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A Husker Fan Walks into the Rose Bowl…

Call me slow in the uptake but it only took 15 years of living in Los Angeles to realize that I could go to the Rose Bowl anytime. Among the Rose Bowl committee’s labyrinth of rules, there is no stipulation that says one must be a fan of either team playing.

Plus, it helped that my lovely wife let it slip a little too early in the afternoon of New Year’s Eve that our plans for the next day were going to include painting our guest bathroom. I needed an excuse to get out of the house quick and Iowa playing in the Rose Bowl fit the bill quite nicely.

There was just one problem.

Paying actual money to see Iowa play football was not my idea of a good time, even if the alternative was painting a bathroom.

Lucky for me, I had yet to make my annual pilgrimage to Coinstar.  If I only spent a year’s worth of loose change on a ticket, I wouldn’t technically be spending real money per se.

In short order, I established some ground rules for this potential field trip.

1. No antagonizing Iowa fans. As a representative of Husker Nation, I shall conduct myself in a classy manner (unless heckled first). Consider this my version of Top Gun’s big rule of engagement: Do not fire unless fired upon.

2. The maximum amount I could spend on a ticket is whatever loot I get from the Coinstar gods + a $16 buffer. ($16 was the amount I declined to spend to see Mötley Crüe’s penultimate show on Wednesday night. Even at less than $20, it just wasn’t worth it to put on pants to see a pudgy Vince Neil.)

Off to Coinstar I went…

COINSTAR
C’mon, big bucks. No whammies.

COIN STAR TICKETBoom! $93.66 + 16 = $109.66 with which to score a ticket.

Cut to the next morning and my wife kicked me out of the car at a nearby subway station and I was off to Pasadena.

LA RED LINEDid you know that Los Angeles has had a subway system since 1993?

LA RED LINE 1
And it is always packed.

IOWA FAN RIDES THE SUBWAYAn Iowa fan totes all 12 of his Rose Bowl essentials.

Within approximately two minutes of stepping foot into Old Town Pasadena, I crossed paths with a scalper holding a handful of tickets high above his head. Contrary to what Dirk and “professional scalper” Joey from Kansas City might think, it is always possible to get into any event on the cheap.

My chat with the scalper went like this…

Me: Got any singles?
Scalpler: A few. What are you looking for?
Me: Don’t care at all. Whatever gets me in for $60.
Scalper: Sorry. Can’t help you.

And then right on cue…

Iowa Fan: Excuse me? Are you just looking for just one ticket? We have an extra right on the 40-yard-line.
Me: That sounds great but I’m only spending $80 today. You could probably get more for it.
(Iowa fan confers with her friends)
Iowa Fan: That’s OK. We just want to get rid of it. It’s all yours. Oh my God, you’re a Husker fan!?!
Me: Yep. And while I won’t be cheering for y’all, I won’t be rooting against y’all either. Just want to put that out there.
Iowa Fan: Oh, it’s OK. Us Big Ten teams gotta stick together.

NEW IOWA FRIENDS
Me and my new Hawkeye friends. My only regret about the transaction was not asking the scalper to take the photo.

Rose Bowl Ticket
A close up of my ticket. 56% off face value isn’t too shabby.

WALKING TO THE ROSE BOWL
For the record this wackadoo wasn’t an Iowa fan. This group’s signs are always black and yellow.

Upon entering the Rose Bowl grounds, one thing immediately struck me. You could never tell that the Rose Bowl was Iowa’s consolation game. Everyone in black and/or yellow was thrilled to be there and it was an amazing display of spirit for their team. With the way Hawkeye fans were running around and soaking up the January sunshine, they made a great case for the entire state of Iowa to be the Whoville of college football. Nobody seemed to care about missing the playoffs.

IOWA TAILGATE

IOWA FANS
Hawkeye fans as far as the eye could see. Sanford fans remained pretty well sequestered among themselves before the game.

IOWA SUPER FAN
This dude ruled.

BLOWN COVER
This is a look an Iowa fan makes when he realizes there is a Husker fan walking among them. We ended up having a very cordial chat.

OUTSIDE THE ROSE BOWL
Obligatory I’m-at-the-Rose Bowl photo. I like to think the camo hat gave me Milhouse levels of invisibility while walking among Iowa fans.

