On Saturday, Nebraska was a double-digit underdog on the road to Purdue. After a wild defense-optional game, Nebraska ended up falling to the Boilermakers 43-37.
Nebraska’s spirited performance … offered the briefest of glimpse at the tantalizing possibility that Nebraska could be … good again?
Sound familiar, Husker Fan? It should. That’s what a smart and particularly handsome analyst wrote after the 2021 Oklahoma game.
Sure, most of Husker Twitter was pretty excited about the performance against Purdue. Interim head coach Mickey Joseph has built up quite a bit of capital with the fanbase after pulling out consecutive conference wins (which, fair enough, Nebraska hasn’t done that since 2018).
But I came across this tweet on my timeline during the game, and it really got me thinking.
It’s a fair point. Before we found out about the … other stuff, the j’accuse on former head coach Scott Frost was that he could get close but couldn’t win the big game. So what exactly is the difference between this team and the teams Frost coached?
When I sat down to write this, I thought the first point would be that Nebraska made a comeback against a large deficit. But then as I did my research (yes, Mr. Snarky-Pants, I do research for this), I realized that Nebraska was down 13 at the half against Michigan and down 12 at the half against Minnesota.
Nebraska could make comebacks at the half last year too. So why should we feel different about this Nebraska squad as opposed to last year’s?
Singular vs. Plural
One reason is contained in the headline. This is the first one-score loss under Joseph Nebraska has suffered. Sure, that happened all the time under Frost. But teams take on the personality of their head coach, and there’s little doubt this squad is starting to emulate Joseph’s personality. The “here-we-go-again” mentality that haunted Nebraska under Frost is at least somewhat mitigated by the fact that there’s a new man in charge.
A Broken Streak
Part of the reason the one-score game hobgoblin haunted Frost was his continuous inability to win those game. That’s not the case under Joseph. A week ago, Nebraska won a one-score game on the road against Rutgers.
Sure, the game was retina-searingly sloppy. But there ain’t no style points in the standings. That means the Purdue one-score loss wasn’t just another brick in the wall. These Huskers have in their memory that they can win games like that – making it more likely they can retain the confidence they will be able to win the next one.
The Other Stuff
Why should we think that the team under Joseph is different than the team under Frost? Well, we now know that Frost as a head coach was quite the fraud. Once put in charge, Joseph fired Frost’s defensive coordinator Erik Chander after one week and has fundamentally purged the leadership of Frost’s influence.
We know that, at the very least, there are adults in charge leading the Nebraska football program. And because – maddeningly – that’s a change, that’s a reason to think this team could be different.
A Question of Faith.
Is this team under Joseph really just the same team under Frost?
Maybe. We’re really not going to know until we get through the rest of this season.
But is there reason to think – to hope – that things are different? Sure. And so it comes down to a question of faith. Does a new regime in charge give you reason to believe as a fan things could be different?
A smart and particularly handsome analyst talked about this back in 2018. Here’s what he said (with the inevitable nerdy pop culture reference to remain strongly On Brand).
None of us know the future. So Husker Fan, you’re faced with a choice given those competing arguments, as to how you respond. And many of you are making the kind of choice we saw the android chief operations officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise face in Star Trek:The Next Generation.
Lt. Commander Data: Yes. The Starfleet officers who first activated me on Omicron Theta told me I was an android – nothing more than a sophisticated machine with human form. However, I realized that if I was simply a machine, I could never be anything else; I could never grow beyond my programming. I found that difficult to accept. So I chose to believe… that I was a person; that I had the potential to be more than a collection of circuits and subprocessors. It is a belief which I still hold.
Lieutenant Worf: How did you come to your decision?
Lt. Commander Data: I made… a leap of faith.
Star Trek:The Next Generation, “Rightful Heir” (S6:E23), quote courtesy of IMDB (emphasis added).
That’s what you’re doing now, Husker Fan. Certainly if you’ve made it this far, you’re choosing to make that leap of faith, choosing hope over despair even in the face of current evidence.
You may be doing it in part for your own history, honoring your forebearers who introduced you to Nebraska football. For me, that’s my dad, with his comically-trinket-ladened Nebraska hat, taking me down to a frozen Astroturf field after Nebraska’s Halloween evisceration of Colorado in 1992 to throw around a stocking hat like it was a football. It’s my mom, who still comes to the home games with me to share the experience (and to sneak in a little time to spend with each other). I suspect many of you who have read this far have a similar story as to why Nebraska football is important enough to expend this energy.
And even if there’s not a sentimental attachment, don’t lose track of one very important thing – this is supposed to be fun. At the end of the day, it’s just a football game. No one is going to lose their life or their freedom as a result of a college football game.
That blessed silliness is what makes an emotional investment in a sporting event so powerful and so liberating. As fans, we can wrap ourselves in the minutiae of the game and the roster, and surrender our emotions to the highs and lows of the contest. We get to feel those intense, authentic, irreplaceable feelings of joy and sadness that only come from following a game over which we have no control of the outcome.
And, win or lose at the end of the contest, life goes on around us. We can invest fully, experience those emotions fully, and walk away at the end of it with nothing lost outside of the feelings we chose to put on the line.
If that’s why we all get on this ridiculous roller-coaster in the first place, then why not choose hope? Why not make that leap of faith and believe in the possible, especially when there are still good reasons to think those dreams could come true?
At the very least, Husker Fan, you’ve got reason to believe, to hope for things to be better. If you’re a fan – especially a Nebraska fan – I’m not sure how much more you can ask for.
So keep the faith, Husker Fan.