Most of you are expecting a Re-View of Nebraska’s 54-21 loss to Minnesota. But I just don’t see a point in breaking down this game. Full credit to Minnesota, a team under first-year coach P.J. Fleck who is on the rise and will be good in coming years.
But there’s no way to understand this loss without knowing that head coach Mike Riley is almost assuredly is going to lose his job after this season. This loss had much more to do with Nebraska’s mental state – or lack thereof – than anything in terms of strategic breakdowns.
So what do you do now, Husker Fan? There’s still two games left, but for all practical purposes there’s nothing left to play for. It’s really weird for Nebraska fans to be in early November with games left on the schedule and having nothing to do but wait for the offseason.
We’re here to help, Husker Fan. I know you’re struggling for how to respond – anyone of us who wear scarlet and cream are struggling. So here are some rules to help you out.
You Can’t Stop Caring
I know, I know, this stinks. Your Husker heart is aching about this whole surreal situation. You just saw Minnesota – yes, the no. 119 team in national scoring – put up a fifty-burger on the Blackshirts. And there’s two games left. The first is at Penn State – yipes – and a loss to the Nittany Lions will guarantee Nebraska’s second losing season in three years. The second is home to Iowa – a team that hung 50 on Ohio State – in front of a Memorial Stadium crowd that will be more than ready to bid farewell to 2017.
This hurts. This is no fun. And the rational response to this feeling is to give up and pull away.
Don’t. You don’t get to do that as a fan. I’m not saying you have to soak up every play of the next two games. I’m not even saying that skipping the Iowa game if you have tickets is a problem. Disengaging some, especially from the exhibition-style games that 2017 has left for Nebraska fans, is defensible.
But that’s different than not caring. You’re reading this because you care about Nebraska football, and you’re looking for answers.
I’m not sure I can give you much in terms of answers, although I am going to suggest some ways to get through this year. But I can tell you that giving up on Nebraska football based on this season – or, heck, based on the last decade and a half – would be a huge mistake.
Sure, it’s been since 1999 since Nebraska gave you a conference title. Sure, you’ve watched a lot of embarrassing losses and ugly performances. But be honest – you’ve had a whole bunch of great experiences too.
Not just wins, although those have been fun too. But Nebraska football is woven into the fabric of your life. It’s something to get excited about during the dog days of summer. It’s something to organize your autumn Saturdays around. It’s an easy gift for your family to buy you at Christmastime.
Being a fan – being truly, fully emotionally invested in a team – is an amazing gift. Your fandom lets you intensely experience a range of emotions – admittedly, some bad as well as good – in a way that people who aren’t sports fans can’t understand. To give that up, even while in the throes of Nebraska’s current struggles, would be a very high price to pay.
You Can Be Frustrated, Angry, and Sarcastic
Look, just because you’re not disengaging doesn’t mean you have to say that this is all great. You’re upset about all of this, and you should be. And now, even more than in 2007, you’ve got social media platforms that are built for sarcasm and snark.
Let it rip (within certain limits). Dark comedy is a great outlet for your frustration. Sarcasm can make you feel better. Even a long, ALL CAP FILLED rant is a great vent of your feelings.
All of those things mean you still care, and are looking for an outlet for all your anger and frustration. So as long as you’re not being hurtful (and we’ll discuss what that looks like in a bit), let your snark flag fly.
You Can’t Take It Out On The Players
Social media is great to let your frustration out. But the players live on social media, too. Many of them put themselves out there on media like Twitter and Instagram, and are available to be reached by fans.
Some of you have decided that the college kids who play for Nebraska are good targets for your ire on social media. No one is getting named and shamed on this forum, but there’s only one response I can give to you.
Seriously there is no set of circumstances where calling out the players is a good idea. And I know that some of you will respond by telling me that the players gave an unacceptable effort against Minnesota.
I’m willing to listen to that, and certainly willing to listen to former Nebraska players discuss it. But there’s a difference between an athlete who has bled and sweated for the scarlet and cream and @JoeCouchGuy_7 popping off.
Ladies and gentlemen, football is hard. It’s a really hard game, and it’s really hard work to get ready to play, week after week. Every player on that team, I’m confident to say, has put in more work to be a football player than most people reading this blog have put in for anything in their life.
