Nebraska Football: A Fan’s Survival Guide After the Illinois Debacle

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results

Rita Mae Brown, “Sudden Death” (and not Albert Einstein)

’But I don’t want to go among mad people’ Alice remarked.

‘Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’

Lewis Carrol, “Alice in Wonderland”

You felt it, didn’t you Husker Fan? That familiar tingle of excitement, of connection, as Nebraska’s 2021 season started up. You opened your heart, you let yourself believe again, you got on the roller-coaster and started the ride.

It started … ok, at least. Yeah, Nebraska couldn’t run the ball between the tackles, which was troubling. Yeah, it looked like Adrian Martinez didn’t realize he was allowed to step into a throw. But the Blackshirts looked like the Blackshirts and maybe, just maybe …

When was it for you? For me, it was when Cam Taylor-Britt – one of the team’s unquestioned leaders – inexplicably fielded a punt running backwards at the one, let his momentum take him into the end zone, then tried to throw the ball out of bounds. That mystifying, skull-numbing, soul-crushing moment which you could never predict and was so utterly predictable for this Nebraska team, finally generated this response from a certain smart and particularly handsome analyst.

We’ve been trying to fight against this conclusion, haven’t we Husker Fan? We’ve been hoping against hope that despite what our lying eyes have shown us, that this year, this game, this play, will be different. We’ve been wanting to ignore the weed of stagnation that’s taken root, choking out the sunlight of progress.

So here we are. And after Illinois 2021, I would wager that most of you are where I am right now.

But … where is that place we are? A loss of faith in the current regime, sure. A protective distance emotionally from the team, of course.

Striking your colors, abandoning Nebraska football – abandoning the heritage and tradition handed down to us from generations past? Nah, Husker Fan, you’re made of sturdier stuff than that.

Uncomfortably, after last year’s Illinois loss the program seemed to be at an existential crisis, and a smart and particularly handsome analyst gave you Ten Commandments about how to wander through what appeared to be the impending desert. Go read that again, everything in there you’re gonna need in the next few months – and likely years.

But there’s still 11 games left to play, and a squad of kids that still need your support.

I know you say you don’t want to. Heck, I don’t want to. After all the pain of the last decade seemed to be balled up and concentrated into a three-hour gut-punch on Saturday, I get the instinct that you don’t ever want to let that team hurt you again.

But, like King George sang to the colonists in “Hamilton” …

(Yeah, I know, King George in that show is a metaphor for an abusive relationship and the colonists did not, in fact, come back. But come on, where else are you gonna get that GIF in a piece about Nebraska football? This is the content you come here for, admit it.)

And that’s ok. Remember, even after last year’s Illinois debacle, Nebraska just about went to Iowa City and got the Heroes Trophy back.

Nebraska fans don’t expect championships, regardless of what silliness Paul Finebaum and Colin Cowherd might like to spout. They don’t even expect conference titles on the regular.

They just want Nebraska football to be fun. Nebraska football is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be a source of excitement, of escape, of being that incredibly important irrelevant thing you spend your summers anticipating, your autumn days obsessing over, and your Saturdays being all-consumed by.

Nebraska football isn’t fun, and it hasn’t been for some time. It’s heavy, like an obligation, like a curse laid upon a fanbase by an angry ghost.

And I promise you, Husker Fan, there’s still fun to be had in Nebraska football. Read up on the Commandments, take a deep breath, check your expectations, and don’t check out. I know you’re mad (or as Dave Feit masterfully observed in Sports Illustrated, just disappointed) at him right now, but listen to what Martinez is asking of you (from his post-game Illinois quotes)

Look we are here to play some football. We are here to enjoy it. We are here to have fun. And our guys are going to do that. And we are getting better and we are giving it everything we have. There is a lot of investment on this end. We are going to get things right so stick with us. We are going to play our tails off every week and I sincerely hope you enjoy watching that.

Adrian Martinez, Illinois post-game quotes 08/30/21

I’m … not as convinced as 2AM that this team will, in fact, get things right. But I owe it to him, to this team, and to myself to give him the shot.

One thing I’m definitely not going to do is go all Spectre of Death like the Omaha World-Herald’s Dirk Chatelain did. It’s a long piece, but here’s the conclusion of his column.

But what does this program look like in 10 years? Main Street after the factory left town? Dry-land corn during a summer drought? Wyoming?

I don’t know. You don’t know. For years, I’ve told myself that it’s coming back when the circumstances get right again. When the right people fill the big chairs. Frost was supposed to make it right.

“I believe in my heart this team can still have a special season,” Frost said Saturday.

There was a time when those words would’ve read like Gospel truth. Now they just sound like desperation.

Dirk Chatelain, Omaha World-Herald

Chatelain is a great writer – you can read that just in those paragraphs. And I was one who defended Chatelain to the hilt when he was former head coach Bo Pelini’s favorite cartoon villain.

But this column is just maudlin nonsense. It’s raw, undiluted despair spilled out in newsprint and pixels behind a paywall. It’s also exactly how I felt most of Saturday evening.

After just a bit of reflection, though, it’s not true. At least it’s not the only truth.

Could Nebraska be the college football equivalent of a ghost town in 2031? Sure. The zombie apocalypse could also finally happen making all of this discussion relatively moot.

But all of Nebraska’s inherent advantages – specifically its history, its home in the B1G, its pound-for-pound unrivaled fanbase which leads to eyeballs on televisions – still remain.

That smart and particularly handsome analyst we keep talking about told you back in 2018 how Scott Frost could fail at Nebraska. And that same analyst told you this about where Nebraska would be if that failure should come to pass.

Nebraska football as a program is bigger than one coach – yes, even Frost. Maybe he’s not the right guy for the job. Maybe it’s the next guy that comes in that gets Nebraska back to the promised land.

Nebraska has played college football since 1890. Memorial Stadium was built in 1923. Nebraska fans have been, well, Nebraska fans, swarming to follow the scarlet and cream to its first Rose Bowl in 1941.

Nebraska football will be there after Frost is gone – whether he’s fired after abject failure or after winning national championships. That’s why being a Nebraska fan is so powerful – because it connects you to that history, that tradition, that rhythm of life that was there before you were here and will be there once you’re gone.

Patrick Runge, The Double Extra Point

Keep the faith, Husker Fan. Find the joy in the little things as we prepare ourselves for another trek through the desert. Just know that you’re not going to be wandering alone. Because, y’know, in all kinds of weather …

GBR, baby.

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