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Maximum Red Podcast, Episode 3

In this episode, why Nebraska fans should want Kansas State in the Big 10 instead of Kansas, implications of the Kenny Eggers article, top tweets, and a powerful article by Amelia Rayno.

Kickoff after Huskers had taken a 31-0 lead in the third quarter.

Shoes off

No Fading Here

No Fading Here

Mack Brown to the Longhorn Network: Ask My Lawyer

So this fall it came out that Mack Brown isn’t exactly happy with the Longhorn Network. All those trips across town to tape The Mack Brown Show three times a week, that’s wearing on poor ol’ Mack, coupled with the fact that all those practice highlights on LHN is giving our opponents the advantage. This is the point where Husker fans ask, “So Texas, that was worth nearly destroying the Big 12? By the by, that’s for giving us the push we need to go to the Big 10.”

Brown’s complaints about his commitment to the network is, in part, a by-product of longevity in the coaching world. I remember watching him on the sidelines during the 2010 Texas-Kansas State game, belching at his players while a Wildcat returned an interception. I remember thinking to myself that this coach who wore a sophisticated mesh workout shirt with the Longhorn head on it, just looked tired of being a hands-on coach. Since 1985, Brown has been in a head coach of a FBS program, twenty-seven years without a break. Even though Colt McCoy got UT to the 2009 National Title game, the Big 12 was extremely watered down and Jordan Shipley was the only skill player of note on that team. With McCoy’s leadership gone, Brown had to take it over, and even with elite coordinators, Texas has hit a ceiling.

So it’s not surprising that Brown’s now complaining about his LHN commitments. Texas is in an on-field funk, and suddenly, their gem of a network is a problem. To get conference games on the network, they have to show the game on over-the-air channels in the market of the visiting team. According to Blair Kerkhoff, more people in Kansas than in watched last year’s Texas-Kansas game (whose LHN telecast was announced in glamorous fashion by Brett Musberger during the Red River Rivalry), and this year’s Cyclone-Longhorn game was even shown on the local ABC affiliate in Omaha. The vehemence is palpable.

But my advice Nebraska fans: let this one go. If Pat Fitzgerald, Dan Mullen, Chris Pederson or any young coach, takes the Texas job when Brown retires, either one of them will have the energy to take care of the LHN commitments. That coach will, after all, have one of the best jobs in America. (BTB, if Fitzgerald ends up at Texas, he’ll have one of the best ten to twenty year runs of a coach at one school ever.) Just be thankful that you have a good new conference, even if you haven’t had the highest success on the gridiron.

So, what does the long-term future hold for LHN? It’s only been a little over a year, and remember, it took a while for the Big 10 Network to catch on, although there were a lot more markets that wanted BTN’s content. If LHN continues to flounder, it could hasten Texas’ potential trek to the Pac-12 with Oklahoma. The Longhorns will continue to profit, but it likely be more work than they expected, and the network won’t be the gem everyone thought it would end up being. Smile slyly, Husker fans.

Hold on…

My Husker Game Day: Part 3

(This is the the third post in a piece I wrote a few years ago about my experience going to Husker games: Part 1 and Part 2)

Washington 2011-Big Picture

Tunnel Walk is where the game starts for me. Highlights from the previous years, mingled in with a few highlights from this year, or last years game against a common opponent. It has been a bit sad in recent years; looking at the glory from the 1990’s which seems a million miles away. But times in college football have changed, and Nebraska’s had a rough patch. At least now, we’re a program that the state can be proud of.

As I watch the memories, some of which I can recall as I kid and many I can’t, my blood starts to rush as I begin to think about the five year stretch between 1993 and 1997 when Nebraska won sixty of sixty-three games and three national championships. And I wonder if, in spite of the tougher conferences and the nemesis that is the state of Texas, that kind of dominance could still be possible. It is usually about this team that I see the team exit the locker room and start toward the field. And as I see the players pup themselves up with high fives from the fans, I feel the rush again, the ownership that whole state has in this team. And then they hit the field, and I know inside that anything is possible.

All games are different, depending on the opponent and the stakes. I don’t go to insignificant non-conference games anymore . The only two notable non-conference game for me were Bo Pelini’s first game against competent mid-major Western Michigan, and the 2007 season opener against Nevada, where I was lucky enough to find a $50 ticket four rows up on the forty yard line.

Then there are the average conference games, against the Baylors, Iowa States, Kansases, and, since the conference switch, Minnesota. These games are nice wins, and occasionally, a very embarrassing loss. (See Iowa State 2009). These are the majority of games that I go to. Occasionally, bigger stakes make the games more important (the K-State game in 2009 for the conference title), but most of the time there’s little tangible drama. These teams may have good enough players or a good enough coach to hang with the Huskers for a while, but ultimately, the crowd takes over.

Since 2010, I only go to the significant games. That year, I only home games I went to were Texas (ugh) and Missouri, and this past year, Washington (family in town) and Ohio State (my soggy story of the night) . I trimmed back how many games because, in my memory, the tougher games are the ones that stand out: the 2006 games against Texas was the most memorable game I attended at Memorial Stadium, win or loose (read the experience here). It’s so much work to go to a game, it’s almost not worth it to go in the stadium and watch anyone but Oklahoma, Texas, or Ohio State and Michigan now.

