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That Guy's Wearing Red, Too!

Exploring the State of Nebraska and its unique football tradition

Cardiac Cornhuskers

Ok, I know I might not be the quickest on the uptake, not the brightest bulb in the batch, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and I might have a few kangaroos roaming loose in the top paddock, but after today I realized that it’s time to change careers. That’s right, you read it correctly – next week I’m going to start studying to be a cardiologist who rescues people from heart attacks. Of course I’ll have to relocate to Nebraska to ply my trade, but there are 1.8 million potential customers here who have had their cardiac health severely compromised for the last 8 weeks by the performance of their favorite football team.

Today was another perfect example among many so far this season of how the ebb and flow of a football game can elevate the pulse, raise blood pressure to dangerous levels and stress the workings of one’s most important organ. Only a person with an ice-cold temperament (or my friend's ex-wife) would not be stressed by the sight of their beloved team losing four of their first six games by a grand total of 11 points.

After last week’s encouraging and substantial victory in the seventh game of the season, the Husker faithful around the country had begun to breathe a little more easily – especially when they were treated to the sight of Coach Riley smiling on the sidelines for the first time. And pulse rates started to stabilize at more normal levels when the Huskers were anointed as 7-point favorites for this week’s game against Northwestern in Lincoln. In case anyone had missed it in the papers or on the pre-game radio shows, a creatively-decorated bus in the tailgate area made clear the expectation that the visiting team would be run over by the unstoppable Huskers

Thanks to my opera-loving ticket man Bob, I was able to observe all of today’s action from a seat on the 39-yard line in the East Stadium as the Huskers once again provided a 4-quarter stress test for 89,493 people at the stadium and for hundreds of thousands of others watching on television from the comfort of fine establishments such as the Iron Horse Food and Spirits in Hooper, NE where soothing medication is readily available.

The home team had changed uniforms for today’s game, wearing all black outfits with red numbers. Unfortunately I had forgotten to bring my binoculars to the game and was unable to identify individual players at a distance due to the low contrast between the black uniforms and the dark red numbers they wore. I was sad for the three siblings of Nebraska I-Back Devine Ozigbo whom I had met at the airport a couple of days ago as we all boarded a plane bound for Omaha. Devine wears number 22 and I was unable to discern whether or not he got on to the field, but I hope his siblings had better luck spotting him.

But regardless of my inability to identify any Nebraska player apart from the quarterback Tommy Armstrong, the game was neck-and-neck throughout. The Huskers began the fourth quarter with a field goal to take a 22-20 lead, and by that point had accumulated 19 first downs compared to only 6 for the visitors. Both teams then had three-and-out possessions until the visiting Wildcats suddenly discovered the ability to move the ball 77 yards down the field in a 9-play drive, culminating in a touchdown and a 27-22 lead. Another three-and-out by Nebraska was followed by a Wildcats field goal and a lead of 30-22. The Huskers took over with 7 minutes and 27 seconds left on the clock, and Armstrong duly led the team on an 8-play drive in the space of three minutes that resulted in a touchdown and narrowed the margin to 30-28 in favor of the visitors.

With 4 minutes and 23 seconds left in the game, pulse rates were once soaring in Huskerland as the home team lined up for a two-point conversion attempt which would tie the game. It was at this point that the idea of a career change hit me right out of nowhere like a sudden coronary attack. After all If the Huskers were going to keep testing our capacity to handle stress week after week, why shouldn’t I be prepared to make a profit out of it?

The ball was snapped and the brute force choreography that is football sprang into action as players from both teams performed their scripted maneuvers of turns, spins and pirouettes while Armstrong danced skillfully away from the defenders who would throw him to the ground if they could. Finally he saw a crack in the Wildcats' armor and launched the ball through a gap towards a receiver in the end zone. But one of the defenders tipped the ball and the catch could not be made.

The score remained 30-28 in favor of the visitors, but with 4 minutes and 18 seconds to play, surely the Huskers would get the ball back before time expired? Or before our hearts expired from the stress of holding our breath? Alas it was not to be, as the Wildcats kept possession through 9 plays and were able to run out the clock.

Once again the Huskers had put up a brave fight and ended up on the wrong side of a close finish, having now lost 5 games by a total of 13 points. The boys certainly have nothing to be ashamed of as they have given it their all, and I for one would only be too pleased if their luck would turn and they would put me out of the cardiology business before I even got started!

Go Big Red! (or Black!)

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