a lot of time together before the game talking while their teammates were warming up.

“It’s a pretty emotional topic,” Gaglianone said. “I’ve never been in a situation where some of your closest friends pass away. Kickers stick together. We know how hard it is what we do, and that we don’t get many opportunities. So we pray for each other to do well.”

Proceed with caution

While Wisconsin was by far the big story of the weekend, there are surely some conclusions being drawn on other Big Ten campuses, though we’re just one week into this thing.

Where folks shouldn’t panic is at Northwestern. No, nobody wants to lose at home to a MAC team, but Western Michigan is a good team that many expect to win the conference. The Broncos have won eight games each of the last two seasons, have some experienced playmakers and pushed Michigan State to the limit last season.

So, don’t freak out, Wildcats.

Northwestern was in position to win, but it beat itself. That can be both frustrating and enough to help you remain optimistic.

“Not to discredit Western Michigan, but when you play as poorly as we did, those calls, the football gods, they go against you.” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “You get what you earn, and that’s what we deserve.”

The Wildcats got what they deserved, but that hardly means misery for the rest of the season.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau