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Nebraska Becomes Kansas

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For years in the Big 8 and then in the Big 12, Kansas’ football team could always be counted on to sit in the league cellar.

Back in the day I often wondered why the University of Kansas continued to field  football teams. After all, Kansas regularly sponsored world-class basketball teams (and they still do). So why not give up on football while resident in an otherwise powerhouse conference that in those days included Oklahoma and Nebraska and, later on, Texas.

Now I know how Kansas fans felt all those years. Nebraska’s football team was the only Big Ten team that lost yesterday (even Rutgers won!) And they lost to a second-tier school. To be honest, they sucked.

Unlike Kansas fans, Nebraskans don’t have the solace of a stellar basketball team.  Championship-level volleyball works as a substitute for this die-hard Husker fan, but I suspect that is not true for the bulk of Nebraska’s football fanatics, who for years were able to take championship-level play for granted.

If I were their coaches, I’d be packing my bags.

 

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Football!

97e4b6d7e7245d405a3d08d13c71429eYay! Football season is here! Even though this is patsy weekend, I’m glued to the glowing box.

Like me, most Big Ten football fans are rabid about their teams, no matter how good or bad they are year in and year out. The Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry is the oldest between major teams in the history of college football;  these teams first played one another in 1890! Michigan-Ohio State is probably the best-known college football rivalry. It began in 1897 and continues to be exciting, and sometimes bitter, every year.

Perhaps because of its long history, or perhaps because of the feeling among commentators this year that The Big Ten is the best conference (which feeling makes me nervous), its teams were amply represented on teevee on this early football weekend. Wisconsin whaled on Utah State last night while Ohio State beat up on Big Ten teammate Indiana. Minnesota won on Thursday night, while Rutgers lost. No surprises anywhere there.

Early this morning I have my choice of Iowa, Penn State, or Maryland. I’m dividing my time between the Iowa and Penn State games because I was once employed on each of those campuses. Every time I see Iowa’s gold and black unis on the field I’m reminded of Bonnie, the wonderful woman who (ran) (was the secretary) of my department there. She was a rabid Hawkeye fan, as I found out on my first day there when I showed up to move in while wearing a Nebraska t-shirt. Later that year Nebraska won the national championship and my Omaha sister sent me a beautiful t-shirt commemorating the achievement. I wore it to work under a jacket and flashed the few people I knew who could take the gesture without contemplating mayhem. That included my hapless students, who were not impressed.

My friends have heard the story about my introductory interview with the dean of my college at Penn State. She confided to me that she was also from Nebraska and was still a fan (what Nebraskan isn’t?) She gave me the most useful advice I ever got from a dean: “Don’t wear your red hat on campus.” My next stop was the college bookstore, where I was confronted by a life-size cardboard cut-out of Joe Paterno and a sign featuring a Nittany Lion facing off against a Cornhusker. It read “Any time, any place.” College football fans will recognize that this was the year that Nebraska had won a consensus championship and Penn State felt it had been cheated out of the title. Of course this also antedated the scandal that later tainted the program and Paterno’s reputation.

But I ramble. In the only tough match-up today, Michigan faces Florida. That will be a hummer. And then, this evening, Nebraska takes on Arkansas State, which SHOULD be an easy win for the Huskers. Fingers crossed.

Penn State and Iowa both just scored, so I’m outa here. But not before I leave you with this beautiful photo of Iowa’s campus in the fall.

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A Most Satisfactory Win

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Nebraska fans don’t seem to care who is coming to play football in their stadium–they turn out for every opponent, no matter how small or how imposing. Last Saturday marked the 350th sellout in a stadium that seats more than 90,000 people. That record dates back to my time at NU, people–nineteen and sixty-effing-two. Of course the stadium was less capacious then. Nebraska had not yet won all those national championships, and still we came to watch.

Faithful fans were amply rewarded last Saturday when the fabled Oregon Ducks came to town. I was certain beforehand that Big Red would lose this game, maybe by fifty points, given Oregon’s history as a powerhouse. Happily, they are so no longer. Nebraska looked good against them on both offense and defense throughout the game. Then the Huskers pulled out a last-minute win by stopping Oregon’s last desperate drive at mid-field on fourth down. Nebraska then took the ball and marched it smartly into the end zone for the win. Hooray!

Nebraska’s new coach, Mike Reilly, spent many years at Oregon State where his team was regularly left in the dust by Oregon. I’m sure I saw Reilly weeping after the game on Saturday. Revenge is sweet, sayeth the long-suffering coach, under his breath of course.

I thought twice about attaching the following photo, given its mean-spiritedness about Oregon’s fancy unis. But I still feel sufficiently jubilant about the game not to give a shit.

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GBR!

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The Poetry Has Gone

 

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Calvin Johnson has announced his retirement from football.  Good for him–he is only 30, and hence he may have spared himself and his family the horrors that attend on more lengthy stays in the NFL.

But I will miss watching him. He moved like a dancer.

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He was so fast that he was often able to sneak behind defenders, catching them, literally, off guard. He was a joy to watch.

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Bye, Calvin.

bye

 

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Just Like Old Times

 

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Inspired by the volleyball team . . .

No, I can’t get away with that. Even though there are close connections between Nebraska’s football and volleyball players. On the night the women won the National Championship, for example, they received congratulatory tweets from Ameer Abdullah and Kenny Bell, who are now in the NFL.

