LINCOLN — Garrett Wright recalls a Memorial Stadium full of red, white and blue in Nebraska’s first football game after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Wright, director of a Big Ten Network documentary that airs Tuesday night, was a sophomore in high school when No. 4 Nebraska hosted Rice on Sept. 20. He sat in the east balcony, just in front of a giant American flag. It was the first college football game after the attacks, and opened with a memorable Tunnel Walk.
“When the Tunnel Walk happened and the door opened and it was the first responders, the place was just electric,” said Wright, whose The B1G Story: Tunnel Walk Tribute airs at 6:30 p.m. on BTN. “I mean, like, a weird electric, you know, where people were excited and wanted to cheer but also had a lot of feeling associated with it.”
Specifically, this half-hour documentary focuses on the Nebraska football program and how the Huskers altered their renowned Tunnel Walk to honor the first responders, who led Husker players out of the tunnel.
The documentary features an ensemble cast ranging from Husker greats like Barrett Ruud and 2001 Heisman winner Eric Crouch, to NU administrators, local media and even first responders involved. It’s a piece that could only be created with the attention to detail of someone who was there. Wright, also a producer of the documentary, graduated from UNL in 2009.
The documentary begins by providing a refresher of the season leading up to 9/11, the Huskers’ best since the turn of the century.
“We thought it was important to show the context because we needed to establish Nebraska as a national power at the time,” Wright said. “It’s really to kind of build up what the Tunnel Walk was to Nebraska and still is, the Tunnel Walk came about in that glorious era of the nineties.”
Big Ten Network viewers who aren’t Nebraska fans will get yet another reminder of how successful the Huskers were before joining their conference.
“We wanted to make sure this was something that could be universally watched by all 14 of our programs’ fans in the Big Ten,” Wright said. “So for us, that was important to set up. Because when you understand how important the Tunnel Walk is to Nebraska, it makes it more powerful that the program was willing to change that for a game.”
It was surprisingly short work for the production crew once they settled on the basis of the documentary. They began planning in early June of this year, really “dug in” in mid-July, and have done the majority of the work in the last two months. That included around 15 individual interviews. Wright also tapped into his connection as an alum of Husker Vision to get access of Nebraska’s then-futuristic graphics that now induce some nostalgia.
The crew had to resort to some unconventional methods to get ahold of everyone interviewed, specifically the first responders who weren’t easily identified.
“It was quite a wild goose chase trying to track down some of those people,” Wright said. “I made a couple of cold calls. The UNL police officer, I found on LinkedIn.”
On several occasions, the documentary evokes an emotional response in telling the stories of those involved.
“To hear the first responders talk about how much that day meant to them, and that was one of the biggest memories, one of their favorite memories of their entire career, they get emotional still talking about it today which I thought was really cool,” Wright said.
The documentary remembers the significance of 9/11, in memory of which Nebraska is wearing an alternate uniform next week. At the same time, it harkens back to a better period of Husker football.
“To me, it’s a story about the way sports can heal,” Wright said.
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