Omaha Nighthawks Retrospective – The Time Omaha Had A Pro Football Team

Omaha Nighthawks’ QB Jeff Garcia and Nighthawks RB Ahman Green sandwich Daunte Culpepper at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, NE.

The UFL Omaha Nighthawks run as “Omaha’s Football Team” was short and fast (just like Maurice Clarett), but created memories that won’t be forgotten by anyone who experienced it.

The most surreal moment I have ever experienced as a sports fan was watching Omaha Nighthawks quarterback Jeff Garcia go toe-to-toe with Daunte Culpepper in front of 24,000 fans in a sold out Rosenblatt Stadium in 2010.

After 60+ years of being baseball only, and known as the host stadium for the College World Series, in the last months of Rosenblatt’s existence, it was the home of the United Football League’s Omaha Nighthawks.

Rosenblatt was the largest minor league baseball stadium in the country. The capacity was 23,145 but for Omaha Nighthawks games they sold standing room only tickets that bumped the attendance over 24k – can you believe that? That’s how football crazy Omaha is.

People were completely stoked that WE had a pro football team. And it was anchored by local Omaha Central High School product Ahman Green, the all-time leading rusher in the history of the Green Bay Packers.

Omaha Nighthawks Ahman Green
You could buy an Ahman Green Omaha Nighthawks jersey for $200. I didn’t have that kind of cheese for a jersey (for a guy I went to high school with) in 2010.

The Nighthawks played four games at Rosenblatt Stadium during the inaugural 2010 UFL season, selling out all four, the only UFL team to do so. The league was so impressed by the attendance that they awarded the 2010 UFL Championship Game to Rosenblatt, which was the last event ever held there.

No one had ever seen Rosenblatt Stadium used for football. The 2010 UFL Championship was the last event here before it was demolished and turned into a parking lot for the zoo.

The first game was Friday September 24th, 2010. I legitimately remember this like it was yesterday. The entire city had been excited for the game. Just days earlier, after a week of rumors on local sports radio stations, the team confirmed Garcia as the starting quarterback.

Before the Garcia announcement on Tuesday of that same week, the Nighthawks announced a sell-out crowd would be on hand to watch the Nighthawks take on the Colonials.

Part of the early buy-in was how cool the team branding, Nighthawks logo and uniforms looked. People were buying merch before the rosters were even announced.

Here is the Omaha Nighthawks logo:

The Omaha Nighthawks logo was slick.

That Friday in my little cubicle at DTN, on 90th and Dodge, I barely worked at all. And neither did my friends. Sports talk stations hummed from every desk and cube. All we could talk about was the upcoming Nighthawks season opener.

Luckily me and my friend Tim Walter had the foresight to buy season tickets weeks prior. When the Garcia announcement happened, and other former NFL players were announced as Nighthawks, the proverbial you-know-what hit the fan.

Jeff Garcia at practice at Papillion La Vista high school.
Jeff Garcia at practice at Papillion La Vista high school. It was mind-boggling to watch.

Suddenly, home opener tickets were on Craig’s List for a minimum of $250 a piece. Tim and I briefly considered selling, but didn’t dare do it. I can’t emphasize enough how palpable the energy and excitement was. And we HAD to be a part of that. That feeling was greater than the feeling of $250.

After work, Tim came over to my house on 12th street and William. We drank some beers, then stuffed about 6 more beers into our coats and walked the 1.5 miles to the stadium. It was a great walk. Everyone in the neighborhood was outside, flaunting Nighthawks gear, READY for something even they couldn’t describe.

The most surreal singular moment (to that point) that I saw that day as we walked up to the stadium was a man in a Jeff Garcia Nighthawks jersey (where did he get that??) standing off the I-80 turnpike exit holding a sign that said, “Need tickets.”

We ascended up the hill on 10th street to Rosenblatt and people were tailgating like they had been doing this for 25 years.

EVERYONE had on Nighthawks gear. I got my black t-shirt from Walgreen’s for $25, Tim got his “Fan From Day One” shirt even before I did. Here we are rocking them in 2018, almost exactly 8 years to the day:

The stadium was packed to capacity and Rosenblatt looked beautiful as a football stadium, the first time anyone had ever seen it like this. And it was absolutely loaded with talent — and not just the hot babes.

Here is the Omaha Nighthawks roster:

The Omaha Nighthawks roster form 2010.
The Omaha Nighthawks roster from 2010.

Maurice Clarett started at tailback. Former Packers wide receiver Robert Ferguson was our #1. Jeb Putzier (tied for league lead w/3 TD receptions) was our tight end. Cato June anchored the defense with Stuart Schweigert (the league’s defensive MVP) and local hero Jay Moore.

