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"Lourene, quitcher bitchin'!"
That's Virginia Hadley talking. She and her friend Lourene Wishart are having lunch at the Cornhusker, as swank an eatery as you can find in Lincoln, Neb. Lourene's been bitchin' about the food, the service and the color of the table-cloth. Being 91 years old and all and having accumulated a certain amount of wisdom in those years, she figures she has a right to speak her mind. She asks a young waiter what he thinks of the Big Red's chances for the coming season. "Pretty good," he says, a little timidly.
Lourene smiles a big, round, toothy smile and lets him shuffle off. When he's almost out of earshot, she hollers, "That pansy! What the hell does he know about Nebraska football?"
Certainly not nearly as much as Lourene. She hasn't missed a home game in 61 years. "I go because I like a winner," she says. "I've always been a winner."
She's also a woman of immense vitality. She ambles around her colonial-style cottage in glasses with rhinestone frames, a lace blouse and skirt, and a pendant strung with big plastic elephants. "The fella who gave it to me said they were ivory," she says with some indignation. Evidently, she doesn't know ivory as well as Cornhuskers. Lourene wears elephants mostly because she's a lifelong Republican. Her late husband, Joseph, ran for governor as a Republican in 1946. Her other passions are raising prize Manchester terriers, the country music of Red Foley and lilacs. Lourene was born on Lilac Farm in nearby Bennet. She sold the homestead 10 years ago, but plenty of hybrid lilacs surround her house: pink lace, woodland, Carolyn Mae and snow shower.
Lourene is small and frail, and takes your arm as she walks down the wooden steps to the Go-Big-Red Room in her basement. She pokes around the shrine, shoving Husker artifacts at you: Big Red beer mugs. Big Red pennants, Big Red deck chairs. She has a crocheted doll of Mike Rozier and a gold statuette of Johnny Rodgers filled with 100-proof Kentucky bourbon. Her collection of Big Eight swizzle sticks is perhaps unrivaled in the Western Hemisphere. In the far corner stands her hangin' tree, a willow branch painted red that's modeled after the one in Boot Hill cemetery in Tombstone, Ariz. After Nebraska victories she holds mock hangings of the loser. She has strung up stuffed Kansas jayhawks, Army mules and LSU tigers.
The game she cherishes most is the 1973 Orange Bowl. "Our quarterback, Dave Humm, licked the pants off Notre Dame," she says. "Oh boy, they were mad. I got in the Irish players' bus after the game and Otto couldn't find me." Otto, her chauffeur, used to drive her to games in a lilac-colored Cadillac. "Wow!" she says. "You better not tell how much those fellas swore. I don't suppose Parseghian knows that."
Her favorite player? "Dave Humm," she says without hesitation. "He was the handsomest thing I ever laid eyes on. He used to come over here and just sit and talk. Drove the women crazy."
Lourene will never forgive Miami for stealing the national championship from her Huskers last season. "My feelings about that wouldn't be fit to write," she says. "It was the worst thing that happened in my life." But she thinks her friend Virginia is wrong in saying the '83 squad was Nebraska's best ever.