Nebraska football fans’ nationally recognized devotion to their team—the “Sea of Red” spilling from Memorial Stadium throughout downtown Lincoln on game days, and the subsisting pride of the `90s glory days—is epitomized by Tait Rief of Seward, Nebraska.
Rief was a kid in the `90s, a kid captivated by the era’s Huskers heroes. His bedroom and basement are a testament to Nebraska football pride. Huskers décor fills the rooms: National Championship mugs, vintage Cornhusker Beverage soda bottles, rugs, pillows, pins, and team pennants—which, as a kid, Rief ordered each week by conference standings, always placing Nebraska first. In his bedroom, a bookcase displays three encased autographed footballs—signed by Joel Makovicka (fullback, 1994-1998), Grant Wistrom (rush end, 1994-1997), and Sam Koch (punter, 2001-2005)—and a copy of the book Hero of the Underground signed by author Jason Peter (defensive tackle, 1993-1997).
Rief’s most cherished pieces of his collection—and his first autographs—are signed 1997 offense and defense posters. During a tour of Memorial Stadium when he was nine, Rief had his picture taken in then-head-coach Tom Osborne’s office and by the championship trophies, and then stood outside the weight room with his posters as the players came out. They signed his posters, and Scott Frost—all sweaty—patted his shoulder. “I was just in awe for the next week or two and never wanted to wash my shoulder again.” Rief hung up the posters with tacky in his room, circling Tom Osborne’s autograph in excitement.
The `97 posters now hang framed in the basement, where Rief’s expansive collection continues. On the same wall is a Husker quilt, each block signed by members of the 2001 football team, a hutch displaying a miniature Nebraska helmet signed by Tommie Frazier (quarterback 1992-1995), a Memorial Stadium poster signed by head coach Mike Riley (his collection’s most recent addition), and a framed note signed by Ahman Green (I-back, 1995-1997) that reads, “Keep it going!!” On the opposite wall sits another hutch with more autographed footballs, including the signatures of Zach Wiegert (offensive tackle, 1992-1994), head coaches Osborne, Bo Pelini (2007-2014), and Frank Solich (1998-2003), and most of the 2001 team starters; a square of `90s Memorial Stadium turf; and ball caps signed by Osborne and Heisman winners Johnny Rodgers (wingback, 1970-1973), Mike Rozier (I-back, 1981-1983), and Eric Crouch (quarterback, 1998-2001).
.As a freshman in 2001, Rief was involved in a Seward High School bus accident that left him with partial paralysis and short-term memory loss. In his bedroom and the basement are two identical small black-framed collages. Each collage depicts black-and-white photographs of Husker players including Rodgers, Wayne Meylan (middle guard, 1965-1967), and “Thunder” Thornton (fullback and lineback, 1960-1962), foregrounded with a color photograph of Jeff Kinney (halfback, 1969-1971) in the 1971 Game of the Century. “DETERMINATION” is printed in bold red lettering across the bottom of the image, followed by the quote, “The Harder You Work, The Harder It Is To Surrender.” Rief says that he values these words, as they “always inspired me to keep focused . . . during recovery.”
His dad, Tom, recalls, “Tait’s always been a Husker fan. He always told me that he was going to be on the football field at Memorial Stadium one way or another—either as a player, because he was a pretty good football player himself before his accident, or (Tait) said, ‘If I have to, I’ll play in the band or be a male cheerleader.’”
Much of Tait’s memorabilia was acquired after the accident. His collection is both meaningful and joyful. As for expanding it, he says, “I’d like to add a picture of me shaking Mike Riley’s hand.”
So, Coach Riley, if you’re reading this, there is a fan in Seward who would like to
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*Correction: The September/October 2016 print edition misspelled Tait Rief’s last name.