The opposing Hartford Colonials were loaded with talent as well. Starting QB Josh McCown used the UFL to re-start his NFL career and became an even better player and is starting for the NY Jets this weekend. It’s silly, but for as long as he’s playing, the UFL is still alive in some capacity, if only my own memory.

Josh McCown’s success as the 2010 UFL’s most efficient passer paved the way for re-entry into the NFL and an additional 8 years for the Bears, Browns, and Jets.

McCown threw some of the prettiest balls I have ever seen. Seeing a professional quarterback throw a ball 60 yards in the air quickly dispels the notion you can do it.

I saw Brett Favre throw his then-NFL record 420th TD pass in the Metrodome against the Vikings (also with Tim). The prettiest ball I’ve ever seen a human being throw was Lions QB Mathew Stafford to Golden Tate in a 2015 preseason game (a throw I asked Matt about at the ESPY awards) against the Jags. McCown’s balls were on par with both of those guys.

At halftime the Colonials held a 20-10 lead. At the end of the 3rd, it was 23-10.

In the 4th, the Nighthawks scored 17 points and the game culminated with a Garcia TD pass to Robert Ferguson with six seconds left to give the Nighthawks a 27-26 win.

Omaha Nighthawks' receiver Robert Ferguson scores the game-winning touchdown.
After Robert Ferguson scored the GW TUD, the former Packer did the Lambeau Leap — in Rosenblatt Stadium!

It was absolutely INSANE. People were hugging each other as if we’d just won the Super Bowl. And this was week ONE!

Tim and I walked home and stopped at a bar on 13th street called The Brickhouse that no longer exists and drank pitchers of beer and sang karaoke with other fans until the wee hours. We had our own professional football team. And we were awesome.

The second game was more of the same. Culpepper and his Sacramento Mountain Lions (led by former Vikings coach and offensive genius Dennis Green) came to town and left losers thanks to another 4th quarter comeback and 20-17 victory. This was REAL. It was HAPPENING. And the community embraced it with a full and open heart.

After four games, the team was 3-1 and in first place. It was all anyone could talk about.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but this was not only the high point of the season, but of the franchise’s brief history.

Omaha Nighthawks schedule and results from 2010:

Omaha Nighthawks schedule
The Omaha Nighthawks schedule started out great in 2010. I prefer to stop reading after game 4.

The Nighthawks lost four in a row and were eliminated from the playoffs. From there, the franchise was in complete disarray, as was the league.

Head coach Jeff Jagodzinski was fired at the end of the 2010 season. There was a 2011 season but season ticket prices were doubled or more and the presentation and marketing seemed harried, pushed.

The recognizable former NFL players on UFL rosters were non-existent. We had all heard the rumors about the league struggling and paychecks not getting cashed for other teams in the league, but had no reason to believe it.

Daunte Culpepper surveys the field against the Omaha Nighthawks defense.

Omaha Nighthawks – The Conclusion

The games moved to TD Ameritrade Park and the magic was gone. They couldn’t sell it out because the product had become substandard. I never went to another game after the 2010 season. The 2011 regular season was shortened to five games and the Nighthawks won only one game. The UFL’s cornerstone franchise was sunk.

The 2012 season consisted of four games and was shut down. On October 20, 2012 the United Football League announced it would suspend all operations and intended on resuming the canceled schedule some time in spring 2013, with those games counting toward the 2012 season standings. The league never resumed in spring of 2013. In March 2013 seventy-eight players have filed suit against the league.

And that was it. The UFL and the Omaha Nighthawks were done, like neither of them ever existed. Which is a big reason I wrote this article.

Continue the Nighthawks deep dive via this link to all of the stats for the history of the UFL.

Click the image for Omaha Nighthawks stats.

Omaha’s Football Team – The Epilogue

It seems like every year a new professional football league is launched. And some times, Omaha is mentioned as a possible host city. But most times, it isn’t. Which makes absolutely no sense to me.

If you can sell 24,000 tickets per game to essentially a Triple A football league, how is that not seen as viable?

Jeff Garcia And Paul Eide
Me caught in the act of asking Jeff Garcia about his time with the Nighthawks – at the Super Bowl in 2020

Occasionally, I’ll still see people in Omaha rocking Omaha Nighthawks gear. It always looks old and tattered, and it is almost always on some old guy who you’d never expect would own a shirt. Saw a guy at Walgreen’s wearing one while waiting to get his prescription filled.

And it really sucks the way that it ended. And that we’ve never been given another team, another chance.

But all that said, October and November of 2010 I experienced some of the most enjoyable and epic Omaha sports moments of my life. And so did a lot of other people.

If you have a Garcia or Green jersey in good condition, hit me up. I will seriously buy it from you. I’ll rock that baby tomorrow like it’s 2010 again!

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