In 1961, the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers were busy building their seventh losing season in a row. Head coach Bill Jennings was craftily piloting the once-proud program to an uninspired record of 3-6-1.
Nebraska was a bad football team.
But then, a savior from Wyoming walked across water and stepped ashore in Lincoln, Nebraska. With his arrival, Bob Devaney single-handedly raised Nebraska from its 20-year grave of national obscurity.
Devaney also inadvertently created the most impatient, demanding fans in sports history.
Before anyone decides to criticize this as an anti-Nebraska rant—and in full disclosure—I’m a proud NU alum who loves the program. For this reason I’m hoping to preach a little patience into Husker Nation.
Just four and six years after Nebraska had its first losing seasons in roughly 40 years, Bill Callahan was fired and nearly run out of the state by pitchfork-wielding farmers hoping to throw him under a combine during harvest.
Then, a Husker miracle, another football Jesus resisted temptation in Death Valley and descended into Memorial Stadium to once again rescue the Huskers and resurrect the Black Shirts. Teamed with a 307-pound angel named Ndamukong Suh, Bo Pelini nudged Nebraska back into the national spotlight in just three short years.
However, with this, he also brought back the nearly unreal expectations now sewn into the fabric of Husker Nation.
While Devaney certainly jump-started the Husker expectation of dominance, I believe it all started in 1995. In ’95, Nebraska cultivated the widely considered “best team in NCAA football history.”
While this great point of Husker pride is celebrated, I believe it’s also the chagrin of modern Husker methodology.
The 1995, Nebraska legacy included a margin of victory equaling 38.6 points-per-game. The destruction included two offensive performances of 70-plus points. The ‘Skers “blanked” two huge rivals: Missouri and Oklahoma.
To finish out 1995, the Huskers won a national championship by trapping the top-rated Florida Gators and pounding legendary coach Steve Spurrier for an embarrassing 62-24 loss.
During that loss, Spurrier repeatedly threw his clipboard and mouthed the “f-word.”
That amazing year—and Nebraska’s brilliant 110-year history—spoiled Husker fans.
Now, any non-conference game not won by 20-plus points is considered a loss in Lincoln. In reality however, Nebraska fans owe the program—at least—a decade of progress before harsh judgment.
Let’s return to the top of this article.
Remember that football God who shown his light on the program in 1962? Yeah, that God—Bob Devaney—needed eight years to turn a three-win program into a national champion.
After that, legendary coach Tom Osborn took over Nebraska’s elite program in 1973, but couldn’t bring another crystal ball back to Lincoln for 21 years. During that time folks called for Osborn’s head.
Can you imagine Husker football without Osborne’s legacy?
Without Osborn I doubt very much that ESPN’s annual year-end “Best NCAA Teams Ever” episode would consistently feature the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers.
If you compare Nebraska’s relevancy with other top programs it’s readily apparent why Nebraska appears on the “all-time winningest” and “most valuable college franchise” lists.
With the exception of the 20-year span between 1940 and 1960, Nebraska has been a national power. Considering Nebraska was one of the original teams in collegiate history—and one of the best at that—the Huskers are the only team to enjoy two 40-year spans of greatness.
Miami had a nice run from the ‘80s to the mid ‘90s. Nebraska ended that run and the ‘Canes haven’t been relevant since.
Notre Dame is certainly historic but has only had three 10-year spans of relevance; separated by decades of obscurity (rescued only by the pandering NBC Network).
Even the vaunted Texas and USC programs have witnessed vast expanses of gridiron gauntness.
My point is that Nebraska fans are lucky, very lucky.
Of the past 110 years, there have only been 30 when Nebraska needed to nurse a little turf toe.
This recent downturn is a mere hiccup.
Furthermore, being in the national championship conversation just four years after a losing season is a major accomplishment. A 10-win season is a major accomplishment as well.
Unfortunately, fans demand that Nebraska blow out Washington in the Holiday Bowl.
I do not.
Nebraska reached a milestone this season and I’m happy to celebrate that. I don’t need another blowout of the Huskies to reinforce Nebraska’s resurgence. A simple win will whet my football whistle.
As for the criticism of Pelini and Martinez: STOP. Give the men time. They’ll all make it happen.
Pelini is in year three. Next year is year No. 4. As far as I’m concerned, he has six more before judgment day in historic terms.
Just think if Nebraska gave up on Osborn or Devaney after three years.
After that thought, be patient! NU is great. The end!