The game, I get lost in. After the kickoff, I rarely take photos of the action, shameful I know. But for the three-and-a-half hours in the stands, it’s just me and my team, as I’ve been abandoned in uniformity. Game day is really the only time that Lincoln becomes a crowd like a crowd you would find in a major city like San Francisco or Chicago, where you can just be anonymous and no one looks at you. It’s strangely freeing.

Attending a live games pull me in ways that are almost inexplicable. Unlike when I’m at home, I have to fight the urge to curse, and I can’t just go get up and walk into another room when it gets frustrating. Everything’s out there in front of me. The turmoil within always comes from the fact that this game will stay fixed in my mind for the better part of the next couple of years, and even though I’ll watch the highlights on YouTube, the nuances from the stadium will stick with me. The views of the players on the sidelines, the demeanor of the people around me. My brain will process everything.

During halftime, I usually get up and walk. When I was younger, I liked to walk around the stadium as much as I could, but not as much now that I’m familiar with all the nooks and crannies. Often times now, I’ll just find an empty space and sit against the wall with my legs stretched out and periodically check my radio for updates on other games. But I like to take the earbuds out and sit there distant from all the senses that I’m taken in, almost as if I’m napping.

But then I go back to my seat and watch the game. If Nebraska ends up winning, I’m on a high whose high by is determined how big the win is. It’s just a buoyancy that propels the rest of my day. If it’s a loss, I feel as if I’m trapped in a painting that I can’t get out of. Losses feel more like subtractions to me, little non-events and omissions where something I can’t define has left me.

Washington 2011-Little Moment

When I leave the game, and usually I stay to the end or near end (longer than I have to), I’ll take a round-about way to get to the one of the west gates, if I’m not sitting in the south stadium, which is closed off. Leaving is always a rush for me, and I like picking my way through crowds. I feel unnoticed even though I’m with people, and once, when I was going back down through a crowd of people who were trying to head up to their seats, someone tapped me on the shoulder from behind and noted how good I was at doing so.

I have a bad habit of cutting across streets when I’m not supposed to. I’ll do it a lot at the end of the I-180 bridge at 9th street, where occasionally there will be enough breaks in traffic (no one heads into downtown at the end of a Husker game), and dart back into the Haymarket, reversing my way back through the tailgaters who are still grilling and watching games as I go back to my car. On the way, I often stop at Jack’s for a drink (they’re less crowded) or grab a tea from Scooter’s or The Mill.

When I get to my car, I’m exhilarated. I hit the streets, and try to calculate the best way to get Highway 6. Usually, it involves going down to A via minor streets, then cutting back on Coddington to get on Highway 77 North to go back to Highway 6. This helps me bypass most of the heavier traffic, and once I pass the entrances from Highway 6 to the Interstate, I’m home free.

When I get home, I usually try to go to bed if it’s a night game, but I’ll check the scores quick on my computer. If not, I crash on the couch, grab on easy dinner if I don’t get something on the way, and watch other college football games, waiting for the perspective from the game highlights. By now, I’m very content, and while working on Monday has usually started to loom, I couldn’t be happier for the experience. Except if it was a loss, of course.

State of Too Much Prosperity: Will Oklahoma be the Epicenter the Next Realignment Earthquake?

It is admirable how they’ve stuck together. Or more precisely, how Oklahoma has stuck next to Oklahoma State. Throughout all the conference realignment poker, the Sooner Schooner and Pistol Pete have endeavored to stay together. Even though Oklahoma probably could have gone to the SEC with Texas A&M, the political leadership in the state of Oklahoma has kept the schools together.

But can the commitment between OU and OSU withstand further realignment storms?

Will the Pokes bolt their in-state rival?

Over the off-season, I’ve been pondering about what could be the catalyst for the next round of conference realignment. In the summer of 2010, it was the threat of Texas taking half the Big 12 west to form the Pac 16, pushing Nebraska and Colorado to bolt for more secure futures. Last year, the shifts that began with Texas A&M going to the SEC again centered around Austin, this time over the reach of the Longhorn Network. While the split between the Aggies and Longhorns may seem more obvious in retrospect, A&M’s bolt wasn’t as easily predicted as Nebraska’s was the year prior. Conference realignment is a huge game of liar’s poker, driven by the fear of successful regional programs being left out of the national mix, as half the Southwest Conference was twenty years ago.

Don’t confuse what I’m saying: I’m glad the Sooners and Cowboys have committed themselves to each other, at least publicly. Both teams  don’t need to go to other conferences. They’re not in danger of being left out of the realignment mix, at least not yet.  The Big 12 appears more stable now that it did at times over the last two years. But even with conferences forming their own networks and earning record numbers from TV, only so much financial growth can be sustained. Eventually, conferences will need to add schools to add revenue.

OK State has followed Oregon’s footsteps from good to great, and maybe the two haven’t seen the last of each other.

Consider that, with footprint in Oklahoma and Texas, Larry Scott can finally get Pac 12 games on TV at noon Eastern Standard Time, opening a new revenue window. Plus, the Pac 12 can finally have a shot in providing signature early game highlights for the rest of the day. What if, after a decade or more goes by, Scott decides not to wait on Texas and Oklahoma anymore and make an offer to Oklahoma State?

The Cowboys themselves could be a more prominent program by then. Like Oregon, OSU is turning to snazzy uniform combos to go with their funky offense. Mike Gundy is the perfect CEO for his Alma mater:  an innovative offensive mind, who, unlike Jimmie Johnson and Les Miles before him, could stay in Stillwater for twenty years. Coming off an outright Big 12 title, how many more will OSU win until they say “We don’t want to play in our little brother’s shadow. We aren’t just the program of Boone Pickens’ millions and Gundy’s post-game rant. We are a big name in our own right.”

