Despite my life-long devotion to everything Nebraska (so much so that I'm well aware the University is a juggernaut in women's collegiate bowling) I'm a fairly level-headed fan. My fall Saturdays are re-arranged around the kick-off time but, besides that, I'm capable of separating real life from the fortunes of the Big Red. Marriage, work, family and life go on with or without victory.
College sports creates a strong sense of camaraderie, passion, and devotion among its fan base - more so than professional sports. Teams are bonded to institutions that are firmly connected to the surrounding community - in many cases for well over a century. The school came first, athletic teams were added later, and the connection between fans of major college sports can be found worldwide. Even if you aren't an alumnus, you still feel pride in your state's or city's institution.
But there is one bad habit I share with a lot of fans out there - the tendency to use the word "we" in describing the team's experiences, good or bad. Players, coaches and athletic administrators aside - the common fan really doesn't share the grueling impact of two-a-days in searing summer heat, the season-ending injury, the hours of watching film and game-planning and the many other highs and lows of being a part of the team.
Case in point: Just the other day someone asked me about my expectations of the Cornhuskers this season. My reply: "We're really having a great fall practice. Scrimmages have been intense and we're in the best physical shape we've been in for years. I think we're pretty deep at nearly every position and expect to make a run at the conference championship."
Am I really having a good fall practice? Well, I have been putting together some decent proposals at work. And I generally get along with co-workers. I have to admit that I haven't watched much film or done any game-planning for any opponent on the schedule this year. However, I have caught up to season four of Mad Men and feel like I'm prepared now to clear my TV viewing for college football this fall.
Am I really in the best physical shape I've been in for years? Um, well. I've elevated past mall-walking speed on my morning jog. I haven't pulled a tackling sled in awhile (never) but I did mildly pull a hamstring in light stretching before yard work. The team may be embroiled in two-a-days but I'm taking it up a notch to three-a-days: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Will I be making a run at the conference championship? Hmmm. In a way, yes. I'll be watching every game. While my teammates are smashing into the line, blasting downfield, throwing, kicking, blocking, and generally pummelling the opponent I'll be right there with them. Staring at the TV screen. Eating, drinking, and trash-tweeting throughout the game.
I guess what I'm saying is: perspective is needed.
Last year Nebraska was up five points to top ten-ranked Virginia Tech on the road with less than a minute to play and 80 yards for Virginia Tech to reach the end zone. The Blackshirt defense was absolutely destructive. There was no way the Hokies would score, the game was over. It would be a huge upset for us.
Until Tyrod Taylor, the Hokies' quarterback who had been largely ineffective the entire game, launched a 60-yard pass to a wide open Tech receiver who was eventually pulled down at the five yard line.
"What the?! Where is the safety? HOW COULD WE LET SOMEONE GET BEHIND THE SECONDARY?!?!?!" I screamed at the TV. I was furious. I was ready to grab someone's facemask, yank their scholarship, and cut them from the team right there - forcing them to find a way back to Lincoln.
Then I saw what a lot of fans see but fail to comprehend. There was the safety (need I even mention a name?) face down on the turf, shoulders heaving with misery. This guy lifted weights and took part in conditioning through the cold dark months at the beginning of the year. He worked hard and studied the playbook at spring practice. He labored through the hot temps of fall camp and beat out tough competition to gain the starting position through the first two games of the year. And now he battled through the entire Virginia Tech game, shutting down receivers and coming up to the line to take out running backs - creating havoc for Taylor.
Then he made one tiny mistake. And that gave me full license to unleash my fury?
The coaches and players for our teams definitely want the support and passion of their fans. I'm sure there is nothing quite like the feeling of running out of the locker room tunnel into a sea of red or orange or blue on a fall football Saturday and hearing the roar of an adoring crowd. But that's where our place is. In the stands, the bars, the family rooms and break rooms of our lives watching our athletes out on the field or court.
And I pledge this year to do my best in talking and writing about the Cornhuskers to never reference the team as "we" since I haven't earned that right - like so many players and coaches can claim.
And I'll keep that pledge, right up to the point when we win the national championship.