OMAHA, Neb. -- The magnitude finally hit him, shortly after he grasped the microphone and realized that he was listening to the Nebraska crowd chant his name one final time.
Ndamukong Suh picked up his Outland Trophy award at a banquet Thursday night. But he was just as touched by the reaction from an overflow crowd of Nebraska fans and well-wishers who wanted to toast his legendary career again.
During the middle of his acceptance speech, the 6-foot-4, 305-pound defensive tackle began crying as he thanked his coaches and teammates.
“For some reason, it hit me when I watched that video,” Suh said, dabbing at his eyes after watching a series of the top plays of his career on the big screen. “It’s the last time I’ll ever be at Nebraska ... and be a Cornhusker ... and be on that field. It’s hard.”
Suh’s mother, Bernadette, told the Omaha World-Herald she couldn’t remember the last time her son cried for any occasion.
“I haven’t seen him cry for, gosh, I don’t know how long. It’s been quite a while. It’s been years.
“I think it finally has hit him that this is the end of the college part. An end of an era. It’s just been wonderful to be part of this Big Red family. I’m sure he’s going to miss it.”
The Nebraska fans are going to miss it, too.
Fans interrupted the program on several occasions to break out the familiar “Suuuuuuh” chant.
“I’ll definitely miss hearing that chant you guys do," Suh said.
Others waited for more than an hour in hopes of getting an autograph from the most decorated Blackshirt in the history of the program. Earlier this week, more than 400 fans paid $50 to have an item signed by Suh at an Omaha shopping mall.
Suh won the Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik awards and was the Associated Press National Player of the Year -- the first time that a defensive player has won that award. He also finished fourth in the Heisman.
But it was clear that collecting the Outland Trophy -- the ninth time a Nebraska player has won it -- meant something special to him.
Coach Bo Pelini presented Suh with the award. Pelini recalled traveling to Suh's hometown of Portland, Ore., early last year to talk to him about coming back to Nebraska for his senior season.
Although Suh was a likely first-round draft pick in the NFL draft last season, Pelini told him that other goals could be accomplished if he returned to school.
“I can’t be more proud of one person as I am of him," Pelini said. “Last year he told me, ‘I want to have an impact on the University of Nebraska forever. I came here to make an impact and to go down in history as somebody to have a long-lasting impact on the program that they’re going to be talking about forever.’”
As he looked at his former player, Pelini understood the significance of perhaps the most popular Cornhusker player of all time.
“I think you accomplished that goal, Ndamukong,” Pelini said.
And so much more.