New Battle of the Big Reds and Border War? Could the Arkansas River Rivalry come to replace the Red River Rivalry?

That is, after all, the logic which Texas A&M is taking into the SEC, and could be the logic that take either Oklahoma program to the nation’s premiere conference. With the SEC’s stranglehold on the National Title, it’s hard to imagine any other conference winning thee National Title any time soon. As fans keep demanding crystal balls, winning them may require playing an impossible eight conference games every year. If Texas A&M and Missouri eventually starts winning in the SEC (and Arkansas continues to win) and the SEC draw the best players in the state of Texas to their schools, Sooner and Cowboys fans will be tweeting to go the SEC.

Taking down Georgia in 2009 earned Okie State serious credibility; will they join the SEC to get more of it?

As a college football fan, I am sadden to write this, because I hate to see another good rivalry end. And this may be premature: at the moment, the Big 12 maybe in better position than the Big East to survive. But, after these next TV contracts run their course into the 2020’s, the conference realignment winds will swirl and the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State relationship will be challenged. And who knows how much jealousy Oklahoma State’s success could bread.

(More Conference Realignment)

Which one of these men will lead his school on a new path?

Florida State-Big 12: A Match Made in Wonderland

Pointing West?

I’m sure if Tom Osborne had known that Florida State, the school of his old coaching pal, would eventually come to the Big 12, he never would have moved Husker nation to the Big 10. Seriously though: there is no good reason for Florida State to go to the Big 12, even if DeLoss Dodds shares the profits from the Longhorn Network. Even if the money is better, conference sustainability trumps dollar signs. What’s most remarkable about this potential realignment is that the ACC, the basketball league that established $25 million exit fees (which have kept Virginia Tech from seriously considering the SEC) and looked like it would swallow the Big East, looks like it could be headed for turmoil itself.


Old war foes almost conference foes?

Alas, if only Larry Scott had allowed Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas Tech to come into the Pac 12 last fall, and the rest of the Big 12 could have gone to the Big East, and this mess would be mostly over.

To Tomahawk Nation: even if the money in the Big 12 is better, that conference’s future can never be certain because of the Longhorn Network. In that conference, everyone else will be looking to leave, and Texas can always got to the Pac 12 because of the way the Pac 12 Network will be set up. Yes, there were thirteen years of hearing “Why do we need Florida State in this conference?” at the basketball coach’s meetings, but the ACC is not what the Big 12 was pre-2010 blow-up, Nebraska and Colorado, boom, outta here. You’ve got a good commissioner, now you just have to get him to work toward a conference network.

There is one scenario that Florida State moving to the Big 12 would make some sense: if there were five other institutions on board coming to the Big 12 with the Seminoles, thus forming the Big 16 and its own conference network. Imagine it: Florida State, Miami, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Rutgers, and UConn expand the Big 12’s reach into the east. Who cares if Iowa State’s closest division game is now in Morgantown, West Virginia? They always did their best when they recruited Florida. (Sorry, this is where the conference realignment post get as fanciful as Lord of the Rings.)

Future annual rivals?

This is just what happens in the long college football offseason: we get pointless stories like this. Let’s thank Chip Brown, and don’t forget Florida State: you have it good in the ACC. If you hire an elite coach (and eventually, you will), you’ll have an easy path to the national title game through Wake, North Carolina State, and eventually Syracuse, much easier than in the Big 12. Don’t get greedy like Texas A&M did.

Wathcing Robert Griffin III in Person: My Personal Story of Seeing RG3 face the Blackshirts

My seat on the day in consideration; thankfully it was just beyond the obstruction of west stadium.

It was bemusing, listening to Jason Peter complain on radio about Nebraska’s sub-par performance as I walked down 8th Street toward Jack’s Pub. Peter, playing the former player bemoaning the way things change, was furious that Nebraska had only beaten a Big 12-bottom feeder by only twelve points. While I  hadn’t been thrilled by the Huskers doing enough to win comfortably and no more (“We sure like to make it interesting” Bo Pelini said in his post0-game presser), I didn’t think the Huskers had to feel shamed. This Baylor team was much improved, fueled their freshmen quarterback, whose game I thought at the time rivaled Tommie Frazier’s.

It is a bit surreal now that quarterback, Robert Griffin III is being touted as the second pick in the NFL draft. Griffin that day was a spark plug that started to get a down-on-its-luck program to believe again, but he still had a ways to go.

That game broadcasted two programs, priming for rises under first year coaches. While Nebraska was obviously morphing into a more confident team, Baylor’s turning was much sublime. Indeed, Bear Country had scored a serious coup by nabbing Briles from the Houston Cougars, but the real credibility was RG3. Given that Baylor, the Big 12’s entitled brat who was allowed to stay in college football relevance because of a technicality, had landed an elite quarterback, showed that the private school Bears could grow some teeth

From my vantage point, I saw RG3 a smooth improviser with a noticeably good arm, apt to run first. His boyish confidence was the thrust of two scoring drives that answered Nebraska scoring drives with two of his own. The most impressive play-a 4th and 1, where RG3 trapped Nebraska’s defense inside on a fake sneak, and then ran around the left end for a 47-yard touchdown with shocking ease. (See it Below). After it, I remember cursing Bill Callahan for not recruiting him

But after taking a 20-17 just before halftime, Griffin and his cohorts hit a wall. The Bears pushed Nebraska to the limit, getting a first-and-goal from the seven. But, Zach Potter and Larry Asante penetrated and stoned the fab frosh on third down from the two, and then Ben Parks missed the short Baylor field goal. Nebraska took the lead on the next drive (Nate Swift broke Nebraska’s career receptions record with the go-ahead schore), and it became one of the first times that Bo Pelini’s teams made their own luck. But RG3 would have better days.