No matter the source of inspiration, last night the Cornhusker football team beat UCLA in one of those low-rent bowl games that only participants care about. And during the second half I wasn’t sure that even UCLA gave a damn. But Nebraska sure needed that win.

The Husker coaches took a page (FINALLY) out of Nebraska football history, and ran the ball, and ran, and ran, and ran. Getting into the spirit of things, the announcers, who were clearly from/for California, evoked the spirit of Tom Rathman, which was a compliment of the highest order–in California as well as in Nebraska (right, Desert?) They also mentioned Roger Craig, I. M. Hipp, and Mike Rozier in their memory-lane tour of Nebraska football history.

Well, those guys played for the Huskers in better days. For now, Nebraska fans are quite happy with a 37-29 victory and a hell of a game that was fun to watch into the bargain.

 

 

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Hard Saturdays

Well here it is Saturday morning and I’m watching College Game Day, hoping that they won’t mention Nebraska.  Faithful readers of this blog will notice a change–in the past I’ve complained here about ESPN’s lack of coverage of Nebraska football, as well as that played in the Big Ten overall.

Well this year the Big Ten is getting plenty of coverage. Ohio State is ranked number one in the country, while Michigan State is ranked fourth (or seventh, depending on whose poll you consult). Michigan, Iowa, and Northwestern all rank in the top twenty. This is great news for the conference, not least because good publicity moves donors to contribute to academic programs.

But these facts are cold comfort to Cornhusker fans, whose team record is 2 and 4. Yep, you read right:  2 wins, 4 losses. It doesn’t help that we lost each of those games by three points or fewer.

I know, I’m whining. Allow me, though, to point to a little history. The last time Nebraska put up a won-loss record this bad was in–get ready–1954! Sixty years! I was in grade school in 1954, eleven years old, wearing braids and bobby sox. (You can find the Huskers’ scoring history at http://www.huskers.com/pdf9/2760511.pdf?DB_OEM_ID=100).

So for most of my life the Nebraska Cornhuskers have been winners, and losing is hard to get used to. Things are not going to improve, either, outside of some sort of miracle. Nebraska is now in the heart of its Big Ten schedule, bringing the worst win-loss record in sixty years into a conference wherein, this year, even perennial fodder like Purdue and Indiana are striking sparks on occasion.

OTOH, Nebraska’s volleyball team is ranked third nationally.  The women look really good, especially on defense. So there’s that.

And Inky is glad today is Saturday. He’s getting mighty tired of my hovering over his every move.

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No, Not The Same

ncf_g_orangebowl_600Turner Gill Prepares To Throw The Famous Two-Point Conversion Attempt

Yesterday Nebraska played Miami in the second of a home-and-home series. They lost 36-33. This morning the pundits on ESPN are comparing this game to the famous 1983 Orange Bowl, where Miami beat Nebraska 31-30. That game is famous because Tom Osborne, Nebraska’s coach, decided to try for a two-point conversion to win, rather than tie, the game. The attempt failed and Nebraska lost its chance to become national champion that year.

That was a shame, because Nebraska was undefeated until the Orange Bowl game. They beat everybody they played that season by 50 points or more. Miami, on the other hand, lost its first few games, but managed to win its conference. In other words, both teams were very good that year.

All that being said (political pundits use this phrase when they are about to diss a candidate), that’s where the similarity to yesterday’s game ends. Neither of the current teams is very good. Nonetheless, Miami was the better of two middling teams for most of the game, scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter before Nebraska even figured out where the goalposts were. The gameplay was rife with missed tackles and dropped passes, and so disastrous for Nebraska, that I turned it off during the third quarter. I don’t remember ever doing that before.

Desert called me a few minutes later and said “Turn it on–Nebraska has tied the game!” Sure enough, the score was 33-33. Apparently Nebraska’s quarterback, Tommie Armstrong (great name for a QB), decided to win the game all by himself. He threw pass after pass and scored 23 points in the final quarter. But it wasn’t enough. Miami managed to kick a field goal in the final seconds of the game.

So now Nebraska has one win and two losses. The team has not turned in such a lackluster tally since the horrible days when Bill Callahan was coach in the early 2000s (those games were so bad I used to hunt for photos of Callahan on the sidelines, just to make sure he had remembered to attend). During the early quarters yesterday I reckoned that we’d end up 5-7 on the year, which, as someone mourned on a Nebraska website, puts us in “Iowa-Minnesota territory.” Trouble is, Iowa and Minnesota are both pretty good this year.

Predictably, the Nebraska forums are full of naysayers who are ready to fire the new coach. Mike Reilly. I’d bet my social security check that these are the same clowns who argued so ferociously for Bo Pelini to be fired last year–the tone of their rants is exactly the same.

They should calm down. Reilly is a better coach. He has helped Armstrong enormously. Furthermore, Reilly knows how to adapt to new situations–something Pelini was never able to do. Reilly’s team has lost two games by single plays–a hail Mary and a late field goal. In other words, his teams don’t give up, as Pelini’s sometimes used to do. And after all, Ameer Abdullah is now playing in Detroit.

Given time and Nebraska’s resources, Reilly has the potential to get Nebraska winning again. But maybe not this year.

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