An Open Letter to the Big Ten: What Husker Football Means to Nebraskans
Dear new Big Ten neighbors,
Before we get into the heat of battle that is conference play, perhaps we should share some thoughts about Nebraskans and how they feel about their football.
This writer does not presume to know the inner workings of each Nebraska fan; that would be well, presumptuous.
Instead, this article is simply an attempt to enlighten our future conference mates about what it's like to come from a state where college football is not just a weekend diversion, but an integral part of our identity.
That is not to say that the welcoming members of such a prestigious conference do not understand passion, pageantry or team loyalty. That would be ridiculous; the Big Ten is comprised of some of the most legendarily successful college football programs of all time.
We only hope that our inclusion into the Big Ten further adds to the prestige and tradition of the conference.
Also, while we appreciate the historic nature of our inaugural Big Ten season, we don't expect it to be a "love fest". We love a good rivalry and the mutual respect that should come along with it.
It just seemed that after the Big Eight became the Big 12, we were never able to foster that kind of respect with our southern brothers.
Growing up in the heyday of the Big Eight, there was nothing quite like the epic battles we fought with Oklahoma. Normally the winner of that game won the conference as well, along with a trip to the Orange Bowl.
Osborne vs. Switzer. Their personalities couldn't have been more different, but they respected each other and that respect generally translated onto the football field.
Despite what some Colorado fans might tell you, we always saw Oklahoma as our chief rival, until the formation of the Big 12 dissolved our annual showdown. After playing against each other for 71 consecutive seasons, we were then scheduled to meet only twice every four years.
However, the old Big Eight contests hearken back to a golden time before all the games were televised. If you went to the Hinky Dinky for groceries or to the True Value for a rake, the game was broadcast through the store's P.A. Everywhere you went, the voice of legendary Nebraska game announcer Lyell Bremser rang through the crisp autumn air.
As far as Colorado was concerned, that was a "manufactured" rivalry created by former CU head coach Bill McCartney. Interestingly enough, McCartney says he still admires the Huskers.
This is what he had to say about Nebraska in a recent interview:
“As much as they love football in Columbus and Ann Arbor, in Lincoln that’s all they love. They don’t love anything else.
“Trust me, it’s something to do. It’s not a way of life. There’s many things going on in Michigan while that football team is playing. When Ohio State comes to town, that all changes, but it’s not like Nebraska. You all have there a dynamic that every game is important.
“I tell you it’s true, because I lived it. I saw it. I tasted it. Take it to the bank and hang your hat on it. Nebraska places a greater priority. And you achieve what you emphasize.
“Because of the tradition, because of the importance, because of the culture, Nebraska is going to do very well.”
Call it the "Good 'ol Days Syndrome," but the same respect never really manifested between the Big 12 North and South Divisions.
That probably had something to do with playing several hard-fought games against Texas, but almost always seeming to come up short, or maybe it was because Nebraska was only a conference member for 15 years.
Living in Texas, a Husker fan takes a lot of ribbing. Not as much as before, but he still endures plenty.
"Hell, that's all you have in Nebraska." they drawl.
And they're right to an extent. Sure, there are other sports diversions in Nebraska, but very few.
The College World Series (since 1950), Creighton basketball, the AAA affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. There are others, but the list is short.
It's not like Texas where there are so many sports choices (college and pro), the typical Texan is bound to find a bandwagon on which he can leap.
And leap they do. Even the governor (an A&M grad and an Aggie yell leader) gave the "Hook 'em 'Horns" sign after Texas won the national championship over USC.
Of course, every team has its bad apples, but as I wrote in a comment last week:
"Sure, there are other sports, but no state identifies with a team the way that Nebraska does with their beloved Cornhuskers.
"Nebraska football is an extension of who we are, not a popularity contest.
"We want our Huskers to be honest, tough and hard-working; in short, a reflection of what it means to be a Nebraskan."
But a reader, responding to that comment, perhaps said it better: (It's been edited for context):
"...an example of how NU fans might be the same or different from (other fans), (I'd) say that it's just an entirely different dynamic altogether.
Where (I live), the fans spend a lot of their time arguing amongst themselves over stupid things and making baseless predictions about the upcoming year. They simply don't comprehend that the people of Nebraska live and die with the Huskers and that the morale of pretty much an entire state is dependent on the performance of a football team.
Not necessarily whether they win or lose, although we do much prefer to win, but rather on whether or not the team plays with the kind of effort, grit, heart, determination and perseverance that makes up the majority of the population in the state.
Therein lies the difference.
NU fans look out onto the field and see an extension of themselves, a kind of extended family, and they want that part of their family to play in a way that represents them honorably, win or lose.
The fans in my area and really, any other part of the country, look out onto the field and they see 70-80 kids, strangers who are there to entertain them for a few hours and if they lose they would just as soon cuss them as anything. There's no comparison!"
So, fellow Big Ten neighbors, we hope to spend many years in your conference competing admirably and hopefully adding to the glory, although some might think we take our football a bit too seriously.
Let the real season begin.
A Husker Fan
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