Cody Glenn Takes down RG3

Suprisingly that day, I didn’t think that RG3 wouldn’t be anything more than a great college running quarterback who maybe became WR-RB hybrid in the NFL, ala Brad Smith. Watching him against TCU in last season’s opener, Griffin throw the ball down field with an authority and command he didn’t have as a freshmen. And keeping the Bears fighting to beat Oklahoma showed how much his ability to lead had brought the Baylor program so far. While I still think Andrew Luck should have won the Heisman, that ability by RG3 to inspire others and lift a perennially bad program made him worthy of the trophy.

But looking forward, the mix of Griffin’s energy with Mike Shanahan and the dysfunctional culture of the Redskins promises a peculiar clash of personalities. Shanahan’s gruff, perfectionist nature has lead his former quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Jake Plummer to criticize him publicly, and like RG3, both those quarterbacks were prone to run a lot. But both McNabb and Plummer were veterans who had been known for having the greatest work habits. Shanahan is getting RG3 straight off the tree, but while he can mold his habits, it won’t guarantee that Shanahan-Griffin marriage (forced because Shanahan has to win this year) will work. How patient will the coach be after putting hard work into a game plan that becomes irrelevant when Griffin takes off and runs half the time, then gets most of the credit when the team turns around?(A Tebow situation brewing?)

(Oddly enough, Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also concluded that Griffin may not be the lock others think he is. Here is his assessment of the quarterbacks in this year’s draft. Link While I think Colin Cowherd was accurate when he said there isn’t much of a chance RG3 busts, he may indeed hit a wall in the NFL where his athletic ability can’t compensate for every flaw.)

The great part for me of having that debate now was, three and a half years ago, I walked out of Memorial Stadium thinking to myself how lucky Nebraska was not to have to face Griffin as a junior or senior, which, incidentally, conference realignment made sure of. But the chance to watch RG3 perform now with a quickly improving Redskins team is an exciting proposition indeed.

(Update after RG3’s rookie year: Like many, I was surprised when the rigid Shanahan imported Baylor’s offense to Washington, but again, he had to win this year. We’ll see if it continues to work and if RG3 can stay on the field. Getting rid of the ball and not taking hits are key to quarterback longevity in the NFL; ook at Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as opposed to Donovan McNabb, and more recently, Jay Cutler and Tony Romo. McNabb became great at the same time as Brady and Manning, but washed out sooner. Cutler and Romo falter this year due to the affect of cumulative pressure. RG3 needs to learn how to slid early and often, otherwise he could have eight to ten productive years and disappear.)

Husker Losses’ Un-Definition: Conference Realignment’s Aftermath

We all knew there were going to be certain causalities when Nebraska moved from the Big 12 to the Big 10. The long series with Big 8 rivals all ended, and new schools, schools to the east of Lincoln, will now dot Nebraska’s conference schedule. Granted, this is the way major college sports has to move, from small regional conferences to larger ones that merit more TV revenue. The unfortunate part is that now, when you loose to a school like Northwestern, there’s this sense of un-definition that comes with the displeasure of loosing.

I was at Nebraska’s 9 home loss to Iowa State back in 2009 that featured eight turnovers, four inside the five yard line. I felt so horrid about the loss, when Nebraska beat Iowa State the next year 31-30, I left Jack Trice Stadium fumed over the fact that Nebraska hadn’t beat Iowa State worse than they did. That’s what you get out of the regional series. Contrast those two games to Nebraska’s home loss to Northwestern this past year, and you see what fans loose in conference realignment. While I still burnt on the Iowa State loss after a year, the Northwestern was just a loss. Maybe I jst assumed they were a pasty going, maybe it was the lack of history between Northwestern and Nebraska, or maybe I knew Nebraska was primed for a let down that week. Either way, the ghost of another formerly forlorn program in purple nicknamed “wildcats” was there to leave my heart empty that day; it’s just this program was from Chicago, not rural Kansas.

For Northwestern, it almost isn’t fair: the best coach in college football not named Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Mack Brown, or Les Miles just happens to be a Northwestern alum. Without Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern is likely struggling to get a conference win in the new, tighter Big 10. With him,  Northwestern walked into Memorial Stadium and completely worked Nebraska for four quarters, making plays the second the Huskers let their guard down. The Big 10 schools should all chip and help Arkansas (or another big-time school) offer Fitzgerald $8 million a year, and another $5 million a year to pay his assistants.

And in their own city, Northwestern alumni rank tenth or eleventh among Big 10 alumni in the city. Michigan and Michigan State probably wanted to be in the same division as the Wildcats so that they each get a fifth-conference home game every other year. Northwestern alumi care more about the Cubs, the Bears, the Bulls, and the Blackhawks over their football team. Plus, drum up the fact that Northwestern alumni Mike Wilbon and Mike Greenburg just happen to be major ESPN personalities, and the Wildcats’ success becomes particularly annoying the more it gets pumped. Consider all this, and I guess I have some reason to get pumped about playing Northwestern next year, even if the school is 531 miles and another culture from Lincoln.

