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That Guy's Wearing Red, Too!

Exploring the State of Nebraska and its unique football tradition

Characters Revealed

For happily obvious reasons, last night’s post-game press conference was completely different to those after all other games so far this season. Coach Riley was as usual the first person to face the media, and it was good to see him smiling as he talked about how happy he was for his players and coaches. He admitted that he had not had a good view of the crucial touchdown play by Reilly at the end of the game and had thought that the on-field decision would be overturned. While the review of the play was underway, he and and the other coaches were drawing up other plays they could run from the 30-yard line during the 17 remaining seconds of the game. Riley was clearly very pleased with the result of the game but handled it in the same calm manner that he has displayed throughout the season. He refused to be drawn into speculation about what the victory may mean for the future, saying only that it was “good for right now for this group of players”.

In my opinion, Coach Riley’s 10 minutes in front of the assembled cameras and reporters provided a great deal of insight into the man in charge of the Huskers football team. We learned that rather than being reactive and impulsive, he faces both victory and defeat in a level-headed manner and with a long-term view. Rather than ranting in the ear of a sideline referee during the review of Nebraska’s critical touchdown play as some coaches would, he was huddled with his team planning for the next steps to win the game. Rather than getting overly caught up in the moment after the team’s triumphant win, he was keeping his eyes on the remainder of the season. I have seen him looking and sounding upset for his players after some disappointing losses this year, and last night he was clearly enjoying the way his players were feeling. A number of fans that I have met so far this year have misinterpreted Riley’s unflappability as a sign of lack of personal commitment to Nebraska, but it was clearly demonstrated last night for all to see that he is committed for the long-haul.

Earlier in the press conference when Riley said he was surprised when the touchdown review decision went in favor of the Huskers, I was tempted to ask him if he had considered throwing his red challenge flag. I’m sure my question would have got a laugh from him and the 20 or so journalists and reporters in the room but it may also have got me shown the door and an invitation not to return to future press conferences.

Nate Gerry, Imani Cross and Brandon Reilly all had big games for the Huskers and answered questions from the media. All three of them spoke about how this particular game would live long in their memories. When Cross was asked how it felt to come on to the field with 91 yards to go with 55 seconds remaining, he said he didn’t feel that task was impossible. “We do it all the time in practice”, he said. I hope those fans who have been criticizing the coaching staff will take note of that statement and the evidence that backed it up last night to the tune of 91 yards in 38 seconds.

When quarterback Tommy Armstrong took the podium, I could not help myself from asking the first question. I wanted to know how was he able to keep his cool throughout a roller coaster ride like last night when some sections of the crowd booed when he threw a intercepted pass on 2nd and goal, and later on the same crowd cheered him wildly for his final two drives of the game. He responded in very mature fashion, saying that he tunes out the crowd noise and just focuses on his teammates in the knowledge that they are very capable of getting the job done together. He praised his teammates several times in response to other questions, deflecting any praise from himself. As was the case with his head coach, I felt that this performance in front of the media by Armstrong revealed much about the character of the man facing the cameras.

But I’m sure than none of the dedicated fans that I had the pleasure of meeting yesterday were among the ranks of those who booed the intercepted pass. During the space of a few hours before the game I had the opportunity to meet fans who had traveled from as far afield as Huntington Beach CA, Phoenix AZ and Las Vegas NV, not mention many different parts of Nebraska. Just as we are in the process of a transition of coaches, there is also a changing of the guard among the fans as the older folks slowly make way for the more elaborate stylings of the younger brigade. The overall-clad threesome in the background of the photo had driven 5 hours from western Nebraska for the game, a journey they undertake once per year.

Tailgating in the 21st century is a far cry from earlier years, such as with the sophisticated comforts of home that Jen and her Mike brought with them to the gas station-based space they have occupied for the past 7 years. They have it down to a fine art as the truck (red, of course) is driven inside the garage, the TV is plugged in to the satellite dish mounted on the roof for this very purpose, and electric casserole dishes are plugged into power sockets. As if that were not enough, the couple next door to them brings a complete spirits-based bar set-up complete with exotic garnishes for the drinks that they prepare for the pre-game revelers.

There was a real spirit (no pun intended) of camaraderie throughout the area as people shared food and drinks with one another in addition to their predictions of a possible upset in the game against the highly-rated Spartans.

Speaking as we were earlier of transitions, one particular gentleman in the tailgate crowd appeared to be in the midst of a seasonal transition, in the process of morphing from a summery Elvis to a more wintry Santa.

Among the other Big Red fans who had traveled from afar were Bobby and Gayle Vittitoe, who own and operate Vitty’s Bar and Grill in Lewisville TX. Regular readers of The Aussie Husker Fan may recall that Vitty’s is one of the official watch sites for the North Texas Nebraskans. Like the many other Husker fans who selected in advance the Michigan State game as the only one of the season that they would watch in person, I’m sure they are grateful for having chosen the right day!

While on the subject of looking into the future, readers may recall that I predicted to a visiting Michigan State couple prior to the game yesterday that their team would lose. After I thought about it more last night I had trouble sleeping – not because of a guilty conscience about spoiling that nice couple’s mood but because of another prediction I made last year.

I had written the script of a musical comedy for a local theater group in Fort Worth, in which the show took place 5 years in the future. According to the story, President Trump was in charge of the country. But that’s not the part that made me lose the most sleep – his Vice-President was Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. I gotta steer clear of predicting politics and stick to more gentlemanly sports like football where at least they have a rulebook to play by.

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