LINCOLN, NEB. -- Anyone who follows big-deal sports strictly for the games is missing the point, not to mention more than half the fun. So the afternoon before today's Oklahoma- Nebraska kickoff I grabbed another credit toward the degree Doctor of College Shrines.
In dogged pursuit of this immense -- and mythical -- honor, I have been to Hog Heaven, where the razorback Big Red, mascot for the University of Arkansas, lives in regal splendor.
I have experienced that rare double: seeing Bear Bryant's tower and The Bear Himself on it. I have been to the Palestra and Pauley Pavilion, eaten Armenian pizza with Ara Parseghian, autographed a book for John Wooden and been mesmerized by the most compelling basketball recruiter of them all, David Pritchett, who once said: "Life is just a series of tipoffs."
I am not easily impressed. I have seen the standard by which all cheerleaders are measured, UCLA's in the early 1970s; I have feasted on catfish at Clemson and watched a track meet in Eugene, Ore.
In its own way, yesterday's experience was as memorable. I toured the major mecca known as the Nebraska Strength Complex. Depending on your inclination toward weight rooms, you either get exhilarated or pooped stepping into the place.
Much of Nebraska's identity rests here, same as ugly uniforms and brainy young men inside them suggest Penn State, stupid jokes remind you of Texas A&M and never-ending sunsets cause a longing for Pepperdine.
For those who believe all weight rooms are the same, consider that Nebraska's has: Lifter-of-the-year awards, a museum and a record platform from which only the mightiest can perform.
That's in addition to the eight-foot replica of Hercules, wearing a red-and-white cap lettered "Go Big Red" that stands off to the side. And the 109 dumbbells lined up in a way that gives the impression of conveyer belts.
The theme is illustrated by several foot-high plastic figures demonstrating the challenge: "Combine Running, Stretching and Lifting -- If You Dare to be Great."
Let's see, I said to one of the assistant strength coaches, Kelvin Clark, players walk in here with bodies pretty much like mine as freshmen . . .
"Sometimes even looking worse," he interrupted, not meaning to be mean.
They leave, usually five years later, strutting like penguins, with necks the size of silos and enough bulk to bench-press Omaha.
"We have 260 on the team," said Clark, "counting the freshmen and varsity. That's why we need so much room (13,300 square feet). And we can work all 260 of 'em in here at one time."
Yes, I know. You have seen that number, 260, and been equally flabbergasted. You know the NCAA allows no more than 30 scholarships a year and 95 in all. So what gives here?
Nebraska has a massive walk-on program. Almost any 98-pound football weakling can walk in off the street and get a chance to get fattened-up, like other kinds of midwestern beef, for shipment to professional markets.
For instance, Jimmy Williams walked on from Washington, D.C. He weighed 180 pounds at the time, according to the all-America plaque on the weight room wall, and ran the 40 in a molassas-slow 4.8 seconds.
As a senior, Williams weighed 225 pounds and supposedly was timed in 4.34 for the 40 before being drafted in the first round by the Detroit Lions in 1982.
Clark lowered his head and volunteered that Texas A&M probably has a larger weight room now, but that Nebraska will be No. 1 again when space is increased to about 20,000 square feet.
When that happens, body and mind will have collided under the west stands of Memorial Stadium. There is considerable space now between the strength complex and some academic-support units.
So proud of its work with weights is the school that a museum to muscle practically tackles a person several yards inside the strength complex.
On display is a set of antiques, among them the Original Husker Leg Sled and the Original Husker Exercise Bike. All are surrounded by red-velvet rope.
Nearby is a wall of photos and information that insists: "Nebraska is the birthplace of strength and conditioning for collegiate athletics as it is known today."
Some of us are fearful about the condition of conditioning in collegiate sports, that specimens rather than athletes are being created. Nebraska thinks otherwise and boasts about being the first strength program to:
"Produce 10 Outland, Heisman or Lombardi winners; three Outland winners in a row (1981, 82 and 83) and 49 All-Americans."
Most schools worry about gathering enough money to take the band to bowl games; to the 1980 Cotton Bowl, Nebraska lugged a portable weight room. Naturally, it offers a curriculum for a strength-coaching degree.
Built in 1981, the room is large enough so that three assistant strength coaches, four part-timers and three volunteers are required to make sure nobody misses a rep. The office of strength coach Boyd Epley looms overhead at one end, with two large windows allowing him to look, Bryant-like, at his creation.
There are areas for each part of the body -- chest here, back and leg somewhere else. Everywhere is an incentive, the centerpiece being the record platform.
The requirements to mount the platform and work out are: "1,800 strength index points or winner of Heisman, Lombardi or Outland awards. All others not to use without permission."
I kept a respectful distance. Alone at one point in an out-of-the-way area, I did hoist a dumbbell off its rack. Very gently and not very high.