The Northwestern loss showed Nebraska the realities of the Big 10 and of the super-conference: you have to win multiple big games in a row in order to play for the conference title or have a shot at an at-large BCS berth. In 2010, Nebraska had to win one big game, against Missouri at home, in order to get to the Big 12 Title Game. The next week, they went to Iowa State, played a so-so game, and were able to escape with a win. Michigan State was thought would be the de facto Legends Division title game, and given the special defense Bo Pelini designed for that game, he apparently thought the same. But the next week, Nebraska arguably played a game at home no worse than the game they played in Ames a year ago, yet got worked. Of the six teams that Nebraska will play every year in the Big 10, Northwestern’s program right now is fourth or fifth. In the Big 12 North, the fourth best program of the dissolving division were the Colorado Buffaloes, fresh off the Dan Hawkins-disaster.

So here we are in the new era of college football, the Nebraska-Northwestern series. Could this be an interesting series? Maybe; Iowa has drummed up some passion against Northwestern after Fitzgerald handed the Hawkeyes their first loss after a 9-0 start in 2009, so anything’s possible. There is something of a culture class: uppity, city academics, versus a rural farm school. But maybe this is just wistful thinking, a sign that Nebraska may end up as Arkansas has in the SEC (until Texas A&M and Missouri joined). At least Nebraska’s capable of putting 20,000 red shirts in Ryan Field every other year (did it at Minnesota), not that Wildcat Nation will find that embarrassing.

Could it be a sea of red?

Nebraska vs. Texas-the Closing Thoughts

(The following is an e-mail I wrote to Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal-Star in 2010, before the final Big 12 Nebraska-Texas. The paper had requested that fans send in their recollections of the series with Texas, so I answered, and, while my thoughts were never published, here I decided I might as well share them with you.)

In response to your question of what this game means to me, the fan, I can’t begin to put into words what this game means to me. I’m twenty-seven and the first games that I can remember where in 1994 and 1995. This game against Texas might be the most significance game I’ve seen since either 1995 Orange Bowl or the 1996 Fiesta Bowl , due to both the on-field and off-field frustration against the Longhorns.

The two most memorable games I’ve been to at Memorial Stadium have both been against Texas. The first time, on an icky, sub-40 degree day in 1998, I, the eager fifteen year-old, wanted to go to the Texas game because of how they humiliated us two years prior. At the time, all I had known was Nebraska dominance, and I couldn’t remember a Nebraska home loss .The lose, shuttling out of the stadium with other fans while Texas ran out the clock, all of it shocked me. As watched young players make mistakes (the offensive line, the turnover after Ralph Brown’s interception, Tracey Wistrom’s drop that could have given Nebraska a 20-13 lead), the Huskers looked  vulnerable to me for the first time.

In 2006, I went to the Nebraska-Texas game, and once again the weather was cold and icy (sidebar-how odd is that Nebraska has gotten inclement weather for two of three October games with Teas). The game was a game of rhythms. The first half was Texas-slanting, and at half-time, I thought that Nebraska, down nine points, was lucky to even be in the game with Texas’ missed field goals.

But in the second half, the game gradually became to tilt Nebraska’s way, as if it were actually being played on a flat plane that was slowly shifting toward the Huskers. Gradually, Nebraska became to rise, starting with Brandon Jackson touchdown. (Dane Todd’s helicopter block might be the best Husker block I’ve ever seen live.) When we got the ball back, I’ll never forgot those three plays. First, there was the double reverse for a first down, the 21-yard pass to Maurice Purify. Like magic, we were finally moving the ball. Then Callahan called for the halfback pass that he used the previous year against Oklahoma. When I saw that Marlon Lucky was going to throw the ball, I thought, oh great. They’ll remember the play and have it covered. I think I saw Nate Swift catch the ball, but I didn’t believe he’d actually caught it until I heard the stadium go wild.

The stadium’s roar felt silent. I could feel that little piece of beating Texas, a piece I would feel later on when I would see Colt McCoy sacked and Texas forced to punt, then Brandon Jackson gain seven yards on two carries, then again for a split second when Terrence Nunn caught Zac Taylor’s pass. I it was a piece that said, “We’re better than those arrogant, evenly tanned, Orange-faced losers.” It felt so good, it almost couldn’t last

Nunn's fumble

As we all know, a lot can happen in four year. One disastrous season, a new (old) AD and coach, to rebuilding year, another chapter of Nebraska-Texas in the Big 12 title game, and an off-field fight that led Nebraska down the path to a new conference.

So, after all that, what does this game mean to me? Beyond the on-field frustrations, save the 1999 Big 12 Title game, this game is about putting down a titan with too much power. Since the Big 12’s inception, Texas has pursued its own agenda ahead of good of the league. Texas’ greed ultimately forced Nebraska have to look elsewhere. But wouldn’t fate have it that, on its way out the door, Nebraska has the team give Texas one reminder of what they will be missing: a top-notch football program, the kind that could help keep their league get a huge paycheck for years to come.

(Of course, the game didn’t turn out the way I was hoping for.)

My Husker Gameday: Part 2

(Earlier this week, I shared Part 1 of my experience going to Husker games, which I had written a couple of years earlier. Here now is Part 2.)

