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SEA OF RED NEBRASKA'S RABID FAN BASE WILL BE OUT IN FORCE WHEN CORNHUSKERS TRAVEL TO COLISEUM TO TAKE ON THE TROJANS.

Byline: MATTHEW KREDELL Staff Writer

Tom Burnell grew up the second oldest of 12 children, but he never truly felt like part of a family until he attended his first Nebraska football game as a freshman in 1980.

``I came from a very poor family with divorced parents,'' said Burnell, who left home at age 16. ``I didn't know what true companionship, love and spirit of family was. I got that the first day I sat in Nebraska Memorial Stadium. Those people became my instant family.''

For the past 26 years, Burnell has gone to all but seven Cornhuskers games. He plans many fall weeks around traveling to road games with his wife, Terri, and their son Matt.

Burnell will be at the Coliseum on Saturday, part of the sea of red preparing to invade Los Angeles for USC's game against Nebraska. The Huskers are expected to bring between 25 and 30 thousand fans into the 92,000-seat stadium.

Nebraska has a reputation of having the best traveling fans of any college program. Memorable instances of late include the 30,000 fans the Huskers brought to Notre Dame Stadium in 2000 and an estimated 70,000 at the Rose Bowl BCS Championship game against Miami in 2002.

``There was a lot of red,'' said Darryl Dunn, general manager of the Rose Bowl stadium. ``A lot of schools travel well, but nobody better than Nebraska. Any bowl game that gets Nebraska never has to worry about ticket sales.''

It looks like another epic Nebraskans migration is in store for Saturday.

Back in February, when the USC ticket office began selling tickets for this season, nearly 7,700 tickets for this game sold in three days, with 3,400 of those ordered by people with Nebraska zip codes.

The school stopped selling individual Nebraska tickets, so Huskers fans began buying up season ticket packages for $295 just to get the game. Three hundred Trojans season tickets were bought by people with Nebraska area codes, according to the USC sports information department, before the ticket office began only selling ticket packages without the sold-out Nebraska and Notre Dame games.

This is in addition to the 5,000-ticket allotment given to the Nebraska athletic department.

The number of Nebraska fans who don't live in the state that bought tickets through USC is unknown. David Max, president of the California chapter of the Nebraska alumni association, estimates that 70 percent of the Huskers fans at the game will come from outside of Nebraska. Max, who also runs the Web site huskerpedia.com, said he knows of fans coming to the game from 45 of the 50 states. The California chapter of the alumni association is its largest.

Other fans are buying tickets through ticket agencies, and from USC season-ticket holders through online auction sites such as eBay.

``I can guarantee you that in Lincoln next year there will be no more than 5,000 USC fans,'' said Max, who lives in Irvine. ``There's tremendous loyalty among Nebraska fans. If we meet another fan with a Nebraska hat on, we always stop to talk to each other. And usually someone knows someone who knows someone who is a cousin. There are no strangers among Nebraska fans.''

It's easy to see why the Huskers inspire such passion from their fans. They are the only game in town.

Nebraska has no other major college or professional teams, nor beaches to serve as diversions.

``Nebraska football is the one common bond that brings everyone together,'' Burnell said. ``There's a sense of loyalty for us to give back for all the enjoyment we get from watching them.''

One person who has been on both sides, as a player and as a fan, is former Huskers and San Francisco 49ers running back Roger Craig.

Craig, who still lives in the Bay Area, said he will be at the game as part of the Californians for Nebraska alumni club.

``There were plenty of games where the fans helped us get through tough times,'' said Craig, who rushed for 2,446 yards for Nebraska from 1979 to 1982. ``When they've made the effort to travel, you don't want to let them down. You want to play well for them.''

matthew.kredell@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3607

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2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Most of the fans in the Rose Bowl for the Nebraska-Miami BCS Championship game in 2002 wore the red of the Cornhuskers.

Brian Bahr/Getty Images

(2) The Huskers are expected to bring between 25,000 and 30,000 fans into the Coliseum.

Eric Francis/Associated Press
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 13, 2006
Words:766
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