I recently picked up one of the preseason Husker guides...you know, one of those $12.99 100+ page rundowns on 2009 opponents, historical facts and figures, and an introduction to new coaches and recruits. As I worked through this rather surprisingly well written guide to the new-look Skers, I found myself engaged in the printed hype. I now was fully versed in the new staff and swallowed up a splash of stats and keys to victory for all 12 of the Big Red foes this fall. I reaquinted myself with Huskers in the NFL and learned in only a few pages why the Bill Callahan experiment failed. The magazine even examined what worked well under the previous coaching regime - needless to say, the shortest blurb in the 112-page guide.
Following my perousal of this fine piece of preseason journalsim, I started pouring extra cups of Big Red Kool-Aid. I looked at hotels in Kansas City for December and even peeked at flights to Miami in January. I was convinced Cody Glenn was the next Barrett Ruud, Roy Helu the next Ahman Green, and almost forgot for one moment who Kevin Cosgrove was. Then I got to page 103 in the middle of a well-plotted history lesson by author Brandon Vogel of http://www.hiplainsdrifter.com/. Buried deep in this preseason literary work was an aerial shot of Memorial Stadium circa de 1974.
It was long before half of the stadium patrons turned to high-def jumbo screens instead of binoculars. It was before the student section had been reduced to the size of a Cheez-It and sent packing to the upper rafters. The old Astro-Turf had worn thin and faded between the hash marks. There was no towering press-box with million-dollar corporate suites and North Stadium looked more like a Sam's Club than a Four Seasons. It was reminiscent of Husker football before the Faithful was reminded of corporate partners and donation obligations in-between plays on a Saturday afternoon. Though the stadium will continue to expand, more and more ads will continue to litter the loudspeaker, and the Fairbury Weiner Slinger is not going away, that picture, now 34 years old, spoke to why it will take a lot more than a few losing seasons to rattle the loyalty of Big Red sons and daughters.
Nebraska football is about holding the hood lamp for your dad in the garage on a crisp October Saturday while Kent Pavelka belted out an incomprehensible verbal seizure exclaiming a Husker touchdown. The old portable radio could only tune in KFAB 1110 as the dial had been crusted into place by old paint, 10W40 motor oil, and antifreeze. Its about walking through the mob of Husker fans outside of the Union and hustling through the East Stadium catwalks so you could have a piping hot Runza in hand while you watched the team slice through the tunnel of tubas just before kickoff. Its about watching the fall Saturday post-game rundown of scores and highlights knowing that you were more likely to see Beano Cook smile than a recap of Nebraska's 40+ point beatdown of a Big 8 foe (not named Oklahoma). Husker football was not about 80,000-fan spring games or recruiting hype. It was about sheer dominence and knowing that the game was over before the ball even went into play.
The one common tie that connected that 1974 portrait of Memorial Stadium to the current House of Husker, was the Sea of Red that flooded every end of the 85-year-old stadium. In the face of the worst 6-year stretch of Husker football since the Korean War, Nebraskans continue to populate their 3rd largest city on Saturdays because Big Red Football means something more than Big 12 North titles and national championship bids. Big Red football was always a product we could be proud of, a team we believed in, and a stretch of 3 hours once a week over 3 months a year that we could escape in a world of hard-hitting, hard-working, and hard-fought competition. It gave the state a sense of pride in something that, ironically, it had very little control over. It was constant for over 30 years. How long will it be before the next generation can start to value the same consistent domination that made us all think of Tom Osborne, Charlie McBride, and George Darlington as extensions of our own family. These men knew what it meant when that Sea of Red roared in a chorus of pride.
Bo Pelini carries more than the weight of conference championships and bowl games. He is the caretaker of our collective Big Red journey.
NEXT UP: The Callahan Regime - Where Are They Now???
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