Nebraska Gets the Win over Penn State, but at What Cost?
We all saw it.
We saw it in the stadium. Commotion on the sideline. Finger-pointing. Yelling.
They saw it at home. Up close. In slow motion.
Bo Pelini, famous for his sideline outbursts, was surprisingly at the receiving end of a sideline blowup on Saturday. The strangest part is, it was delivered by one of his players.
Following a scoring drive by Penn State on Saturday that saw Pelini's defense look lost, the head coach confronted several of his players as they came off the sideline. One of those players was safety Damien Stafford. It looked as though Pelini was accusing Stafford of making a mistake and critiquing him the way many coaches do—by getting in the player's face.
What shocked all who saw this was the fact that Stafford seemed to turn and confront Pelini, addressing him with a few choice words of his own. Those who watched ABC's telecast of the game didn't have to be expert lip readers to make out one particular four-word sentence that rolled off Stafford's tongue.
Yes, halftime adjustments were made. Yes, Stafford himself would go on to make a game-changing play. Yes, the Huskers won the game.
Something else, however, was lost.
It's one thing for fans and media to critique Pelini's sideline antics. It is entirely another for one of his players, someone who spends a considerable amount of their life with the head coach, to lash out and disrespect him on national TV.
Where else do you see that? When is that allowed?
Can anyone remember any of Tom Osborne's, Joe Paterno's, Bobby Bowden's or Bear Bryant's players telling any of them to "Shut the front door" or anything similar?
The fact is, you can't. You can't because it didn't happen, at least not in public.
Football is an emotional game. Anyone who has ever been involved with the game beyond a spectator role knows this. Players and coaches argue and fight amongst each other like family. It's all part of what makes the game so special.
I'd like to think that's all this Stafford/Pelini exchange was. Deep down, however, I think there is more to it. I think what we saw was one of Pelini's players finally having enough of his outbursts.
Players pay attention to what fans and media say, even if they don't admit it. I think Stafford knew, somewhere in all of his anger, that there would be people who wouldn't necessarily fault him for responding to Pelini the way he did.
It all boils down to respect.
I think that most of the Nebraska players, coaches, fans and media respect Bo Pelini's football knowledge and coaching ability. Bo Pelini the person, on the other hand, has done little to earn the respect of fans and media here in Nebraska.
He's ill-tempered. His blowups have cost this team valuable yards during key points in games. He is often rude to the media, and to be honest, doesn't seem like the kind of guy a whole lot of people would like to spend any quality time with.
Many people respect Bo Pelini the football coach. Less people respect Bo Pelini the man.
On Saturday, Damien Stafford demonstrated his disrespect for Bo Pelini the man in front of a national audience.
The question going forward: Will the people who it matters to most be able to tell the difference? Furthermore, what impact does it have on team chemistry, national perception and recruiting going forward.
Yes, the Nebraska Cornhuskers came away victorious on Saturday with another gutty, come-from-behind win. But at what cost?
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