Within two or even three hours before kickoff, I’m back to wandering the streets looking for potential ticket sellers, if I don’t already have a ticket, and I usually don’t. The first corner of seller inhibit Ninth and “P”, but these are mostly scalpers who I never buy from if I can help it. Many scalpers also make up most of the ticket selling crowd at Tenth and “P” by the Embassy Suites, although occasionally there are some individuals selling tickets. (I purchased the Missouri ’08 here). I head up Tenth to take “Q” over to the bookstore, and by then time I get to Twelfth, I have a good idea of what the market is like. I try to keep myself from buying until I can judge the market, no matter how excited I am for the game.

At the Alumni Center, I stop to watch whatever games are on. This is what I love the most about game day: the greater college football landscape. Across the nation, literally hundreds of college football games are being played, and here, I have my window into a few of them. Sometimes, I’ll cross the street to Nebraska Bookstore and watch games in the basement, hopefully sitting in one of their comfortable chairs or browsing the racks of Husker shirts while I watch the games. Most days this is just a waste of time; I have so much Husker gear already, it takes something really special to grab my eye.

Within ninety to sixty minutes to kickoff, I’m heading up campus, with an occasional stop by the union to use the restroom or purchase a snack or drink that I will sneak into the stadium in the pocket of my long-sleeved T-shirt (beats the two hundred percent markup inside the stadium.) Sometimes, I even buy my Gatorade from the vending machines inside the library, which is great. No lines for the vending machines or the restroom in there. I’m surprised more fans don’t know about it.

As I continue on my way to the stadium, I’m always struck by the number of older people who go to the games. I understand this typical of most programs that have been good for at least forty years, like Nebraska, Michigan, or Alabama, that the affluent professionals bought up the season tickets forty years ago and have held on to them all this time. I’ve been games at Iowa State, and their stadium is mostly young people, some with families. Here, it’s an odd mix of twenty-somethings and grandparents.

When I get to the sidewalks that surround the stadium, I start to look for a ticket if I haven’t bought one yet. This is where I find the private sellers, and by this point, they’re desperate. My preference is always to buy from an older person, someone who won’t bargain much. I’ve done pretty well here; sometimes as much as twenty dollars of a ticket to a conference game (Kansas ’08), and once I got a pair of tickets for free (Iowa State ’07). But I always try to be fair to my fellow Husker fans. We are on the same team, after all. Once my ticket is tucked into pocket of my gray t-shirt hoodie, I take to the soccer practice field and watch whatever game is being shown over the Husker Nations Pavilion, as fathers and sons amuse themselves on the field.

Husker Nations Pavilion in 2008

I try to wait until there are about twenty minutes until kickoff, watching as much of the games outside as I can. So I head in, my drink tucked safely inside my shirt and head for seat. On bad weather days, it always take so long to get to my seat, because people have to open their coats for security. I always hope for a seat that isn’t in the north end zone. Those seats usually mean that I will have to allow extra time to get to my seat, plus longer lines at the restroom. Usually, when I sit in the north, I just go around to either the east or west side to use the bathroom, where there’s no line whatsoever. Stadium expansion is great-as long as you have enough infrastructure to handle the extra people.

So with fifteen minutes to go until kickoff I’m in my seat in the sea of red, watching the people file into through the holes in the ranks of bleachers while the team preps on field. The part of pre-game that I love is the mass huddle of all the players before they rush into the locker room. The band routine is less important to me. Not that the Cornhusker Marching Band isn’t great, but I never count it a loss if I miss the band’s opening numbers. Tunnel Walk is a different story.

Band on the field prior to the Virginia Tech 2008

My Husker Gameday: Part 1

(The publication of this post is the result of some good fortune. I was going through old files on my computer, and I found this writing I did on my Husker game days from three or four years ago. So I spruced it up a bit, and here it is.)

The nights before, I always have trouble sleeping. It’s like Christmas when you are thinking about the presents under the tree. Except for me, the present on a Husker game day is never just a physical possession. No, the present on those twelve to fourteen days a year is an experience, an experience that, at the end of the day, I will go to sleep with a new chapter of Husker history embedded in my conscience and a little piece of the program’s legacy having been written before my eyes.

Memorial Stadium, post-Baylor 2008

Usually on those day, I awake sometime around six, sometimes earlier, sometimes later. If it’s really early, I usually go for a walk for an hour to quell my anxiety, but I try not to make it too long. I’m going to be walking a lot. By the end of my walk, the sun is out, and I’m calm and ready.

I choose game day attire with care. For pants, I prefer some form of cargo, as they are easier to sit in and the extra pockets come in handy. My undershirt is always the same: a ratty gray long-sleeved t-shirt with a hood and sleeves that are too short. I bought it second hand, and wear it only to games. To wear over it, I typically choose one of my man red Husker shirts, which, when combined with gray trimmings on my arms and my hood, give me a hobbit-like appearance. When the weather is colder, I’ll add layers, usually a sweat shirt of one form, my favorite being a red hoodie with a tattered black “N” on the front. And in the event of rain, I always have my canvas pullover, from Christmas 2006, first worn to the 2007 Cotton Bowl.

I eat a large breakfast on game day, mainly because, as soon as I get to Lincoln, the pace is so rushed, I don’t feel like sitting down for anything for than a slice of Val’s pizza, or a Runza sandwich. To that end, I make either pancakes or waffles and consume the whole batch. I try to eat as late as possible, hopefully around 8:30, or 9 if the game is later. Driving in, I don’t bother with the crowded Interstate 80, but turn off of Highway 34 at Northwest 126th Street, a paved road that goes by Pawnee Lake to Highway 6 . I’m always surprised that more people don’t use this route, but of course, I’m not complaining.

