The black hat doesn’t always fit Nebraska’s head. We’re reluctant villains, here, in our warm and fuzzy prairie-edged populace.
We’re not used to being the bad guy; being the ones to swoop in and steal away a championship in the thin-feeling November sheen of cold Midwest air.
But this Friday? I think we’re ready.
This Friday? I know we’re ready.
Make no mistake: that’s not a typo. I wrote “we”. I wrote it because, in Nebraska, the line that is supposed to be there, to delineate between fanbase and team is jaggedly drawn in invisible ink, is wholly ignored by our emotions and — without the heat of a fire-breathing coach hell-bent on tunneling down into a bunker like he thought the Russians had finally gotten the okay from Putin to drop “the big one” on the US of A — the ink has once again faded and it doesn’t feel like there’s battle lines amongst the people who live here and the people who we ask to represent us on the field. At least not for a little while. At least not this Friday when the Iowa Hawkeyes come to town.
When the Iowa Hawkeyes come into our town, riding a wave of black and gold momentum the likes of which their program has never seen, standing haughtily at 11-0 and ranked number 3 by the all-powerful College Football Playoff Committee they will be looking to take a moon-landing giant leap for Iowa-kind. They have a quarterback who doesn’t make Kirk Ferentz mistakes and a Kirk Ferentz who isn’t making Kirk Ferentz mistakes. They have a good running game and a propensity for maximizing talent that crossed the Nebraska-Iowa border looking for scholarships and playing time and found something that they hadn’t been given in their home state that belongs firmly to the Huskers: a chance.
It’s the same chance that Nebraska finds itself wielding now against a foe that, on paper, is as daunting as any that have stepped onto the hallowed turf named after a sanctified coach. It’s the chance to do something different. It’s a chance for the perennial good guys, the Nebraska Nice-ers, to pull on the ski mask of villainy and try to ruin something great for someone else. It’s a chance for Verbal Kint to turn Keyser Söze and for the team wearing Red and White to turn black for 4 quarters.
It’s time for the bells of midnight to hauntingly echo across a wolfen pack of 93,000 fans howling at the chill air of November’s last gasp and for Cinderella to stumble drunkenly out of the ball and back to her heinously mundane, normal life. There is no fairy tale here. No happily ever after. Just a group of hungry, scrapping, shoulder-blades-pushed-back-into-the-rough-wall of last chances, players who don’t just want to ruin Iowa’s season. They need to ruin Iowa’s season. They want to take the fanciful, airy dreams of an undefeated Waltz into the Big 10 Championship game and turn it into the howling death metal of a meth-lab fever dream that will resonate across the great plains from Lincoln to Des Moines to Pocahontas, Iowa to wherever you find yourself cheering for the underdog.
You may be the one looking at the fine print during this game. You could be the one mentally assigning asterisks to the hype that has been building for this game like a peripheral funnel cloud beginning to twist its way towards a reckless landing and saying “but really. . .” or “except for. . .”. And that’s fine. I won’t tell you how to fan. And I won’t tell you what to do. Because somewhere, buried beneath pride and the acidic taste of unwanted jealousy for a program that you don’t even want to acknowledge is the reality: Nebraska needs this.
We need to drive a frosty sledgehammer onto the map and chisel off the yellow and black borderwart that clings to us from the East and the North. We need to establish dominance over the Hawkeyes like a silverback gorilla staking a claim for his corner of the jungle. And nothing and no one and none of the ink on the page showing an underachieving and angst-filled season for the Nebraska Cornhuskers can change the fact that Nebraska needs this. We need this.
So when Friday dawns over our great state on Friday and the misting breaths of 1.9 million waft towards the sarcophagus-gray November sky, let’s see whose tomb is filled and whose is empty; whose has risen from what appeared an almost certainly irrelevant death and who has been strewn messily into the 6 foot hole. Let’s see if Nebraska will drive forward, slashing and burning through the doubt like an illegal foresting operation trying to beat out governmental regulations. Let’s see if Nebraska is the one holding the dagger in Caesar’s back and twisting it with relish, watching the crumbling dictatorship of 11 wins and zero losses collapse to the ground in a heap with a smile on our faces.
I think it will be Nebraska. I think we’ll look damn good wearing that black hat, too.
(Feature image courtesy of: nebraskafootballtickets123.com)