After the University of Nebraska's Cornhuskers scored their first touchdown against the University of Illinois on Nov. 10, thousands of red balloons lifted into the sky over Memorial Stadium.
Most would float a few hundred yards before falling to the earth, but at least one traveled more than 1,400 miles to the East End of Long Island, a Port Washington woman says.
Alyssa Lefebvre, 26, said she was combing Amagansett Beach when she came across one of the balloons resting on the shore.
Lefebvre, a marine biologist, often picks up trash on beaches and documents what she finds on her Instagram account. She’s probably disposed of hundreds of balloons over the past few years, but the red balloon she found on Nov. 13 caught her attention.
It had an N on one side and Cornhuskers on the other. She posted a photo of the balloon on her Instagram account and learned through friends that the balloon looked like something from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“I was kind of in awe, that I was holding something that potentially came from so far away,” Lefebvre said.
Lefebvre said she was skeptical at first, but then realized that the balloon looked exactly like those released at games, a tradition that’s been carried out at each of the university's home games since the 1940s. She looked up the team’s schedule and saw it had a home game just a few days before she found the balloon.
And there was one other clue as to the balloon's origin — the balloon was attached to a cotton string instead of a more commonly used ribbon, Lefebvre said. The University of Nebraska said over the summer that its balloons are secured to cotton strings and not plastic.
Though it’s uncommon, there have been other cases of helium balloons traveling thousands of miles. In 1993, a balloon floated from Kentucky to Connecticut, the Hartford Courant reported. And in 2004, a 2-year-old released a balloon in Arkansas that landed 8,800 miles away in Namibia.
“After looking at the photos, seeing the same logo, I think there’s a solid chance this came from one of their games,” Lefebvre said of the University of Nebraska.
The school has been criticized for its balloon-release tradition by groups that say it’s harmful to wildlife who can ingest the balloons.
Lefebvre too said she hopes the school comes up with another way to celebrate.
“I respect traditions and I love football, but just because it’s a tradition doesn’t mean it’s your only option,” Lefebvre said.