Jason Peter’s new book, Hero of the Underground, is a good one. It’s an important book. His story of addiction and recovery is at once heartbreaking and uplifting, but you probably already know all of this.
The reason I was really excited to read this book, however, was the fact that it represented a player’s account of the most dominant stretch in Nebraska’s history—the inside story, the behind the scenes stuff—and that’s something few fans of any program are ever privy to.
With that in mind, I thought we would take a look at the book from a different perspective: What it reveals about the Nebraska football program in its current state by picking through the past with the best quotes and anecdotes from Hero of the Underground.
(Note: I promise I didn’t seek out only the curse-laden quotes from the book, but, well, Jason Peter likes to curse a bit. He was a defensive lineman, after all. Below they’ll be bleeped AP-style.)
Pg. 25 - Christian Peter telling his brother Jason about the Nebraska fans: “The most loyal, most crazy bunch of m------------ you’ve ever seen…these people would die for their team.”
Well, on behalf of all Nebraska fans, thank you Christian. But we’re not just crazy—we’re also…
Pg. 37 - “Here everybody just seemed so g-------- friendly all the time that it creeped me out.”
After the ugliness of last season, Peter’s depiction of the unique relationship players have with the fans and Lincoln in general was eye-opening. It’s sort of a feast or famine proposition. When 70,000 people are driving you to a frothing fury on your way onto the field, things couldn’t be better. When you want to be a normal college student and do stupid, normal college student things, it could be better.
In the end, you play football for Nebraska, and that had better be all the reward you need, because it doesn’t come without sacrifice. The Sea of Red giveth, and the Sea of Red taketh away.
Pg. 39 - On Lincoln native and roommate Brian Nunns: “He played Cornhusker football for the right reasons: a love of the team. Although he never made it past the second team…Brian still loved the s--- out of playing for the Huskers.”
When the great gates of Memorial Stadium were swung open to the undersized, overachieving walk-on masses again this past winter with Pelini’s arrival, I was skeptical as to how much of an effect that would have on the team’s overall performance. But quotes like the above made me realize it’s not really about performance, but rather, about psyche.
Sure, there are walk-ons who have come to Nebraska and become superstars, but their true value might lie in motivation. It would be pretty hard for a blue-chip prospect to loaf when some kid from Red Cloud, who was paying his own way, was busting his tail—and it would be even worse to lose your starting job to him. Cody Green, this is Jim Ebke. You’ll be competing for the same spot. There’s value in that.
Pg. 71 - “It’s time to f--- Peyton Manning up.”
Okay, I love this quote—I’ll admit it. Getting a brief look into that ’97 team’s mindset leading up to the brewing national title controversy in January is worth the price of the book alone. It follows a chapter devoted entirely to the sights, sounds, and feelings of getting prepared to play at Memorial Stadium.
While Tom Osborne was always able to maintain his choir boy image, be sure that Charlie McBride was doing his best behind closed doors, and likely out of earshot, to whip the Blackshirts into a ripping, tackling dervish. It does start to feel like an extended Under Armour commercial after a while, but it is, again, a stark contrast to the feeling of 2007.
Did Nebraska have that sort of staff over the past four years? Do they now? All I know is that Mike Ekeler looks like he regularly rips phone books in half just for fun.
Pg. 57 - From an Osborne pregame speech: “You are representing an ideal…”
Pg. 58 - Jason Peter on Nebraska fans: “…Their love of football turns us into idols, into modern gladiators, fighting to the death for the honor of Omaha, Osceola, Hastings, Wahoo, and the thousand other towns of Nebraska.”
During this long offseason I had become concerned about the level of glory restoring going on under Bo Pelini. Maybe it’s just my cynical nature, but it seemed too easy for Nebraska to bring in a new staff that looked a lot like an old staff, get back to the way things used to be, and then, like waving a magic wand, things would be “fixed.” That doesn’t happen, right? It has to take more than that, I thought.
In the end, it probably will take more than tha,t but what Hero of the Underground best revealed about Nebraska’s current football program is that there is no panacea that will instantly heal the program and have it back to the levels of yesteryear. It took Jason Peter a long time to find that in his personal life, and it will probably take Nebraska a while to find it on the football field.
But playing for the honor of Osceola, et al. is a pretty good start, because that’s the one thing you can always count on, the most abundant natural resource in the state of Nebraska: passion for the Cornhuskers.
You can either fight it or feed off it, but you can’t ignore it. Just ask Jason Peter. He did almost every drug known to man in seemingly fatal quantities but still called the build-up to a home game “the most addictive of rushes.”
I'm glad Jason Peter was able to conquer his demons—but I really hope Nebraska relapses in 2008.