As college football gets under way, is it me or has the hype surrounding the Huskers died down over the past few years?
I remember a time not so long ago when as August ground to a halt, you could not escape the pounding hype machine behind Nebraska football. If you weren’t a fan, and even if you were, there was nowhere to hide on the radio, on television, in the newspaper. In a state that gets so little national attention, Go Big Red was a crushing, all-encompassing fever that grew or died along with the season.
I have warned many an out-of-state transplant that they will not be able to escape Husker mania, that it will engulf areas of their lives they never dreamt something as ephemeral as a football could. Citywide outdoor events are all held during the most inhospitable summer months. Ask organizers why they insist on hosting their festivals during the blast-furnace days and they’ll say, “We don’t want to compete with Husker football.”
Ask why so many “fall weddings” are held prior to the last Saturday in August and you’ll get the same reason. No bride wants to share her vows with a groom, bridesmaids, and family members bitter and angry because they’re missing the Huskers roll over a pre-conference Division II-quality victim.
Even the local newspaper has been usurped by Husker mania. We used to get the Sunday Omaha World-Herald delivered to my home, until a couple years ago when during football season it began to arrive after 11 a.m., well past my coffee time. I called the OWH front desk to complain and was told, “Last night’s Husker game ran late, so we had to hold distribution to get the coverage in. You understand.” No, I didn’t, but I guess I can’t blame the great gray Herald for tossing away its ethics to satisfy the bulk of its subscribers. We now get the Sunday New York Times.
Husker mania is an overwhelming fact of life that one either succumbs to or endures until bowl season ends, epitomized by the parade of red-cladded fans driving around in their minivans with flags sticking out the windows, flapping in the wind, proudly announcing their support for the boys in Lincoln.
But these days the flags seem sparser; the mania muted.
I blame the inevitable fatigue on a team that’s struggled more than a decade to get invited to even one of the lower-tier bowls. The Huskers haven’t been very good for a long time, and the chances of them ever getting “90s good” again are slim in an era when the best recruits head to the West Coast or the SEC where they’re more likely to compete for a championship or get “discovered” as the next big NFL prospect.
I blame UNL’s move to the Big 10, a defection that the brainwashed will tell you was made “for academic reasons,” when any sane person knows it had more to do with money and television and jealousy of Texas and its Longhorn Network. By leaving the Big 12, Nebraska flushed decades of tradition right down the toilet. With a stroke of a pen, the long-standing rivalry with Oklahoma that I grew up with vanished forever.
I blame Penn State — the biggest scandal in collegiate sports history — which left everyone sick, exhausted and disappointed that a once great program could fall to such depths.
And I blame the Internet and other technological distractions that weren’t around when I, like every other Nebraska kid who sat in a tree house on Husker Saturday with his transistor radio tuned to KFAB, wanted to be Johnny Rogers.
In many ways, the fading of the scarlet and cream is lost on me, because the football team that I began rooting for in my college years no longer exists. I have two words for those of you who are thinking, “Get over it, it’s been two years already,” and they rhyme with Duck Stew.
It’s been two years since UNO snuffed out its football team along with one of the school’s most successful sports programs, its wrestling team, and we still don’t know what happened. When those programs were shit-canned without warning, it was the ultimate kick to the groin for anyone who enjoyed Saturdays at Al Caniglia Field.
The reason given: The programs were losing money — somewhere in the millions of dollars. The hemorrhaging had to stop. It was the fiscally responsible thing to do. But instead of asking for help, UNO kept the decision secret. I’ve talked to people close to the program who would have liked to have had just one year to right the boat, to raise the needed money, to look for ways to make it work, but they were left out of the loop.
UNO, they were told, was destined to become a “hockey school.” No matter that hockey is a niche sport that’s about as exciting to watch as soccer, another “new sport” we got in trade for our D1 status along with golf, a less-than-fantastic spectator sport.
Bottom line: If UNO football wasn’t a moneymaker like Husker football, than it had to go. I wonder where they ever got the idea that college sports were designed to make money. My how things have become ducked up in this era when D1 football programs are little more than training camps for the NFL.
So be proud, Husker fan. Although your team will never be as great as it was during the Osborne era, at least you still have a team to root for.
Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.