When I pass under the Highway 77 turnoff, I usually get my first glimpse of Memorial Stadium, the sparkling gem for which I’ve made this journey. From that distance, the stadium is a glistening pale against the morning sun, the surrounding skyline cluttered by trees and the inferior buildings of downtown Lincoln. The stadium seems so perfect, it’s as if it would rather be removed to some remote campus location, surrounded by fields and dwarfed academic halls rather than stand in a city whose feeble attempt to be Omaha or Milwaukee is painfully obvious.

Traffic on West “O” Street usually isn’t bad until I get to the Harris Overpass, and even there, I get lucky sometimes. Crossing the overpass, I see the first signs of game day: the parking garage to the south has its sign out, the streets are crowded with red-clad fans encompassing three categories: older couples who have probably held their season tickets since before the first national title in ’70, the families who tailgate together, and the coed my age with their guy buddies or girlfriends. It is a lovely congestion of people who look remarkably similar.

8th Street from the Harris Overpass, day of the 2007 Oklahoma State Game.

Game day parking usually starts at about twenty-five dollars in the downtown-Haymarket lots, and the price declines as you go further south. (I have no idea what people who live north of the stadium charge to park in their driveways. I never go that way anyway.) The cheapest prices to park that I see nowadays are eight or ten dollars, which will undoubtedly go up. I prefer to leave these spots to the people who need them more and take the free parking south of the Haymarket in the small industrial area. Depending on how early I come in, I usually find my spot somewhere before eighth street ends by the police station. If not there, I end up on seventh or sixth by a warehouse, and if I’m really late, by one of the low-rent apartment building.

My trek to the stadium usually leads me first through the legion of parked cars and then into the Haymarket, its refurbished brick fronts welcoming me to game day scene. If it’s early enough, I usually get coffee at The Mill and read the paper if I haven’t already, or a book if I’ve had enough of sports talk. The Mill is an odd scene on game day. While many of the people there are clad in typical red, many of the patrons are dressed in their typical quasi-intellectual garb, as if they didn’t seem to know that such a big event is going on.

The Final Nebraska-Iowa State Game: A Moment that still Hangs

As I watched the extra point team set up, I knew it was going to be a fake. It almost wasn’t fair. Iowa State could every play out of the back of the playbook to win, and they’d look amazing doing it, and Nebraska would have to eat that loss for the next forty years or so.

In 2006, my parents rented an apartment that was within walking distance of Jack Trice Stadium, and since this was going to be the final Iowa State-Nebraska game for a while, I got tickets in the south end zone, ten rows up. This treated us to a bad view at times, and we always had to turn our heads to see the replay board. (Leave it to Iowa State to put in a huge video board the year after Nebraska leaves the conference.)

The view from our seats

Going into the game, I knew Nebraska might be at risk for a let-down, given back-to-back-to-back games against Texas, Oklahoma State, and Missouri. Also, quarterback Taylor Martinez and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard would be sitting out the game with injuries. In chasing the school single game rushing record a week ago, running back Roy Helu had twenty-eight carries, and wasn’t as sharp in the early going. Compound that Iowa State would be at max motivation to get a sixth win for bowl eligibility and because it was Nebraska, this was a smoldering pot.

Having beaten Nebraska 9-7 in Lincoln a year ago (a game that old men told me was the worst Husker football game they had ever witnessed) and Texas two weeks prior, the Cyclones had confidence Unlike many big play-dependent Big 12 offenses, they took what the Blackshirts gave them and didn’t get impatient. Jack Trice Stadium provided the perfect encasement for pesky team; while it wasn’t as loud as I remember it four years ago (that game was at night), the Cyclone Crazies have their way of getting things going, and frankly, it gets louder than the average Memorial Stadium crowd last five years.

Nebraska’s let down combined with the Cyclones advantages were what lead to a game that was frustratingly to close. Helu’s questionable fumble at midfield which couldn’t be overturned on replay, a 57-yard field goal made with the wind, a missed holding call on a long pass on Iowa State’s long third quarter touchdown drive, Niles Paul coming out of the end zone on the ensuing kickoff and fumbling the ball, a missed offensive pass interference call on Iowa State’s tying touchdown (the same officiating crew later called sixteen penalties on Nebraska later that year at Texas A&M), DeJon Gomes dropping an interception that could have set up a go-ahead field goal in regulation, and Cody Green not seeing an open Kyler Reed on a third down which could have set up a game tying field goal, albeit against the wind. All the while, I’m sitting in the midst of the Crazies and thinking it was almost unfair. But football isn’t fair, and neither is life for that matter.

So a long time after I turned my Dad and said “This finally feels like a Nebraska-Iowa Sate game” (third quarter), Austen Arnaud was kneeling down, and Bo Pelini and I thought Paul Rhoads would do something in overtime. Then came the overtime, which was played right in front of where I was sitting. Nebraska scored in two plays, Iowa State scored in three, again picking on one of Nebraska’s scrub corners.

