We are two games into this young football season and yet a vital question about the heated competition that occurred over the summer has yet to be resolved. Three worthy candidates have battled for months to fill a key position as part of the Nebraska Cornhusker's central identity to the entire program. And yet, even after two games, no one is willing to step up and make the final decision. Not the coaches, not the athletes, not even the administration.
One candidate has extensive starting experience and has been with the program longer than the other two. Another candidate is wildly admired by the fan base and has picked up some national recognition due to his performances. The last candidate is the prototype for what should be in his position - chiseled, great smile, loaded with confidence, commanding presence.
Since no one else will address this issue before it becomes a burden to the program let me start right here and now. I am writing, of course, about the competition between Herbie Husker, Lil' Red, and Herbie Husker 2.0 as mascot for the Cornhusker athletic program.
A recent article in the Omaha World Herald by brave reporter Rainbow Rowell (I did not make that name up) uncovered the growing chasm that is threatening to tear the athletic program apart. It appears that the original, old, reliable Herbie Husker is making a come-back via vintage Cornhusker clothing and is mounting a charge to be the starter again.
Is Herbie that old athlete that doesn't know when to quit? Should one of the other candidates step up and lay claim to the starting position? Let's take a look at the candidates:
What can you say about Herbie Husker, original version? He has the most starting experience by far out of the three. But he is also way out of shape with his big, beef-fed potbelly. He was there when Tom Osborne took the reins of the program in the 1970's and stuck with the team through Sooner magic and Orange Bowl melt downs throughout the 1980's. Only to be chucked to the wayside when Nebraska won its first national championship under Coach Osborne in 1994.
He gave way to a one-two punch of a stylized letter and "Husker" combo logo and a new kid on the block - Lil' Red. It was out with the old and in with the new as poor Herbie and his pocket full of corn was replaced by a puffed up, kid-friendly, bouncy balloon mascot. Lil' Red wowed crowds at all athletic events. He was even asked to stay behind during the NCAA tournaments when the basketball team took early exits - which was every NCAA tournament Nebraska made. However, I've always felt that the punchable, cute, non-threatening mascot was always more popular with Nebraska's opponents than with its own fans.
Finally, in 2003, a new version of Herbie - we'll call him Herbie Husker 2.0 - took center stage. This was a modern, athletic, sleek, dark-haired version of the old Herbie. Hollywood Herbie. No more gut, no corn cobs, and a chiseled chin topped with a mouth full of white, gleaming teeth graced athletic events, car dealerships, malls, and charity appearances. There was no doubt this was one handsome dude. A cross between George Clooney and Jon Hamm.
But the problem for Herbie Husker 2.0 was that he was unapproachable. Something to put on the mantle. Not a guy you'd have a couple of beers with at the local watering hole in Beatrice or Gothenburg or Scottsbluff. Deep down, I believe the fan base felt like Hollywood Herbie had never even seen the inside of a combine tractor. What he had in charisma he lacked in authenticity.
Which may be why the original Herbie is making a comeback. He ain't pretty, but he's doggone likeable. He is also prototypical - of the hard working, slap-on-the-back friendly, dependable and welcoming Nebraskan.
So let's welcome an old friend back. Besides, it could be worse. What the hell was that thing from Western Kentucky, anyway?