I’ve been a Husker fan all my life and that won’t be changing anytime soon. I’m in for the long haul. I’m a Big Red partisan all the way. My wool is dyed scarlet and I take my Valentino’s pizza with cream.
Yet I’ve been able to stay somewhat more detached than a lot of fans. Around 2006, I decided I was letting the outcome of Husker football games hold far too much sway on my emotional well-being. I give Terrence Nunn full credit for that decision, and it has seemed ever since to have been a wise one. This isn’t to say I never find myself shamelessly wrapped up in the outcome (a la the 2009 Big XII championship game) or hopelessly crushed by it (a la the 2012 B1G championship) from time to time, but that I’ve at least put forth an effort to keep football from taking too big a bite out of my identity (this was very helpful while drowning in the Sea of dREaD that was the 2007 season — all you could do was laugh).
Which leads me to 2014. I find myself ensconced between two passionate camps: the Bo-lievers and the Bo-leavers. To the former, I might appear lukewarm — a fan, but not one willing to bleed and cry over the program and acknowledge what Pelini has done for it. And to the latter, I might appear content — willing to accept four-loss seasons with regularity, not recognizing that good ol’ Nebraska U deserves, and should strive for, much higher standards.
Well, the answer’s in there somewhere.
(Full disclosure: I consider myself a Pelini supporter. Most days, anyway. If he’d been canned after his outburst last fall following the loss to Iowa, I would’ve totally understood it. Heck, he was almost asking to get fired. I wouldn’t have been happy about the situation, but I would’ve moved on without much difficulty.)
The real joy for me these days is watching the two sides go at it. The Pelini debate within the Husker fanbase is like watching the comment section on a news article come to life. I get a dirty sort of joy from watching it all play out, especially once the debate gets filtered through our local media. “Sipple is carrying Pelini’s water!” “Dirk just likes to spill Pelini’s water!” “Shatel carried his water and dropped the bucket after Iowa!” It’s great theater (probably something McKewon would say). Sit back and watch with me sometime. I’ll bring the popcorn.
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I attended the 2013 game against UCLA. I wish I hadn’t. For 1.75 quarters, it looked like that elusive home, non-conference win over a team from a Power 5 conference was finally going materialize for the first time since 2005 (and, come on, do wins over Wake Forest and Pittsburgh really count?). But we let them get a touchdown less than a minute before halftime to bring the score to 21-10. Uh-oh. And that’s when you realized that pit was still there in your stomach — you know the one I’m talking about. The one that reminds you that Nebraska fans can’t have nice things. The one that braces for a gut-punch right after a high-five. The one that every Husker fan has longed to get rid of since somewhere around 1998-2001.
You know the rest. 31 unanswered points. Twice as many unanswered questions. Doubts about the offense. Is Martinez actually hurt? Bo saying the team needed to simplify and have “more fun.” Then the granddaddy of them all: The Audiotape. Some wanted Pelini gone. Some, like myself, weren’t terribly concerned. But it created the first major fissure in Husker Nation in a few years, and the rest of the season played out under a cloud of uncertainty, culminating in the aforementioned 38-17 drubbing by Iowa.
To the Bo-leaver, a win over Georgia in the Gator Bowl was likely too little, too late and the cat stunt was whitewashing a tarnished image. To the Bo-liever, the Gator Bowl was a hard-earned victory over an SEC opponent and the cat was hilariously endearing. And here I am in the middle, trying to get those stupid popcorn shells out of my teeth.
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I believe this year’s game against Miami will be another zero-sum referendum for Pelini. It’s the same situation as last year’s UCLA game — power 5 opponent, home, non-conference — with the added allure of playing that team. An old rival. Our 1983/2001 nemesis. All sorts of things will be attached to it: importance, nostalgia, legacies, and so on — and might be the rare case where it’s all merited.
You can already see this playing out, right? Bo-leavers call for change after a meltdown at home against an ACC foe starting a true freshman quarterback. Bo-lievers cite the multitude of injuries our defense has suffered already this fall and, in true Bo and Billy C. fashion, note that “our goals are still in front of us.”
Or, assuming Fresno State doesn’t kick-start this crazy train off by beating us a week earlier, we’ll go into our conference season 4-0 for the first time since 2011.
One year and six days after the Bruins placed their foot where none of us asked them to, where will Big Red stand?
The Corn will be poppin’. Will that be a good or bad thing? I don’t know. But I can’t wait to find out. Bring on the season. College football is here again.