Then came the extra point I knew would get faked. When I saw the holder get up and throw the ball, my first thought was, our guy is going to get to make a play on it. That guy, Eric Hagg, jumped, grabbed the ball, and fell over the back of the Iowa State tight end. Smack, game over, 31-30 Nebraska win. I went wild and high-fived the three or four Nebraska fans who were within arms reach, as the Iowa State fans just stood there stoned-faced. I went home whooping and celebrating, and wondering where Niles Paul would be taking Eric Hagg to dinner.

My view of Hagg's pick

When I watched the play again, I saw that Collin Franklin was open for a second. Courtney Osborne and Prince Amukamara were the defenders assigned to that side, and they both rushed the kicker straight on. If the Daniel Kuehl had thrown a strike in front of the Franklin, they would have won. Based on the alignment, Osborne was the player who should have covered Franklin, and judging by the replay, Kuehl likely had an option to kick if Osborne or Amukamara were standing back in safe. It me made wonder, if Pelini kept said in his press conference they thought something was up with the extra point, why he didn’t make sure one of them was back?

Even if a mistake was made by John Papuchis, Nebraska’s special teams coach at the time, Nebraska beat Iowa State on that play for the same reason they’d beat Iowa State 16 out of the last 20 times: they had better players. When you watch the play from behind the Iowa State line of scrimmage, Kuehl looks overwhelmed and makes a desperation heave on the run. (Indeed, Rhoads asked a lot of Kuehl, a backup kicker, to complete the game winning pass. If a backup quarterback or a player who had played quarterback was the holder, it would have been a better bet.) Kuehl could have run that play ten times in practice and converted it every time, but it wasn’t against Nebraska’s defenders. Hagg covered a lot of ground in a short period of time to make the interception, from the middle of the fiend to the outside of the hashmarks, and he still had time to judge the ball in the air. His speed to the ball is the most impressive thing about the play

On my walk back to the apartment after the game, I wondered why Rhoads didn’t just leave his offense out on the field . If he really thought his best chance of winning was by getting two points right away, why not let Arnaud throw the pass? Why did even need to go for two? Keep playing, and the pressure mounts on Nebraska. Intriguingly, the three top columnists that covered this game closely took three perspectives on Rhoads’ decision: Steve Sipple supported the fake, Tom Shatel thought there was no need to go for two, and Sam Keeler thought Rhoads should have left his offense on the field for the try. It was a Liar’s Poker situation: if the right thing was to go for it, then was faking the kick the right option? And if throwing a fade against Anthony West, who couldn’t have covered a fullback, was the most likely option to covert, was it still the best option to win the game?  Judging by Rhoads’ decisions in overtime this past season against Iowa and Oklahoma State, he may have decided to be patient in overtime because of that play.

For Nebraska, the faked extra point was the closest they came that year to not playing in the Big 12 title game. I still think a lot about that game,  mainly because there were so many little things that could have kept it from being decided at that moment. And nearly a year and a half later, I still don’t know if it was the right call for Iowa State, or if Nebraska was lucky or good. I’m just glad my team was on the right side that day.

Grading Conference Realignment: Nebraska and Colorado

(I actually wrote this piece a while ago, and looking around, I found buried in a file and thought, you might as well enjoy it.)

Since the summer of 2011, college football, my favorite, has been embroiled in a storm of conference realignment. My favorite team, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, was at the center of these moves last summer, I have a particular interest in these moves, so I have decided to some grading of these moves, starting with Nebraska and Colorado. Considerations: rivalries lost, rivalries gained, geographic and cultural fit, and is the league better with or without a school.


This is the move that is that is closest to me. Ironically, Nebraska prides itself in its traditions as much as any school in the country, but almost all Nebraska fans wanted to leave the Big 12 for the Big 10. Nebraska’s primary Big 8/Big 12 rival was with Oklahoma, and that had diminished over the years with the two schools not playing every year. Oklahoma found more importance in their rivalry with Texas, as Nebraska failed to live up to past glory. Also, with Colorado’s sharp decline and now their move to the Pac 12, Husker Nation was without a good primary rival in their last Big 12 years, and now with Iowa, at least Husker fans can have a series whose program they respect and whose fans they regularly interact with. Penn State, with whom Nebraska played several notable games in the late seventies and early eighties, might also develop into a competive series for Nebraska, certainly more competitive than any Big 12 series Nebraska played on an annual basis. Nebraska is also of their messy political disputes with Texas. The only downside might be a slip in southern/Texas recruiting, but it’s still early to judge that. Also, the move does stretch the geography of Big 10 even further; personally as a fan, if Nebraska is going to play an easy conference game in mid-October, I would rather it be against Kansas than Indiana Early Grade: -A


Colorado’s move to the now-Pac 12 had been first considered back in the mid-nineties, when the Big 12 had formed, and finally came to fruition last summer. From a rivalry perspective, CU’s main rivalry with Colorado State was always a non-conference game, so that’s unaffected. As said before, the Nebraska-Colorado game, while contentious and shown in a prominent spot on the day after Thanksgiving, had diminished in importance as CU’s program struggled, so loosing it isn’t a big deal. On the flip side, Colorado has a new border war with Utah, a school it had played nearly fifty times.

Ultimately, Colorado’s move had as much to do with culture as it did money or stability. Unlike Big 12 schools that wanted to build huge facilities, Colorado wanted to follow the Pac 12 model of selling its ideal campus environment to recruits, with a more laid back attitude toward sports in general. Colorado is more interested in recruiting California over Texas, and with a huge southern California alumni base, the Buffs fit right in.

Early Grade: A



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