The season is over. Four words that most Nebraskans dread. Words that seem so far away from the blissful, “The Season’s About to Start”.
But this season didn't merely end. It grounded to a halt, screeching agonizingly like a train hitting the air brakes and throttling backwards. Starting smoothly with a preseason top-10 ranking, which seems almost laughably high in the 20/20 vision that hindsight affords, the Huskers’ season went from race track, to sand pit, to quicksand and sunk to 10-4 while losing three of their last four games.
I’m not usually one to be so pessimistic about a 10 win season. Why, back in 2007 B.C. (Botched by Callahan), as we got smoked like Miley Cyrus’ ganja stash and lost out on making a bowl, all I could hope for was another chance to win 10 games.
Perhaps not since that exhaustively shitty 2007 team has a Husker squad felt so embattled by season’s end. Maybe it was all the preseason hype we got, even being chosen by experts as dark horse candidates to win the NCAA Title by ESPN’s Lee Corso, or the injury to Taylor Martinez that seemed to be the tipping point for his regression as a QB.
Whatever the reasons behind Nebraska’s least joyous ten win season in recent memory, one thing is for sure: this season left many fans feeling strangely unfulfilled.
2010 could best be compared to drinking an O’Doul's on your 21st birthday. Technically it tastes the same, but it’s just not quite right. 10 wins in most years, to go along with a Big 12 North division title, would be worthy of praise. But again, this isn’t any year. This was a year when the North was in shambles and Mack Brown’s squad was as good as James Brown’s English; a year when Blaine Gabbert’s mullet was larger than Missouri’s talent level and Baylor was…Baylor.
Getting six wins in this conference? That’s like Jeremy Wariner beating out a field of JV runners in a photo finish (*Author’s note: if you don’t know who Jeremy Wariner is, he’s a runner from Baylor whose successes are in complete polarity to the skills of his alma mater’s football team.).
I almost ran over Bo Pelini this summer. I feel like I need to confess that. This summer, as I was tooling around campus in my work-provided Chevy Aveo delivering packages as a UNL Courier, Bo sprinted in front of my car. He came out of nowhere, really. His head was down and sweat was pouring from his body as he jay-walked in front of my car without a second look.
I say this not because my inglorious life flashed before my feet-away-from-almost-certain-lynching, nor because if that had been Shawn Watson I might have jammed my foot down on the gas instead of the brake. I say it because it serves as the perfect analogy for Bo Pelini as a coach.
Bo is a man defined, and at times victimized, by his almost inhuman focus. It is this focus, this blacksmith’s furnace of heated passion, that drives him. It is what has led him to develop into one of the preeminent minds on the defensive side of college football and turn around a program that had slipped into national irrelevance.
However it is this same concentration, this same inability to look both ways before running across the street that leaves Pelini at a crossroads now in his coaching career. He’s so honed in on the task at hand that he’s combative with the referees, inexcusably truculent with the media and in what many see as the cardinal sin of Husker coaching, he frequently toes the line of alienating the fans.
I still believe that Bo’s the man for the job. I aways have. But this season Bo’s “growing pains” as a head coach seemed to be far too much “pain” and not enough “growth”. Do I expect Nebraska to ever get back to the gilded era of the 1990s when we treated other teams like railroad stakes and we were John Henry? Do I expect a coach/politician that can deftly win three national titles then seamlessly transition to Capitol Hill? No and no.
But at some point Bo Pelini is going to have to realize that here at Nebraska, a place where football is law, we need a judge not a bailiff; someone who’s more Osborne than Charlie McBride. To do so he’ll have to deal with the local media, in spite of their pestering questions about things as inconsequential as his birthday presents. He’ll have to turn his boiling rage at blown officiating calls down to a simmer. And finally, he’ll have to deal with his coaching staff—including canning an ineffectual offensive coordinator and realize that sometimes loyalty can quickly turn to stubbornness if unchecked.
For him to realize his full potential, which I think is very high indeed, Bo will have to lift his eyes from the pavement that he’s pounding and double-check to make sure he doesn’t get run over. Hell, he might want to even use the crosswalk.
Maybe it was the filet mignon provided to Nebraska by our five National Championships that makes this steak-from-sizzler season seem so un-tasty, but whatever the reason for the turbulence of the 2010 season it remains clear that this rocky flight isn’t over yet.
The 2011 season won’t get any easier.
Ladies and gentleman, I hope you have your tray tables locked and your seats in their full and upright positions.
(*Author’s Note: If this season was to be compared to any movies dealing with flight I would say either Black Hawk Down or Snakes on a Plane take the cake. And for the record, Bo is the only human being that could out-swear Samuel L. Jackson.)