There was a time when Nebraska football was the envy of the college football universe. It was a relatively clean program which churned out consistent wins and star college players. This was beneficial to the program's ongoing recruiting efforts, as the program stayed in the national spotlight.
When the program went into a downward spiral in the mid-2000s, some wondered when or how it could ever make it back to national prominence.
The hiring of Bo Pelini was a start.
The development of Ndamukong Suh kept the ball rolling.
Few would argue that Suh was the most dominant player in college football during his 2009 senior campaign at Nebraska. Every time you turned on the television, there were highlights of the defensive tackle busting through offensive lines and literally tossing quarterbacks to the ground.
Nebraska football was back and Suh was the new face of the program.
Suh understood the opportunity that Nebraska had afforded him, and I also believe he understood the struggles that a college football program in the middle of the country faced.
It's tough to get kids to take a serious look at Nebraska. With the nearest major airport an hour away in Omaha, some have referred to Lincoln, Nebraska as a truck-stop with a college, regardless of its status as Nebraska's capital city.
The weather doesn't do recruiting any favors, as it can be tough to sell a kid from Florida, Texas or Southern California on enrolling at a college where the wind chill is consistently below zero in the winter months.
To recruit, Nebraska needs bells and whistles. They need to set themselves apart from other schools once they have kids on campus.
In order to help those efforts, Suh made a much publicized donation of $2.6 million to the university. Some went to the school's strength and conditioning program, bolstering a fitness center that was already the envy of many athletic departments. The rest went to Nebraska's College of Engineering, from which Suh earned his degree.
He also donated 123 iPads, one for each football locker. That's the type of thing that can really grab the attention of a recruit.
Suffice to say, the people of Nebraska, who treat their college football team like royalty, are grateful for all Suh has done for the program both on and off the field.
To this day, you still see signs of his impact resonating through the city. From grocery stores to malls, restaurants to museums, you'll still find people sporting Suh's No. 93 Husker jersey. Some go so far as to dawn his No. 90 Lions jersey.
At a Scheels sporting goods store in West Omaha, you find 3'x2' oil paintings of Suh in a throwback Lions uniform for sale, fit for any man-cave or, in some cases, a die-hard Husker fan's dining room.
One thing you won't find many of are Nebraskans who buy into the popular belief that Suh is a dirty football player. Nebraska is a state that knows football. They know the game and its violent roots and have nothing but respect for those who play it the way it was originally meant to be played, especially when talking about a former Husker.
Pete Bataillon, a former college and semi-pro football player, has been attending Nebraska games for the better part of 30 years, mostly as a season ticket holder. "I don't think he is a dirty player." says Bataillon. "If anything, like many defensive players in the NFL right now, they are confused as to what they can and cannot do. They were taught to play the game a certain way and now are expected to change that overnight. It's a violent game and that's how the guys are taught how to play it."
When asked about the incident where Suh stepped on an opposing player, Bataillon replied, "Who knows what was going on between those two during the game leading up to that? He was probably being held, like most defensive lineman are, and got frustrated. That's part of the game, and unfortunately Suh let his emotions get the best of him in that case. That shouldn't define him."
Gary Wilson of Omaha describes himself as a Husker fan since birth. He shared some of Bataillon's sentiments. "It sucks that [Suh] has lost the luster of being just a dominant player and now is the bad kid nobody wants to be associated with."
When asked if he still respected what Suh did on and off the field at Nebraska, Wilson replied "Why wouldn't anyone?".
Suh is a polarizing figure to say the least. Modern fans of a safer game are going to be critical of him and his violent, perhaps dirty to some, style of play. Fans of old school Dick Butkus-style football will continue to view Suh as a throwback and a reminder to many of the days when football was a blue-collar sport where injuries and violence were expected.
One thing is for certain: He'll always have two places, Detroit and Nebraska, where fans will appreciate the passion he brings to America's greatest game.
Follow J.P. on Twitter @JPScott78
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