This article was long overdue. As the Big Ten's resident western outpost, what better school to travel the trail than the Nebraska Cornhuskers? It's the only Big Ten state that actually contains a portion of the real Oregon Trail. Our AD traveled the Oregon (State) Trail last time he needed a coach. And, as a fanbase famously fervent about the 1990s, who better to indulge in this technological trip down primitive computer game memory lane than a Husker fan? Let's face it, Nebraska and the Oregon Trail go together like, well, peperony and chease. Pack your one pair of boots and adequate cornmeal for several months, weigh the benefits of fording the river vs. caulking the wagon and floating it, click here for that unforgettable banjo soundtrack, and settle in for an arduous and unpredictable journey. Getting through the (B1G) West alive is harder than it sounds.
1. Pick your leadership style
Sure, when you were playing this in elementary school, you clicked through the occupation selection in haste in order to get to the shooting buffalo part--so you may not have known the various superpowers and hidden benefits of each occupational choice. In 1848, as in 2016, no one really gives a flip about teaching--you'll be underpaid and unable to help anyone survive cholera, so just sell your soul and go to business school already.
Nebraska, you may remember, opted for the "Banker" option--Mark Banker, to be exact. As his name implies, he does, indeed, make the most bank of any of the assistants. But as in Oregon Trail, there are some downsides to choosing Banker--you will note that Banker has no special advantages, nor any final bonus, and here too, life imitates art. As the Huskers found out in 2015, Banker did little to help bolster the final score: his defenses often struggled as he obsessed over quarters, and the man himself displayed a wanton disregard for assessing the tools actually at his disposal.
Bottom line: Choose Banker at your own risk.
2. Outfit yourself for the long season ahead
Having established who is leading your team, the next task is to supply yourself for the coming year. Think of this list as your depth chart.
- Oxen = Linemen--for obvious reasons.
- Boxes of bullets = QBs--without them, you won't be able to keep your team alive, and your hopes will wither away and die. Do not bring a slingshot or some other silly hunting equipage--this is much like putting a wrestler at the QB position and thinking it will do pretty much the same work as a real QB. It won't.
- Clothing = Skill position players--if you don't have much, you'll quickly find yourself exposed.
- Spare wagon parts = The secondary--at times for Nebraska, it has appeared somewhat optional, much like that spare wagon tongue you just didn't take.
- Food = Sam Foltz--quality punting puts your team in a position to succeed, and in the Big Ten, is truly the bread of life.
As on the Oregon Trail, you can't just get a refill whenever you need to--1848 supply difficulties have since been replaced by recruiting dead periods, signing deadlines, scholarship caps, and uneven market distribution of commodities to the southern United States. In Oregon Trail, your supplier is a kindly man named Matt with a neat white mustache. At Nebraska, your supplier was for several years Ross Els, so let's just say that the "max number" is pretty irrelevant.
3. Travel the Trail!
There's nothing quite like the thrill of setting out on a new journey--everything is possible, the oxen are healthy, the water is good, and it seems inevitable that you're all going to make it to Oregon/a bowl not named after Foster Farms. Morale is high.
Normally, I'd be a doctor while playing this game--it's the perfect mix of money and a useful skill. This time, however, it seems only fitting for Nebraska week that I choose a farmer. Let's check in with the rest of our wagon party:
A pretty good lineup. We've got our fearless leader Mike! :D, a QB, a backup QB, a kick-ass WR with some 19th-century facial hair, and, like the good B1G denizens we are, a punter. Hit it, boys.
This is going to be fun.
And it is fun, for two weeks in Oregon Trail time. But then, as they inevitably do, things begin to go awry.
As if this were not bad enough, an evil Iowegian began to make off with our heroes' supplies! At first, it was just a few bullets:
Initially, suspicion rested not on the Hawkeyes, but on erstwhile Illinois coach Tim Beckman. Beckman, well known for attempting to steal bullets/QBs belonging to others, seemed an obvious suspect. But then, the party recalled, this theft was successful, so Beckman seemed an unlikely culprit. A second theft proved the break in the case.
FOUR OXEN! How is that even possible? How do you secret away four enormous animals/linemen in the middle of the prairie? Initially, it was thought that the oxen perhaps left of their own accord for the greater riches and glory of the NFL draft. But upon further reflection, it seemed certain that only one suspect had the great strength and conditioning necessary to forcibly remove four oxen from a campsite. That suspect was Iowa. As we have been often reminded, Iowa S&C is a program par excellence. There is literally no other reasonable explanation for the carrying off of four oxen other than that the crime must have been perpetrated by Iowa. No other team could attempt it. Assholes.
