Budd & Huskers Illustrated

My friend Budd endears himself to me by passing along his copies of Huskers Illustrated, the Nebraska sports magazine. He has done so for years; the issues arrive in 9×12 envelopes that Budd re-uses by sealing them shut with masking tape. He even scribbles out the address label and writes my address below, sometimes with a line drawn between. Budd is the odd—I mean this in the sense of unusual—combination of Unitarian pacifist and ardent football fan. A few years ago we drove to Pittsburgh to watch the Cornhuskers take on the Pitt Panthers, and early in the game a Panther runner was on the loose, which caused Budd to rise and shout, “Stop him, goddammit!” This from a man whose strongest exclamation is usually limited to “My stars!”

Me and Budd after Nebraska's Gator Bowl triumph.
Me and Budd after Nebraska's Gator Bowl triumph.

The magazines arrive bearing evidence of intense perusal. Budd annotates them for me, and his comments serve as the basis for later conversation. I’ll call up and chat and we will eventually get to the fact that he has underlined the name of Sione Tuihalamaka, a defensive lineman whom the Huskers are recruiting. Did his mark imply a challenge to say the youngster’s name three times in a row? He has also underlined another recruit’s school, which is Quince Orchard High, in Gaithersburg, Maryland. (Jason Ankrah, a defensive end, is coming from there to Lincoln.) Budd adores odd—there’s that word again—and obscure facts. He can indefatigably sit and watch “Jeopardy.” The Mormon guy, Ken Jennings, who ran the “Jeopardy” table a few years ago, is Budd’s hero. Jennings is the master of the esoteric fact, just the sort of thing Budd has always pursued. After retiring in the early 1990s, he did some traveling, and instead of going to a beautiful beach somewhere or to the great capitals of the world, he went to Ethiopia to see cathedrals carved into cliffsides and came home effusing about teff, the grain. He went to Morocco and boogied with a whirling dervish. (I’m alluding to the Sufi mystics who whirl around and chant.) He spooked around Haiti on a voodoo tour. And there was also the jaunt to the Transcaucasus: Armenia and Azerbaijan. I think it had to do with a nearly extinct sect of some sort.

“Guess what, Budd. Sione Tuihalamaka, Sione Tuihalamaka, Sione Tuihalamaka.”

“I don’t get it.”

“I can say his name three times.”

“Whose name?”

“The six-foot-three-inch, two-hundred-seventy-five-pound defensive tackle from Gardena, California, who is leaning toward Cal or Arizona but hasn’t ruled out the Huskers.”

“My stars!”

In the Gator Bowl victory special of Huskers Illustrated (Nebraska 26-Clemson 21), a yellow sticky note is affixed to the full-page ad for a year’s subscription at “only” $51.95 by second-class postage. The note bears Budd’s artful handwriting: “The lost is found.” A few days ago he said he was unable to find anything and suffered other calamities as well. For example, his TV clicker, which had fallen to the floor when he abruptly woke in his chair, now refused to function. Clickerless, he missed the Steelers’ AFC championship game on January 18. Budd has always loved the Steelers, even in the 1930s, when he was growing up in southwestern Nebraska. (He once explained the connection; I’ve forgotten it.) As of the next day, when I called, he still hadn’t heard the Steelers won. Besides losing the Gator Bowl victory special of HI in a stack of papers—he said the issue was “in hiding”—he also had a leaky faucet and the man at the hardware store recommended a $3 gadget but Budd couldn’t figure out how to install it. And it’s been so damn cold outside!

Budd frequently highlights an important statistic from the magazine’s game report or some of the commentary, yet he has a way of forgetting the same information he highlights. I keep his marginalia in mind, his eternal black checkmark. For example, I’ll gloatingly quote columnist Curt McKeever: “It should be noted that the Big Ten went 1-6 in bowl games.” And Budd will profess astonishment at this new information. Once or twice I’ve pointed out that he first called it to my attention, but he is innocent of any recollection.

One of these days I’ll quit freeloading and subscribe for myself. Maybe what’s called for is to get on the phone and read the new issue of Huskers Illustrated to each other, line by line, commenting on minutiae regarding the Men of Corn, as he calls them. But I’ll bet that even if I plunk down $70.95 for the first-class mail deal, I’ll rather miss the masking tape that seals Budd’s envelopes shut.

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