As the world saw, things didn’t exactly go Iowa’s way starting with the very first play of the game. Christian McCaffrey (aka football’s Frankenstein’s monster built from a blend of Ameer and Rex) took a short pass 75 yards for a touchdown. It was all downhill for the Hawkeyes but this guy never gave up hope.

Best Iowa Fan Ever 1

He simply got a fresh tall boy of Coors.

Best Iowa Fan Ever
Being down 35-0 was not a problem for Iowa’s biggest fan. This guy was awesome.

At halftime Hawkeye Nation was treated to a special Farmer’s Only themed serenade from the Leland Standford Junior University Marching Band. As a not-easily-offended and (mostly) impartial observer, it was a hilarious shit show that made me feel like I was whisked back to that magical time when Andy Kaufman was wrestling women. I’ve never heard such glorious booing in my life.

Of all the ways the LSJUMB insulted Iowa, having a “Wisconsin dairy cow” (as one Iowa fan kept shouting) traipsing across the Rose Bowl turf may have been their biggest offense. Perhaps it was a mistake but knowing those scamps, it was probably intentional that the wrong breed of cow was used.

Either way, it was genius and a nice flashback to 1996 when I got to enjoy a game at Stanford sitting with the band. A dear friend was one of its directors back then and was the devious mastermind behind their infamous potato famine themed show that still sends Notre Dame fans into a fighting mood.

Be sure to enable sound so you can hear the LSJUMB getting booed off the field.

Tom Arnold Rose Bowl
Until Iowa got on the board with field goal to make it 38-3 in the third quarter, proud Iowan Tom Arnold held the distinction of receiving the Hawkeye faithful’s biggest cheers of the day. Apparently all 14 members of Slipknot were busy.

Stanford mercifully took their foot off the gas in the second half and Iowa was able to mount a small rally much to the delight of their fans who refused to leave early. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was kinda, sorta hoping for a Hawkeye beat down but seeing it happen in the most brutal way possible gave me that feeling of remorse you get when the yokel part of your brain momentarily gets excited about seeing a car crash until you remember there are people trapped inside the twisted wreckage and that they will have to deal with their One Sure Insurance company.

I spent most of the fourth quarter trying to console the Iowa fans around me but they all seemed to be in mostly good spirits. By the final whistle, I came away with a new and healthy respect for the Huskers’ rival to the east. Hawkeye fans really aren’t that bad and dare I say pretty good people. There really might be more to Iowa than the Shelbyville vibe of Council Bluffs.

Weird Ticket CollectorThe guy in the Lane Kiffin visor gets the award for being the biggest kook of the night. He’s a ticket collector and was hounding anyone and everyone for their stubs. Even after getting blown out, Iowa fans weren’t too keen on giving him their tickets.

In fact, you might even say Iowa fans were ready to keep the party going. After all, bumping RATT in the frosty air of the Rose Bowl parking lot is way better than having to go back home to Iowa.

Stay gold, Hawkeye Nation. We’ll see you again in November.

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Nebraska Will Most Likely Win the 2015 National Championship

cfpchampWarning: This editorial may include sunshine pumping.

After carefully evaluating the upcoming college football season, the most likely outcome I see for Mike Riley’s maiden voyage out on the high Husker seas — is a National Friggin’ Title.

Burdensome expectations for the newly minted captain of Memorial Stadium, you say? A reckless forecast sure to undermine the confidence of a Corvallis crew all too used to Pac-12 participation trophies?

Yeah, well. Whatever.

If you want to rhetorically hold Riley and company’s hands through the tunnel walk on Saturday, start your own damn blog.

Big Red Fury expects Mike Riley to take the helm like the second-coming of Bob Devaney who saw a 200% increase in wins his first year at Nebraska over the previous season.

Granted, for Mike Riley to do the same, he will need to win 27 games in 2015 — a mathematical impossibility, unfortunately. But he can go another route to match the phenomenal improvement Devaney brought with him in 1962. The BobFather produced four fewer losses in his first season than Bill Jennings produced in his last.

As luck would have it, Bo Pelini left Mike with the exact number of losses he would need to match Bob’s improvement. Only this time, should Coach Riley strike the same lightning, it will mean a 15-0 record.

And a National Damn Title.

But, but, but — I can hear the carping now. Bob Devaney didn’t win a National Title in his first year at Nebraska. Bo Pelini didn’t put the ball on a tee with a 3-6-1 out-going record. And the atmosphere is just plain different now. College football of 2015 is a lifetime removed from college football of 1962.