Meanwhile, although Tommy Strong recovered from his bout with typhoid fever, the woes continued. While Iowa's S&C was enabling the bad behavior and criminality of its adherents, it must be said that Nebraska's own strength and conditioning was repeatedly found wanting:
200 lbs?!?!?! I have a literal wagon-full of football players in the prime of life, and the most they can carry is 200 lbs??? Even if we leave out Mike! :D from the equation in observance of his age, that's still only 50 lbs. apiece. At that rate, they couldn't even get hired by UPS. No wonder they lost to Purdue back during their sad lives in the East.
Still, there was cause for thankfulness that there was surplus meat to be left behind after hunting. Initially, both Tommy Strong and Ryyyker Fyyyfe insisted on taking turns hunting, but their shots sprayed everywhere within the range of vision except to their targets. With bullets now more scarce than ever after two bullet thefts (thanks a lot, Iowa), the carelessness of Tommy and Ryyyker could no longer be borne. Luckily, Sam "The Leg" Foltz took over hunting duties, and the party discovered that his accuracy was much more to be relied upon.
Our boys were not the only ones found wanting--our remaining oxen (thanks a lot, Iowa) began to suffer for want of grass.
The oxen were promised plentiful "grass" in the Pacific Northwest, as well as warned that over-reliance on the stuff could hurt their draft stock, but still, they persisted in bemoaning the lack and predicted that it could affect their ability to get to Oregon, let alone to a bowl game.
At times, there was fog of a different sort, but one that equally muddled the minds and progress of our brave pioneers.
When the fog came, it seemed to affect Mike! :D more than most. He became unable to make timely decisions, growing confused and nonsensical, unable to properly account for time. This had happened once before, in Illinois, to disastrous results. But this time it was worse. As the sun dipped below the horizon, Mike! :D urged his crew onward, against all rational explanation, though it was clear to all that there was not enough time left for them to accomplish anything. Though slightly less mortifying than the incident in Illinois, it was no less serious:
Mike! :D was not the only one affected--the fog seemed to penetrate Tommy Strong's brain too. Tommy had shown signs in previous years of foggy, confused thinking, and here again, such behavior again reared its ugly head:
Four days! Four days alone, and four days where the group felt rudderless, for Ryyyker, though well-liked by his wagon-mates, had exhibited serious aim deficiencies during the hunting trips and the rest were unsure whether he could prove a long-term replacement for Tommy if need be. Luckily, however, Tommy returned...
...though he was not quite himself. Even when he healed, a change was noticeable:
Sadly, Tommy's recovered arm was to be one of the last bits of joy for the settlers, as from this time forth, things began a serious and irrevocable decline. The occasional discovery of a bit of fruit, did nothing to offset the general downturn in fortunes, much like beating Michigan State did not hide the fact that Nebraska had not won its conference in... a long time. And so the rains came, though remarkably enough, only figuratively.
First, Tommy succumbed to cholera. A preventable water-borne illness, this needless death could have been averted if the villainous red-head in charge of athletic affairs had arranged a more satisfactory contract with Gatorade.
And he was shortly followed by his comrade. Ryyyker, who previously beat dysentery, proved unequal to measles. Parents: Remember Ryyyker and vaccinate your children!
Interestingly, the wagon party's carrying capacity remained the same, making one wonder if the remaining members were growing stronger, or if Tommy Strong and Ryyyker were perhaps not really carrying their weight when it came to hunting. After carrying on bravely for many months and bravely facing down exhaustion, measles, and typhoid fever, Sam "The Leg," like Tommy, received his own highly ironic injury:
Alas, after contracting cholera, "The Leg" passed on from measles. Sometimes life is just that shitty on The Trail.
And then, there were two. Mike! :-/ and Westerstache soldiered bravely on, though now they moved slowly with only two oxen (thanks a lot, Iowa) and without the fine aim of "The Leg" to assist them in their hunting.
Westerstache, long known by his fine achievements in the arena of facial hair, further added to his legend by suffering and surviving THIRTEEN potentially fatal illnesses. Thirteen! It's like he was in good with the Almighty or something--who can say?
Sadly, he of the mighty stache and remarkably resilient immune system succumbed to the fourteenth. One could hardly blame him, really.
And so it came to this. Mike! :-/ was all on his own, headed back to the land he loved. But the joy was gone. The trip had stripped him of his love of the game, of his will to go on. It simply didn't seem worth it anymore.
And so, when tragedy struck, and Mike! :...( was felled by a typhoid-transmitting rattlesnake (?), there was nothing left to do, but to remember the glory days...
...of peperony and chease and five national championships.