Well, it happened. Northern Illinois broke me.
Over the course of 60 minutes, the youthful exuberance and optimism that I’ve had for the Huskers since the age of Game of the Century II was ripped from my body.
It wasn’t a swift, it-will-only-hurt-for-a-second, pulling of the Band-Aid that held what was left of my spirit together. It was a back alley surgery done by a community college dropout equipped with nothing more than a rusty Garden Weasel and a bottle of expired Robitussin to use as anesthesia.
When I finally regained consciousness following this Medieval procedure, there was no physical evidence of the damage that was inflicted, only a feeling of emptiness where my Husker soul once resided.
Then I looked in the mirror and discovered my hair had been seared into a shade of white, highlighted by a distinct hue.
You did it.
You turned me into a Blue Hair.
Before today, I had a little grey around the ears but I thought for sure I had another decade and a half before the Grumpy Old Man Achievement was unlocked. But nope, today was the fateful day. I didn’t even get to make a pit stop at the Run the Ball Guy level. The Northern Illinois game transported me right to the end.
At least my youth went out with a bang. I watched the game alone in the fort that sits at the top of our backyard and fixed myself a hearty breakfast of Lucky Charms and a few beermosas. I was living that best life that Ben Sasse hates all too well. It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning.
Then Tanner Lee threw a pick six and then another one for good measure and then I switched to drinking straight beer.
When that shit show mercifully ended, I holed up in the fort long after the final whistle, laying on the floor, using an inflatable beach chair as a pillow, and doing my best to avoid my lovely wife, who would no doubt ask if the Huskers won. We’ve been together for 12 years and outside that glimmer of hope in 2009, she’s never known the Huskers as a good team. It’s been a long running joke in her family about how every season is going to be the year until it isn’t. Sunday afternoon she’ll have a few laughs with her Georgia Tech alum father about my misery and she’ll pass along the cleverly underhanded condolences from her mother. (I swear the lady does research in order to craft the perfectly cruel thing to say.)
The most biting part of losing to Northern Illinois is that it doesn’t sting. It’s a new, undiscovered level of embarrassment.
From 1987-2001, the Huskers lost 26 games and every single one was a devastating loss. Since 2002, the once mighty Big Red has put up 73 losses and when a fresh one gets added to the scorebook, fans either become more numb or, even worse, indifferent. The crop of fans that was born during the dynasty of the 90s are pushing 25 these days and none of them know a time when the Huskers were a consistent juggernaut. Sure, there were a few good seasons but there’s legacy to hang your Cornhead on.
And that’s a big problem.
At the path they’re currently on, the Huskers are going to be known to future generations as a team that doesn’t win them all but might be able to run with the B1G dogs for 55 minutes and maybe even knock one off every season or two.
Meanwhile, those of us who are old enough to have been there will keep muttering to anyone who will listen that the Huskers went 60-3 once.
Enough moping. Here’s the shit that sticks in my craw.
SHAWH EICHORST: At least he got the memo quick that Black Fridays are for Husker football. Now he just needs to remember that the next time he’s on the cusp of making another mealy mouthed decision for the good of the Big Ten at the expense of the Huskers. Shawn, put your foot down and stand up for the school that pays you, not suck up to the one you wish would hire you.
MIKE RILEY: There has to be a point where even the World’s Nicest Coach gets pissed off enough to flip a table and shows some real emotion and fire. Half the time he roams the sidelines like he’s either Walter Mitty or a grizzled coach who was probably going to retire until he won a lottery he didn’t know he entered and ended up with a job in coaching heaven.
Pretend for a moment that you’re a 17-year-old being recruited to play at Nebraska. Would you see the opportunity as a chance to help a once storied program return to glory or as a chance to take the easy way out?
Think about it.
