There are a few fundamental truths to fandom and the chief among those is that losing sucks. No matter what the scenario may be, watching your team lose - especially in close, excruciating manners - is just a horrifying thing. Of course, the reason that losing sucks goes beyond just the part where your team loses. Take, for example, what happened in Iowa City this last weekend. In a vacuum, that loss wasn't exactly the end of the world for the Iowa Hawkeyes. In fact, losing to in-state rival Iowa State was probably as much a foregone conclusion - under the circumstances - so much as it was the brutal blight on Hawkeye souls. However, the reason that loss hurts is that as a fan, there is so much more to each loss. Every loss has baggage. Every loss has the emotion of every win and loss before it, no matter what you may have actually experienced.
This reality is something that Big Ten fans have been experiencing a lot as of late. Expectations - both good and bad - well up the fury of fandom like nothing else. That's why rivalries happen. That's why it's hard to root for your fellow B1G mates. It's also why this week for Nebraska fans means something, even if it really doesn't. For a lot of you, I'm sure that Nebraska beating Miami is just another throwback to the 90s, an era where Husker fans like to hangout, and honestly, you're probably right. However, I wanted to walk you through our Collective Conscious as Nebraska fans, and maybe you'll see that we're really like all of you. This one matters, and here's why.
As a Nebraska fan born in the year of 1984, I was not even alive for many of the glory years of Nebraska football. Sure, my dad trained me up on Johnny 'The Jet' Rodgers, and I would be remiss if I didn't throw out a hearty, "Fuck Off Oklahoma". However, like I said before, so much of my Husker fandom was built on the foundations of years, and eras, past.
In case you were unaware, that clip above is Tom Osborne's most famous call. In most College Football circles, it is one of the gutsiest moves in history. With an almost assured National Championship with a tie, Osborne decided to go for two instead of take the tie. A tipped pass in the endzone propelled Bernie Kosar and the Hurricanes to their first National Championship and echoes of, "Can Tom actually win a big game?" began.
Osborne had been the Head Coach for ten years at that point, and finally things were looking up. If he knew he would not have a chance like that for ten years more, would he have made the same call? I shudder to think about what fans would have said on the internet back in 1984, but I'm guessing unrest would have started to creep in. No doubt, Tom Osborne was a winner, but in a state where National Championships were going to be a standard - as set by Bob Devaney - how long was too long?
Miami: 1989, 1992
In 1989, Nebraska would meet up with the Hurricanes again. I actually barely remember this game - almost as my first Nebraska memory interestingly enough - but only in bad terms. Nebraska was destroyed in what was billed as a rematch of the 1984 Orange Bowl. Again, this was not a National Championship game, but at that point, I promise no one thought Osborne would beat Miami. Hell, for most of you in the Big Ten, I'm guessing 1989 was a fun time to laugh at the relative weakness of the Big 8 and their inability to prep Nebraska for the big stage.
In 1992, Miami was once again the nemesis. Dennis Erickson had the Hurricanes rolling and this game was not a game. Osborne's Huskers were shut out in the Orange Bowl and with the win by Miami, the Hurricanes topped off their run with a fourth title. At this point, it had been twenty years since Nebraska was at the top of College Football. Gone were the days of Bob Devaney, and while Nebraska was certainly relevant, this was also a team that just wasn't destined to be anything more than just good. Greatness was eluding them. The days of Nebraska's Championship pedigree were probably finished.
One year removed from another heartbreaking finish - one in the Orange Bowl again against a different Florida team moving towards prominence - the Huskers found themselves facing off against their nemesis. At this point, all of the weight of the past 11 years was on this team. Tom Osborne's Cornhuskers were undefeated and had a chance to finally seal the deal - Penn State notwithstanding of course. The Big 8 was not exactly considered a powerhouse, but Nebraska had done what was asked of them and the only thing standing in their way was a Hurricane team that knew they were in the Huskers' heads.
I won't go into the details of the game as most of you here don't necessarily care about those too much. And honestly, the details matter less and less now as they all become part of the lore of being a fan. Nebraska won its first of three championships in four years, and it was only fitting that Miami represented the final hurdle to make that happen. The Hurricanes were a brash team from Florida in my brain, and when we beat them it felt like good had triumphed over evil. I'll never forget my dad running out of the house as the seconds ticked down, screaming like a crazy person. We had finally gotten that elusive championship under Osborne. It was finished business at last.
[ed note: As noted in the comments, I should have put a section here about 2001 Miami, but my brain was trying to force that game out of my memory. Since it is now at the front of my brain, just go ahead and go watch this YouTube clip of Miami bashing Nebraska into a pulp.]
Twenty years ago, Miami and Nebraska faced off in Florida and this weekend they face off in Lincoln, NE. This time, the ramifications are quite different. Neither team is exactly the powerhouse it once was, and even though the 90s seem to be coming back in all forms (note: Surge was never good but we drank it anyways), we will probably never see the days of a private college in Miami facing off against a small school on the plains for dominance across the entire college football landscape.
And really, the more things change, the more they really change. Miami will represent the ACC, a resurgent conference that is trying to claw its way back to prominence. Nebraska will represent the Big Ten, a conference that many believe is on the decline. Perception these days matters as much as ever, and both teams will do their best to take on the collective consciousness of their fans, their conferences, and the history of football. There will be lots of flashbacks, and lots of talk about the past this week, but do not mistake the importance of the present for both these teams.
I'd like to think that this would pit 1 against 2 like the old days, but it's a different world. Still, while it may not be like it used to, it's crazy to think how prominent Miami has been in Nebraska history, and it has a chance to do so one more. A win gives Pelini a clean sheet in the non-con, the Big Ten a win in the P5 column, and something to be proud of. I'm hoping that a win for Bo on Saturday can propel him to big things. You know, just like the old days. Until such time, we'll just keep taking on each win and loss like we always do.