Saturday was a lovely day in Lincoln, Neb. It was unseasonably warm, the skies were clear, and it was an excellent day for a football game. And at sold-out Memorial Stadium, more than 80,000 raucous red-clad fans watched the Nebraska Cornhuskers decimate the Broncos of Western Michigan University, 47-24.
This joyous Husker day was the culmination of a process that began last October.
Fed up with the damage Bill Callahan had done to the program, and exhausted with athletic director Steve Pederson’s poor decision making, the university fired Pederson and brought in legendary former head football coach Tom Osborne to take over as AD.
Before the ink had dried on Osborne’s new contract, Callahan was out of there, and former defensive coordinator Bo Pelini had been hired to take his place.
While Osborne has promised “no miracles and no quick fixes,” it is clear that he and Pelini are expected to bring back a part of the Husker culture that had been lost during Callahan’s tenure.
Winning has been a part of the Nebraska identity for decades, but it wasn’t just winning that made them special. It was how they won.
As more and more colleges went to pass-happy, pro-style offenses, Nebraska was a proud anachronism, winning with smash-mouth, blood-and-guts football. They lined up their gargantuan, homegrown linemen and their fast, physical backs and dared you to try and stop them from ramming the ball down your throat. Defensively, the “Blackshirt” defense was every bit as hard-nosed.
The fans knew their team was a throwback, and they were proud of it.
Then Osborne retired in 1997. His chosen successor, Frank Solich, was successful, but not successful enough, and newly-hired AD Pederson fired Solich in 2003. Callahan was hired, and he quickly began an attempt to “modernize” Nebraska football.
The results were disastrous. Not only were the Huskers not winning—they had become a pass-first offense. Worse, the defense had lost its edge.
A state that had always been unified by its devotion to the Cornhuskers was beginning to fracture.
Exit Pederson. Enter Osborne and Pelini.
The 71-year-old Osborne has preached patience in his return to Lincoln. The dominant Husker program wasn’t built overnight, he cautions, and it won’t be rebuilt overnight. The Huskers didn’t play a perfect game: Pelini is doubtlessly lamenting the number of defensive errors made Saturday.
No one will truly know how good these Huskers are until perhaps Sep. 27, when they square off at home against Virginia Tech.
But on this Saturday afternoon, the sight of their old coach in the stadium, and of former Husker greats (Mike Rozier, Irving Fryar, and Brendan Stai, among others) in the stands, was enough to make the Nebraska faithful believe their beloved program is on its way back.