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That Guy's Wearing Red, Too!

Exploring the State of Nebraska and its unique football tradition

Never-Say-Die Nebraskans

It could never be said that Nebraskans do not go out of their way to enjoy their football. Last Friday the Beatrice High School Orangemen travelled 225 miles in each direction out to McCook in western Nebraska to play their first round game of the Class B State Football Playoffs. In wet and muddy conditions the visitors were down 14-0 late in the third quarter but came back with a touchdown and two-point conversion midway through the last quarter to make the score 14-8. After forcing a three-and-out, the Orangemen got the ball back with just under 6 minutes left in the game. However good defense by McCook led to a Beatrice three-and-out, and the home team were able to run the game out with no further score. Beatrice finished the season with a 6-4 record which included winning 6 games in a row before losing the last two games of the year.

It was a very creditable effort by the Orangemen who not only travelled a considerable distance to face the 8-1 McCook Bisons, but gamely took on the task under difficult field conditions. I was not at the game myself, but the whole event seems to be typical of the loyal, hard-working, never-say-die attitude that has built the Nebraska Territory up from its open prairie homestead days to the prosperous State that it is today. And this football season has so far been one that has tested the loyalty of the fans of the storied University of Nebraska program.

For the first time ever the Huskers have lost 6 games before the beginning of November, and they are also at risk of having only their third losing season since 1961. I am far from qualified to express a credible opinion about why the season has unfolded as it has, and in any case my interest lies more in the reaction of the fans than in the specific and intricate details of the events on the field. In my observations thus far I have found there are three main types of fan reactions:

  1. Fire Mike Riley and all his cronies!

  2. They should never have fired Bo!

  3. This too shall pass

The first group consists mostly of fans 30 and younger. They have grown up watching the team win consistently and go to Bowl games. Winning was expected and any time the winning stopped or even slowed down slightly, the answer was to fire the coach (see Solich, Callahan, Pelini).

As far back as the third game of the season with the unfortunate overtime loss against Miami, one fan shared with me his version of  the truth, namely that Riley was really only planning to stay a short time in Lincoln because he was living in a hotel while his wife awaited his return to Oregon. A few weeks later I heard that the reason for the delay was the Rileys needed to repaint the Lincoln house they had bought because of Mrs. Riley’s allergies. Another fan shared with me during that same game that he didn’t like Riley because he had not been sufficiently upset at the opening game loss to BYU.

The second group of fans seem to be smaller in number and range across a broader age group. The fans I have spoken to in this group all tend to agree that they don’t particularly like Bo Pelini’s demeanor as a coach or with the Press, but they all like the fact that he consistently won at least 9 games every year. Personally speaking, I enjoyed watching Bo most when his younger brother Carl was the Defensive Co-coordinator. Anytime the defense missed a tackle or allowed a long play, the TV cameras captured Bo as he would turn quickly to Carl and give him a look that said “How the $%^& did you let that happen!” Poor Carl in return would look hapless and somewhat guilty as only a younger brother can when his big brother turns to him and asks “Who broke my Batman wrist watch?” I can only imagine what the atmosphere must have been like at the Pelini parents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner after each of the football seasons that the two boys coached together!

The third group seems to be the largest, consisting mostly of fans age 50 and older who are able to remember that the Big Red was not always the formidable juggernaut of the Devaney and Osborne eras. Members of this group will say “Give him time” in relation to Coach Riley, but often continue with “but we ain’t gonna wait forever”. The prevailing view among these fans is that new coaches and players inevitably need time to get used to one another. Early in the season they were willing to blame the coaches for losses but now this group seems to have shifted more to a view that the players also have to take their share of responsibility for the unexpectedly poor results of the team.

Having pointed out the differences between the three groups of fans, I have seen over and over that there is one overarching principle that unites all groups and all ages – their undying loyalty to Nebraska. They may disagree about what the administrators, coaches and players should be doing at any given moment but there is no question that they would ever shift their allegiance to another team. They are with the Big Red through thick and thin, and neither time, distance nor bad weather can separate them from their beloved Huskers.

And this loyalty, dear readers, is exactly why this Aussie has taken on the project of this blog and book. In today's short-attention-span Twitter-driven world, Nebraska and its people are both special and unique. Go Big Red!

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