Ix-nay on the ucking-fay excuses-ay. That’s right, I’m bringing Pig Latin to this here itchbe.

So maybe you wonder when was the last time a Division 1 college football team actually went 15-0? After all, the Buckeyes didn’t even do it when they picked up their 14-1 Championship last year.

The answer is Penn University in 1897.

Oh, some teams have come agonizingly close with 14 wins and no losses. Florida State in 2013. Auburn in 2010. Alabama and Boise State in 2009. Ohio State in 2002.

But come four and a half months from now — unless my crystal ball is in need of some Windex — Nebraska will stand shoulder to shoulder with the mighty 1897 Penn Quakers as the only 15-0 Division 1 football teams in the entire history of the sport.

Tall order? Sure. If you say so.

But what if Mike and his Corvallis mechanics stumble up somewhere while pimping out this Big Red Lamborghini they’ve been bestowed?

Like — and I know this is going to sound ridiculous — what if Michigan State comes to town and pulls out an inspired performance, while SIMULTANEOUSLY Nebraska plays a little bit flat?

It’s conceivable then, yeah sure, Sparty might actually sneak out a win while in Lincoln. Crazier things have happened, right?

So then Nebraska gets back on track, blows out Rutgers and Iowa and heads off to Indianapolis 11-1 to face, probably a 12-0 Ohio State.

No worries. We’re in like Flynn.

Nebraska then manhandles the Buckeyes. While Coach Riley goes to waggle Urban Frank Meyer III’s humiliated little grip at midfield, Mark Banker takes Meyer from behind, chucks him to the ground and puts his boot on his trachea.

Just to let him know the new pecking order.

Nebraska then goes on to the playoffs, tosses off some SEC champ like a gamy bit of ground squirrel, then pounds the hapless PAC-12 champ like a Sharknado slamming into the Santa Monica pier. VOILA! 14-1 National Champs, just like those tallywackers from Columbus last year.

Okay. So let’s say Nebraska bowls through its regular season 12-0 (or, at worst 11-1) and then loses (I’m just asking you to humor me here) to Ohio State and is then LEFT OUT of the playoff. Would that then derail Nebraska’s 2015 National Title run?

Absolutely not. And that’s one of the things I love about college football. Titles are subjective. It’s the only sport that has a long history of letting multiple champs stand together on the same gold medal podium in the same year.

Quick — who won the 1970 National Title? Depends on who you ask. A Nebraska fan will say, “Nebraska, of course.” And out the corner of their mouths, they’ll add, “And Texas, I guess.” If you ask a Texas fan the same question, they’ll say, “Texas! And some other team. Nebraska, maybe? Did we even play them that year?”

And the truth is they’re BOTH right. But ask an Ohio State fan, who won the 1970 National Title, they’ll say, “Buckeyes.”

What? The same Ohio State team that went 9-1 and lost 27-17 to Stanford in the Rose Bowl? National Champs over 11-0-1 Nebraska? And 10-1 Texas?

Indeed. Turns out a little organization called the National Football Foundation got all hair-triggered and awarded Ohio State college football’s 1970 crown in the afterglow of the Buckeye’s 20-9 win over 4th ranked Michigan, without bothering to see how things played out in Pasadena.

Nebraska 1970 National Co-Champs Ohio State, Nebraska, and Texas were all somebody’s National Champion in 1970.

What’s remarkable is that this Championship sits just fine with historically attuned Buckeye fans who unabashedly count that year as a notch in their title belt. Likewise, Texas fans are equally cool with their 1970 Title despite that the Longhorns also lost their bowl game (handily by 13 points to Notre Dame). The Coaches Poll was also prone to premature National Title ejaculation back then.

In fact, college football is so over-run with multiple national champions, there are actually 356 claimed titles despite there having only been 146 total seasons. Other sports aren’t quite so communistic. There have been 110 World Series and 110 Major League champions. There have been 94 NFL seasons. 94 NFL Champions. 76 NCAA Division I Mens Basketball seasons. 76 NCAA Division I Mens Basketball Champions. 64 NBA seasons. 64 NBA Champions.

You see where this is headed?

So “open-to-interpretation” are college football title claims, some programs have declared themselves champions of particular seasons decades after the fact. Alabama, Notre Dame, and USC are especially adept at retroactive trophy collecting. And some of their hardware requires assertions so outlandish, they’d make Baron Munchausen stand up and scream — LIAR!

