On my birthday this year, I was sitting out in the rain and feeling miserable. Well, at least I was for a while. After a bit, I went home happy and dried off, but for a while, I was just wet and miserable.
My birthday is October 8. Nebraska was hosting Ohio State, in a game that I had looked forward to for over a year. Nebraska would have played Kansas State, had the Big 12 stayed as it was, but now, they were playing one of the big boys. My dad had gotten the two of us tickets to the game, aisle seats about forty rows up in south endzone, a section west of the student section. What was as bad as the first half was that there were a bunch of guys who were sitting in the row adjacent to our seats. They were told to move by one of the security guys in orange vests, then by an uniformed cop. Thankfully, they left at halftime.
When Nebraska was down 27-6 in that game, all I could think of was that Kirk Bohl of the Austin-American Statesman would be writing a column talking about how the Huskers were in over their heads in the Big 10. Here was the dilemma of being a Nebraska die-hard the past ten years-taking the scorn of not living up to the expectations was next to impossible. The first people had begun to leave the game when Ohio State got the ball for the second time in the third quarter. In my head, I had myself begun to calculate mentally when exactly I would want to leave stadium sure that the game was out of reach; thankfully, I never picked the time.
Same day two years earlier, I had been sitting in the Joyo Theater contemplating the exact same thing on a third down play early in the fourth quarter as Nebraska was down 12-0. As that game worn on, I was almost gleeful. While Nebraska was down 12-0 entering the fourth quarter, I comforted myself with the notion that it wasn’t nearly as bad as Nebraska’s last two losses to Missouri. The defense had manhandled Missouri upfront; the only points Missouri had managed were hard earned. I thought well, we won’t win the Big 12 North this year, but hey, Missouri’s defense is tough. But as Nebraska’s defense began dropping interception, I started to think that Missouri had just been lucky up to that point.
So as I was thinking about leaving, Zac Lee’s threw one up to Niles Paul, shocking me that he actually got the ball more than fifteen yards from line of scrimmage. When Paul caught the ball and stumbled into the end zone, the theater erupted. It had felt as if the Huskers were down by four touchdowns, but after that touchdown, it felt like they were ahead. As it felt like they could literally do no wrong, they stormed back to win 27-12, and as Roy Helu scored the games’ final touchdown, I turned to my Dad and whispered, “Best birthday ever”.
Two years later, as Ohio State took the ball again in the third quarter, the feeling that Nebraska would once again be the sorry program who lived in the nineties took over, and in this game, Nebraska looked even more over matched on the lines. And to think that this could be the weakest Ohio State team Nebraska played in the next ten years, who could steal Nebraska’s coach at the end of the season? The results when I walked out of the gate would be unbearable.
The third down where LaVonte David stripped Braxton Miller felt so surreal; I wasn’t celebrating it at first, because I thought they might rule Miller down on replay because David came away with the ball after the fact. But seeing it again, I could tell that David had wrestled the ball away, like an unwilling hand-off. I didn’t feel that sensation of an instant turnaround, but when Taylor Martinez scored a touchdown on the second play after the fumble, having set up the Buckeyes perfectly for the middle keeper, I felt Nebraska had a chance.
In retrospect, many of the similarities between the Missouri comeback and the Ohio State comeback exist, although I didn’t think of them during the game. I didn’t see it until I watched the game again, but it was when Joe Bauserman came into the game on third down that the crowd really came back to life. When Bauserman threw a pass ten yards out of bounds on third down, I began to think Nebraska had a realistic chance to comeback, a thought that I finished when Quincy Enumwa caught the long touchdown pass from Taylor Martinez with 2:21 left in the third, cutting the deficit to a touchdown. That series of plays was two plays in the Missouri game-Ndamukong Suh’s interception of Blaine Gabbert, followed by Niles Pauls’ second touchdown pass two plays later. The longer gap in the Ohio State game really had be holding my breath and thinking maybe.
Obviously, more fortuitous things came up in the Ohio State game, given that Nebraska was down three touchdowns. If Braxton Miller doesn’t get injury, it severally hurts Nebraska’s chances, and if Ohio State doesn’t have an interim coach, they could have had the leadership to withstand the bleeding. But both games signified the making of Nebraska’s season that year: the win at Missouri was Nebraska’s ticket to the Big 12 title game (and their first win in Columbia in eight years), and the win against Ohio State was Nebraska’s first Big 10 win, a win that kept Nebraska among the top 25 for the year, and most importantly, the biggest comeback in school history. If Nebraska had lost the Ohio State game, they would have gone done in the bowl pecking order, and this off-season would be even worse. After ten years of watching Nebraska fail to come back after several things didn’t go their way in a game, it was rewarding to see them come back, especially against one of the nation’s elite programs.
At the end of the game, the rain was over and my dad and I went to the car, stopping by The Mill for a smoothie and tea. I was still wet, but it was a night that you could believe in magic, if you really wanted to. I can’t wait to see who Nebraska is playing Saturday, October 8, 2016. Or if they get a Thursday night game on October 8, 2015.