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Why I love Nebraska Cornhuskers Football -or- The highs and lows of fandom

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"He's decided to go for two and take a shot at winning and I commend him for it."

"This is for the National Championship for Nebraska."

"Incomplete!"

-NBC Broadcast, Orange Bowl, January 2, 1984

When I was little, my dad took it upon himself to ingratiate Nebraska Football into my DNA by telling me stories of Nebraska Cornhuskers teams of yore. We would turn on the TV for the weekly game and he would talk about the Game of the Century, his disdain for Oklahoma, and Miami. He would speak reverently about Tom Osborne, but this was before he would go on to lead Nebraska to three titles in four years, and you could hear a certain impatience in his voice. It was far from disdain for Osborne, either. My dad loved him as a coach, revered him as the guy who kept Nebraska in the spotlight after Bob Devaney, but he also questioned his ability to get over the hump. Could he ever beat Oklahoma consistently? Could he beat the Florida teams? Could he bring Nebraska back to prominence?

The 1984 Orange Bowl was almost a year before I was born and it was about as indicative as possible of being so close yet being so far away. One of Nebraska's greatest teams ever has got to be that 1984 team. Mike Rozier, Irving Fryar, Dean Steinkuhler, Turner Gill, Tom Rathman, and the list keeps going with names that you don't even recognize. It was a wire-to-wire number one team, and Miami was a relative up and comer at that point. Still, my dad would tell me that Nebraska had to be wary of the Hurricanes and he just knew something bad was brewing. The Hurricanes used speed to push the Cornhuskers to the brink and while Osborne's fate was put solely in his decision making, you had to wonder if fate was saying, "Look, you're fanbase is never getting another championship." That's what I was raised on.

This game, the questions my dad proposed, and the feeling like things are so close yet so impossible hovered around much of my collective conscience as a Nebraska fan in the late 80s and early 90s, and until a somewhat unprecedented run by Osborne in the twilight of his career, the anxiety of being a Nebraska fan was very palpable. No matter how large the lead and no matter how close a game, there was always a twinge of worry. Is this the point where Nebraska falls just short? Would I get to be a part of something great like my dad was in the 70s? Would Nebraska ever win anything?

The run of dominance and string of National Championships made me spoiled - and lest any of you Indiana fans start to roll your eyes, let me remind you that my dad bestowed upon me both a love of the Chicago Cubs and Buffalo Bills, so I know torment well. I remember being 12 years old, wearing an awful Nebraska National Championship shirt made cheaply at the mall, and cheering in school after Christmas break. Nebraska would never lose again in my lifetime. There was no way they would be bad again, and that was a wonderful feeling. The dragons had been slayed. Osborne's decision to go for two was never going to matter again. We were a powerhouse team and everyone had to deal with it.

***

I generally believe my personal naivete does not affect my decision making too much. I try to be rational, but fandom is really just a special breed of fanaticism, right? Like, why do we love sports so much anyways? Every year, in almost every sport, there are thousands of reasons to be angry at your team, and maybe a handful of reasons for feeling good about things. The expectations we hold for our teams are always unreasonable, and to say that you are living in the past is to say, "Of course I am, it's all I have left to hang on to!" Never mind, of course, that the past is nothing more than an era you probably were not alive for, and if you were, an era that those who will represent your team were not alive for.

It's a strange juxtaposition then to see 90,000 fans pack into a cramped, old stadium, cheer their faces off - sometimes in what might be a strange literal sense - leave the stadium and talk about cheering, and then go on to the internet and write about that experience. While it seems to me that this would be ultimately a meaningless endeavor, I cannot help but be a part of it as well and win or lose, these things affect my mood. How strange is that? Very. Very strange.

But that, in my opinion, is just it. We all participate in one of the few universal shared experiences. Outside of maybe large instances of music, sports are one of those things that is relatable across boundaries. I was talking to a couple of good friends about this over the weekend while we watched USHL preseason hockey. There was no reason to be at this particular game. It was sloppy, it was not all that interesting, and none of us were invested in the team. Still, just the shared experience of hanging out and taking in an even like that where we could - and would - discuss the outcome at some point, made the whole thing really fantastic.

***

So what's my point here? Why start with Osborne's ill fated two point conversion, talk all about sports in a definitely far-too-meta way, and rattle off around 800 words without even mentioning this season? Well, I find myself in a reflective mood at this point, and it's my article so I will write what I want to write! But, I do have a point, so bear with me for just a few more paragraphs. I promise this is coming full circle for me.

See, Nebraska is 1-2 for the first time in basically forever - and by forever, I mean definitely before I was born therefore forever. I am 30 years old. In the College Football blogosphere, that is easily like comparing things to pre-electricity. Anyhow, Nebraska has a losing record, will probably finish the non-conference portion of its schedule with a .500 record, and is bouncing back from firing a coach who did not fail to win at least nine wins for his entire tenure. At this point, if I were an outsider to the program, I would be laughing hysterically at the knot the team had tied itself into. Yes, Bo Pelini had his faults, but he didn't give up thousands of yards passing so easily, right? His teams fought as much as the next team, right? He beat Miami last year, right?

Of course you're right, but this all goes back to my dad telling me stories when I was younger. My life is moving into that stage where I am going to be sitting with my child talking about the time Tom Osborne went for two, sealed his legacy, and then remade it with a run that cemented Nebraska in the College Football history books. I will get to tell stories about how close the team came to greatness at different points after that, everything from a 2001 team that looked good until it didn't to Ndamukong Suh coming ever so close to putting Nebraska into a BCS bowl by himself. I will talk about Pelini's rage, Callahan's insecurity, and Solich's stoicism, and in doing so I will be describing the unfolding story of how hard it is to get back to something.

Oh, and I will talk about how the journey is why we come back each year. It's how we commiserate with people from everywhere and take our lumps when they come. So far this year has been exciting, awful, wonderful, awful again, and ultimately memorable. I have no idea what the Mike Riley era will bring, but it has brought out the reminiscing side in me, of which I am glad. Riley's moments are not nearly as big as Osborne's were, but there is still time. Sometimes getting ahead means you pay the piper for a while. Hail Mary losses don't happen every week. Neither do major comebacks with gut-punch interceptions in overtime. At some point the games themselves will get broken down for me and I'll be able to say, "do this better, don't do this, etc." but for now I've decided I'm going to enjoy the ride. Football fandom is great. Football fandom is awful. I do this to myself, and I wouldn't really want it any other way.