So, back to our 2015 scenario. Nebraska beats everybody on the regular season slate. But then they go to Indianapolis and get beat by the Urbhio State Buckmeyers and the playoff selection committee does not ring up Mike Riley’s phone.

Shit out of luck?

No sir!

We simply need to refer to anything after the regular season as an “exhibition game.” As long as Nebraska survives the regular season with no more than 1 loss, what happens in the exhibition portion of the year is irrelevant. Per college football history.

Outside of the 5 seasons in which Nebraska was declared National Champions, my favorite year of college football was 1960. For no other reason than the leeway its sheer lunacy provides in allowing titles to be doled out to just anybody.

As some of you may already know, the Minnesota Golden Gophers were at one time college football juggernaut. This reputation stems largely from Minnesota’s four AP National Titles — including the very first Associated Press Title handed out in 1936.

AP titles are the longest running order of fully recognized “legit” championships and it is a pretty big deal to be awarded one. Even when you include the results of the 1960 football season.

As it turns out, the Associated Press changed their voting system in 1960 as a response to the embarrassment of the previous season in which 200 AP voters split their first place votes among SEVEN different schools. Syracuse was the overall winner in 1959, but Mississippi, LSU, Texas, Georgia, Wisconsin and Alabama all had enough merit to garner at least one media cheerleader in their corner for the final assessment of the season.

By the way, look how showered the SEC was with media love even back in 1959.

Now, to avoid such future logjams of varying opinions, the Associated Press trimmed their voting block down to the ballots of just 48 sports writers for 1960. And it was the first year in which they implemented the weighted vote of 20 points for first place, 19 points for second place, 18 points for third and so on. But still, the final vote would happen at the end of the regular season.

The result was, balls out, the most ridiculous AP champion of all time. The 8-2 Minnesota Gophers.

Minnesota’s AP trophy came after beating just one team with a better than 5-4 record — Iowa, who ended the year 8-1 and ranked #3 but did not compete in any a bowl game because of a Big 10 rule in which conference teams could only play in the Rose Bowl. And, as head-to-head winners, that trip belonged to Minnesota.

After beating Iowa, Minnesota subsequently lost to 4-4-1 Purdue by 9 points. They then beat a sub .500 Wisconsin, standing at 8-1, they picked up their AP National Title trophy and then headed to Pasadena where they were nearly skunked by PAC-8 Champion, Washington, to the tune of 17-7.

When all “exhibition” games were finished for 1960, these following teams all had better records than the Gophers: 11-0 Missouri (finished #5), 11-0 New Mexico State (finished #17), 10-0-1 Mississippi (finished #2), 10-1 Washington (finished #6), 8-1 Iowa (finished #3), 8-1 Rutgers (finished unranked) 9-2 Florida (finished #18), 9-2 Navy (finished #4) and 9-2 Utah State (finished the year unranked).

If the votes were cast after the Bowl games, it would be hard to see ranking Minnesota better than 4th or 5th for that year. The title would have probably gone to either Washington, Missouri or Mississippi.

And yet, the record book still says “Minnesota: 1960 College Football National Champions.”

This is the kind of racket Nebraska can get in on in 2015.

All we need is for Mike Riley to kick off his baptismal Husker season with an 11-1 or 12-0 run. And then have an organization declare a 2015 champion before the conference championship games.

That’s where Big Red Fury comes in.

I propose a new college football award organization. The Big Red Fury Collegiate Gridiron Association or: BRFCGA. This organization will be a panel of any such people willing to vote in a college football champion at the conclusion of the regular season — and unwilling to consider any team for the top spot not named Nebraska.

The panel will consist of the three members of Big Red Fury plus Jason Peter, Tommy Lee and Larry the Cable Guy.

Peter Lee Cable GuyThe greatest power trio Nebraska has ever known.

Jason and Larry will, no doubt, be in the tank for the Huskers. Heck, we may even get a #1 vote from Larry with three losses. Who knows? Tommy may take some cajoling to avoid throwing his vote away on somebody like San Jose State or Wake Forest. We just need to remind him that Dear Old Nebraska U is his alma mater for the three-week stint he had in Lincoln back in 2005. It’s quite possible that he doesn’t remember that far back, but showing him pictures of himself decked out in drumline gear ought to trigger some kind of cogitation.