You’d be playing for a coach who doesn’t yell at you AND would hook you up with Kendrick Lamar tickets. He’s basically a super chill grandpa. He won’t even suspend you for weed. Your locker room is so nice it makes the facilities on a Saudi Prince’s yacht look pedestrian. You’d get all the adidas gear you could handle (maybe even a pair of Yeezys). Then there are the fans who always show up NO MATTER WHAT and will cheer you on to the bitter end or until your lackluster play sends them to the exits but they’ll all be back next week because that’s what Nebraska fans do. If you can handle the relaxed pace and schizophrenic weather of Lincoln, you’d live like a football god and get all the thrills of playing at a marquee program without any of the annoying pressure to accomplish something. If that sounds far fetched, there’s a key recruit who didn’t even make it to fall practice before being shipped back to Calabraska.
THE HUSKER BRAND: It’s time to get back to the good ol’ days when it was the football team that won all the trophies instead of its in-house advertising agency. Look, I know all the Chatsnap and Instantgram videos and other #onbrand #content that fans love is really to lure potential recruits but maybe it’s time to dial it back. If the architects of the Husker Brand are so concerned with its image that Fox Sports is asked to stop running a promotional video that shows the goddamn Nebraska Cornhuskers standing in a goddamn cornfield, you might as well change the team name to the Silicon Prairie Dogs and put helmet cams on every player and stream the games live on Twitch.
During the summer, the Huskers digital department posted a video of Tristan Gebbia and a few other young players exploring all of downtown’s attractions like Raising Canes (whatever the hell that is) and Chipotle (Taco John’s for life) and other fast casual restaurants. I know kids these days are special and unique snowflakes but if their decision to come to Lincoln hinges on mediocre dining options then maybe they’re not the right players.
Back in my day if you ever saw a football player stroll into a downtown restaurant, you gave them a wide berth and didn’t make eye contact just like gazelles do when a lion saunters up to the watering hole.
And here’s the important thing. None of those guys gave two shits about living in a college town that was considered cool to people outside Nebraska. The only media exposure they got was a yearly black and white picture in the Husker Media Guide and they were happy. If any of them were asked to take over the Huskers Instagram account for day, the first thing posted would be a video of the Husker digital intern who bothered them with that dumb question getting his spine ripped out because those guys came to Lincoln to do two things: play football and kick ass.
TANNER LEE: I’m not going to go back and see which interception it was but there was a moment during the game where Tanner was on the bench getting some words of encouragement from Joshua Kalu. Dude, you’re the quarterback and a captain and the Huskers are your team. Get off the bench and fire up your teammates, unless throwing a “nice ball” to other teams is literally your only skill.
THE OFFENSIVE LINE: There was once a unit that went an entire season without giving up a single sack. It’d be nice if these guys could stop giving up a sack every series.
THE BLACKSHIRTS: Handing out 16 Blackshirts before the season begins is like handing out 16 participation trophies before a game starts. But Bob Diaco’s defense has quietly given up only one touchdown in the last six quarters despite the lack of a total badass to anchor the defense and send fear into the hearts into the team on the other side of the ball. Was Randy Gregory the last one? Sure feels like it. Oh wait. There was Nate Gerry, when he could bother to not be suspended.
THE SOCKS: During the pre-game show before the Oregon game, Matt Davison went on a little rant about how the Huskers no longer wear matching socks and it ruins the look of the uniform. At the time it seemed like a minor quibble but while watching the Huskers play like shit, I noticed they look like shit. That socks thing is kind of a big deal. You see white socks, red socks, black socks, high socks, and low socks. They look like a Pop Warner team where everything was included except the socks and the coach told the players to wear whatever they like. To bring it back to the 90s glory days one more time, I had a classmate in Sports Broadcasting class who was dating a football player. During warmups she pointed him out from up in the booth and told us that he was intentionally wearing his socks low so that he would stand out on the field (this was during the time of the red knee highs that Davison loved). When he went in to make his first punt return of day, the ref halted the game and ordered him to fix his socks so he matched his teammates.
Being on the same page with the little shit turns into being on the same page with the big shit… like not getting beat at home by Northern Illinois.
Alright. I’ve ranted enough. The early bird special starts in six hours at IHOP. I better go get in line.
MIKE RILEY’S BALLOON WATCH
We’ve reached football armageddon, people. And it’s only week four.