You know what else is hard? Losing. Continuing to lose plays with your confidence, and losing track of all your season goals makes it hard to give that extra little bit that is the difference between winning and losing.
Nebraska’s players are better than Minnesota’s. All else being equal, that means Nebraska should beat Minnesota. But that doesn’t mean there is a chasm of difference between the two teams. And desire, passion, “want to,” all those things that you hear football fans speak in clichés about, make a difference.
I can’t argue the fact that Nebraska’s effort against Minnesota was unacceptable. But I will argue that it’s awfully hard, awfully hard indeed, for college kids to give the kind of extreme effort necessary to win a football game – yes, even against Minnesota – when many of them have to be convinced that the entire coaching staff is going to be fired shortly after Black Friday.
Yes, that means a team that didn’t give acceptable effort is still doing its best. More importantly, it means that the kids on that roster still need – and deserve – the support of the fans.
You know that whole bit about “in all kinds of weather?” Now’s the time to put that to the test, Husker Fan, and stick together in support of the players as we close out 2017.
You Can’t Strike Your Colors
No hiding, Husker Fan. Now is the time where it’s important to fly your flag and broadcast your fandom. I know, Thanksgiving is coming, and your Hawkeye relatives will be licking their chops waiting for you.
What are you going to do? Put your scarlet and cream away and hope they don’t notice? Good luck with that. Now is the time to earn your stripes.
In 2004, I suffered from a bout of what you might call irrational exuberance. Before the season started, I bought tickets to the Big XII title game in Kansas City. I thought for sure the worm would turn, and this would be Nebraska’s year to scale the mountain.
Well, that didn’t exactly work. But I went anyway, and watched Oklahoma dismantle Colorado, 42-3.
But that’s not the point of the story. I wore my Nebraska coat (because it’s Arrowhead, and Arrowhead is bone-chilling cold in mid-July). And I got more comments – more respect – from the fans that were at the game than any other time I can recall
(Well, from the Oklahoma fans, anyway. Colorado fans are the subject of another essay.)
Here’s your chance, Husker Fan. You’re not 10 years old. You don’t get to change your allegiances when a new shiny object comes around or when you hit a little choppy water.
Lean into the struggle and fly your scarlet and cream proudly. Trust me, it will be worth it when things turn for Nebraska.
You Can’t Forget You’ve Seen This Before.
This is kind of a two-edged sword. It’s a problem for Nebraska as a program that we have been here before, in 2007 after Steve Pederson was fired. We’ve seen a team come unglued under the tutelage of a dead coach walking. We’ve seen ugly losses – although, in fairness, in 2007 the losses weren’t to teams as poor as 2017 Minnesota.
But we survived, didn’t we? We found hope in 2008, even when we thought we’d never feel that again after Kansas put up 76. We dreamed of titles when Nebraska played Oklahoma and Texas in the Big XII title game (although not at the same time, that would have been tough). We thought Nebraska had cracked the B1G nut when a four-loss Wisconsin showed up in Indianapolis – at least until the game started.
Hope will come again, probably sooner than you think. Riley has to go, but he’s not Bill Callahan or Bo Pelini. He’ll still coach and recruit, and leave the team in the best shape possible for the next guy in charge. He won’t shut things down in a fit of pique or poison the well to salve his bruised ego.
And now Nebraska has an experienced football mind in Bill Moos to fire Riley and hire his replacement. That’s no guarantee, of course, the Moos will pick the right guy. Or that the right guy will want to come to Lincoln. Or that the “right guy” will actually be the right guy and get Nebraska back to national relevance.
But there’s reason for hope. Not only because there’s reason to believe in the new decision-maker, but because the drought has been so long for Nebraska that it can ill afford another wrong guy wearing the headset in Lincoln.
Give in to that hope, Husker Fan, at least a little bit. Life is too short, and too hard, to indulge yourself in the cowardice of cynicism. At the end of the day, it is still college football – the most important irrelevant thing around these parts. Whether or not Nebraska is good at football isn’t going to put food on your table or a roof over your head.
But being a Nebraska fan can make you happy. To allow that, though, you have to find a little space in your heart for hope. It’s a tough ask now, I get it. But it was a tough ask before, too. And hope came back, just as sure as day follows the night.
Don’t be afraid of it, Husker Fan. Search out the hope. And embrace it when it comes.
Now, more than ever, GBR, baby.