As for the three Big Red Fury voters, at least one of us will be on board from the opening kick-off. The rest is up to Mike Riley’s orchestration.

So, sit back. Enjoy Nebraska’s 2015 National Championship run and give a little toast to the 1960 Gophers. Thanks to their precedent, we’ve got this thing in the bag.

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A Bloody Odd Couple

Growing up in the 1980s, kids had a pretty standard set of villains haunting their nightmares. Freddy Kruger, Michael Meyers and Jason Voorhees formed the unholy triumvirate that spooked most Gen-Xers in their formative years.

But the two monsters that kept me cold-sweating into the wee hours of the morning were Cujo:

imgres

And fucking Sebastian the Ibis:

p1_miamimascot

Children of the Cornhusker State may have written Sebastian off as no more than the malignant alter ego of Donald Duck.  But I didn’t.  Beyond the cartoonish “tough-guy” sneer, this was a bird capable of (and ever willing to) rip the still-beating heart right out of your chest.

bloody ibis

Starting with the 1984 Orange Bowl and continuing on to the 2002 Rose Bowl, Sebastian and his Hurricane Horde frequently left Nebraska teams in physical and/or emotional devastation.  And, by extension, their wide-eyed fans.

I don’t need to recap the path of destruction Miami laid upon Husker history these past 30 years.  We all know it.

But as the Hurricanes get ready to storm Lincoln on Saturday, I’ve developed a strange sensation.  A bittersweet nostalgia. Which is not what I expected. I am , in many respects, still reeling from my one and only experience seeing these two teams clash in person — the Nightmare in Pasadena.

As rivalries go, Nebraska and Miami are an odd coupling. Nebraska’s quiet and reserved Felix Unger to Miami’s brash Oscar Madison.

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It’s hard to think of two locations in the country that have less in common.  And, yet, thanks to college football, Lincoln has often been on Miami’s mind and vice versa.

In the summer of 1994, as a second-year freshman at UNL, I flew out to LA to participate in a week-long media workshop.  The event was attended by two to three hundred Hollywood-aspiring college kids from all over North America.  The organizers of the event made a concerted effort to assure that students from varied backgrounds intermingled. For example, we were all housed in suites at UCLA’s Olympic village and, in my four-man dorm, I was joined by a guy from Montreal, another from Maryland and Heath, from Miami.

We all wore badges with our names and Universities on them. When Heath saw mine, he immediately bore a huge grin and said, “Cornhuskers.” Surprised by this greeting, I read his name tag and stammered, “Hurricanes.” We then became best buddies the rest of the week. Which weirded-out the dude from Maryland who saw Heath as a potential clubbing partner. Someone he could be wing-man to, because Heath — sure as shit — wasn’t going to be his.

Despite the organizer’s best efforts to scatter the participants based on backgrounds, students from the same colleges did end up grouping. Heath found a buddy from Miami. And I formed a mini-wolfpack with another UNL student and a guy from UNO. These two groups then became a college-football gabfest — reliving the rise of the Hurricanes and the folly of the Huskers. We were still six months away from Nebraska exacting its revenge in the 1995 Orange Bowl.

Now, beyond this (albeit) intense bit of mutual interest, Heath and I didn’t have all that much in common. He was attending the workshop as part of his dream to enter sports broadcasting. I, on the other hand, was an aspiring Francois Truffaut. As odd a couple as the Hurricanes and Huskers themselves. But there was something magical about this bonding. Kind of like a cool kid in high school taking a shine to one of the students who dwells in the periphery.

Sort of like the movie, “Lucas,” I guess.

So, the Ibis isn’t quite as scary as he used to be coming into Lincoln this Saturday. Much like his last appearance at Memorial Stadium. This will be the first meeting since then that the outcome won’t determine a National Title. An astonishing 5 such matches have been played in the interim (with Miami winning 4 of those).

Part of me is excited at the prospect of Miami’s offensive line being grossly outmatched by the Blackshirts on the other side of the trench. Seeing the Huskers walk all over da U would do a lot to wash away the bitter taste left by the 2002 Rose Bowl.

On the other hand, another part of me wishes it was the same swaggering Miami. The gnarly old bird gnashing its beak through the tunnel smoke. The dirty albatross around Nebraska’s neck.

A win against the mystique, after all, is the kind that forms bonds across the varied American patchwork.

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