LINCOLN, Neb. — As 91,471 people stood in silence at Memorial Stadium, balloons floated north.
Blue ones and yellow ones, a rare sight in a town that lives by “Go Big Red.” They rose from the southeast corner, released by a student section dressed in all black. Near the front row, someone held a sign that said “N #36,” Nebraska’s letter emblazoned in UCLA colors. Football would be played soon, but before that, both Bruin and Husker fans alike thought of Nick Pasquale.
The UCLA walk-on receiver died last Sunday in his hometown of San Clemente. He had been walking home from a friend’s house when a car hit him. The driver stayed on scene and called 9-1-1, but Pasquale was pronounced dead at 1:27 a.m.
As grief wrenched the Bruins’ community, Nebraska extended its hand. The Cornhuskers quickly arranged for a moment of silence before Saturday’s kickoff. They would wear Pasquale’s No. 36 on the back of their white helmets, mirroring the patch UCLA added to the front of their jerseys.
On Saturday, the Bruins stood on the field in Lincoln. Some looked up at the sky, the balloons. Some, down at their feet or straight ahead.
“It was tough, man,” linebacker Anthony Barr said. “That’s my guy. That’s our guy. He had so much heart and so much soul, and we respect him so much. … We kind of went out and just played with his spirit.”
After UCLA’s 41-21 victory, Jim Mora used his first words to thank Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst, coach Bo Pelini, and all the Husker fans for their compassion.
“I thought it was an incredible gesture they made here, and I think it kind of the class here at Nebraska. … You just don’t find that in many places,” Mora said.
He stressed that he and the team would continue to support the Pasquales. On Sunday, all the Bruins will bus down to San Clemente Presbyterian, where a service will begin at 4 p.m. The family had come up and spoken to the team on Friday. Nick’s father, Mel, asked them to win.
“His father’s a very strong man,” safety Anthony Jefferson said. “He told us to play for Nick, play to honor his son and the way that he played football. … I think it was a huge win to honor him and his family.”
USC also held a moment of silence for Nick Pasquale following their marching band performance. Here’s a video of it from Daily News columnist Jill Painter.