As I sat down to write this, I pulled up Nebraska’s football schedule on its official site—and found that the schedule page has already been flipped to the 2018 season. That seems a really fitting circumstance for this season, and perhaps a metaphor for the experience of being a Husker football fan in 2017—in short, we’re over it, and more than ready to move on to something new.
Of course, as you already know, Nebraska did a few notable things in 2017: they lost to Northern Illinois, got shitstomped by the Gophers (and many others not listed for space considerations, but this was the most embarrassing shitstomping), finished the season 4-8, fired Mike Riley, and hired Golden Boy Scott Frost.
So you know, it wasn’t my favorite season as a Husker fan. Any season where the most interesting question is “Which shitstomping was the worst?” isn’t going to be one looked back upon fondly. Nor is one where “Which win was best: Arkansas State or Purdue?” is a source of discussion. Nor one featuring a race to the finish to see if allowed Pick Sixes or wins ended up with a greater number (it was a tie at...four.)
However, I also wouldn’t say it was my least favorite. It was just kind of a weird season to go through—and I think, in large part, it’s because of Mike Riley.
Aside from the remarkable stability and consistency that marked the first two decades of my Husker fandom, I’ve seen some spectacular crashes and failures in the subsequent one (plus). And though the writing was on the wall for Riley pretty early this season (it felt over after Northern Illinois), the general vibe was by and large not as an angry an energy as one might expect in a season that ends without a bowl and with a coach firing. There were no secretly released tapes or uses of the C-word. Yes, the post-game call-in show was always a maelstrom of overblown agitation, as post-game call-in shows always are, but my general sense was that the attitude was that Riley needed to go... but wasn’t it such a shame it didn’t work out?
All season long, the comment sections and the writers’ Slack channel were filled with the witless rejoinder: “But he’s such a nice guy.” As if this was something that Riley or Nebraska should be ashamed about. In addition to not being a very original or humorous bit of wit, what is the point of this? There were many points of criticism that would be fair to Mike Riley as a coach: he hired the wrong D-coordinator, or simply didn’t have the chops for coaching major college ball. Was it a stupid idea for the not-especially-lamented AD Shawn Eichorst to hire a guy solely for his personality? I mean, signs point to yes. But is it equally stupid to lambast a guy for having a great personality and a lot of personal kindness? Yup.
The reason the Riley failure is met with a weird tinge of sadness is because those of us not typing “But he’s such a nice guy” sarcastically on an internet sports blog really do want to believe that people can do the right thing and succeed. It would have been quite the feel-good story. Given the political climate of late, where it seems the more crooked and depraved one is, the more power they have; or the way the SEC just keeps stumbling into the National Championship game on the backs of bagmen... a lot of people wanted to believe that a nice guy can get it done. That he didn’t or couldn’t feels like a larger disappointment than just watching Nebraska win only four games in a season.
I readily admit that the ire toward Riley
might would have intensified if the next coach was not one Scott Frost (or, if there wasn’t the perfect fall guy in Shawn Eichorst, who absorbed much of the football failure wrath). I know what my fanbase is, and it’s not always pretty, and rarely rational. But because the next guy up is Scott Frost, the long-hoped for Golden Nebraska Boy returned to (hopefully) make good, disappointment is swirled away in a froth of hope. Gone is Mike Riley, and in is Scott Frost. I went to the outlet malls outside of Omaha the other day, and even the sign flashing outside of it proclaimed “Welcome Home, Scott Frost,” because, I guess, he was probably really waiting in suspense to make sure he had the approval and acclaim of Nebraska Crossing Outlets. Whatever. There is ZERO chill in the state right now regarding Frost, and whatever that means for Frost’s now-insane life (seriously, good luck man), it has allowed the 2017 season, team, and coaching staff to fade quietly away.
Whatever Frost ultimately achieves, I think it was a great hire for the Huskers right now—he’s creating a buzz of excitement (understatement level: extreme) around the program, and that was needed after the listlessness of last season. I sincerely hope he doesn’t hate his life as coach of the Huskers, and that this overzealous fanbase and media can let the man live his life a little bit. On the other hand, if there is one man who is uniquely prepared for what it means to live life in the Husker fishbowl, it’s Frost, who has, after all, done it already. He comes into this with his eyes wider open than any Husker coach in recent history. I’m still a little amazed that Nebraska got their man, and hope that they may endeavor to deserve him—Nebraska is taking a chance on Frost, but Frost too is taking a chance on a fanbase that once booed him for losing ONE game.
Looking towards 2018, I’m excited for Nebraska football. I don’t know what to expect in terms of wins and losses, though it’s not anything miraculous. I hope we’ll see some improvement such as not getting the tar beaten out of us by Minnesota. I hope we’re still able to beat Purdue. My hopes are modest. But as a child of the 90s, I can’t deny that I’m excited to see Frost on the sidelines, and looking forward to seeing how this grandest of experiments begins. Also, I am beginning the process of adopting Mike Riley as my new grandpa, because seriously, he really was such a nice, terrific human.
ALSO, Graham didn’t specify the sport when he assigned this series... but 2017 was AMAZING for the National Championship Husker Volleyball Team. They share at least as big of a place in my heart as the football team, and are way, way more fun to watch. 2017 was an incredible year, as “rebuilding” team that lost three All-Americans (two of them first team) overcame some early losses to make an improbable run to the National Championship, highlighted by an absolutely thrilling five-set victory over Penn State in the Semifinals. Volleyball is amazing, and Husker volleyball is super duper amazing. 2017 was a joy, and I’m so excited to watch them play again next year, because they are the best. Literally.
Pick the saddest thing:
This poll is closed
Sarah McLaughlin ASPCA Commercials
Having to "reassure" the world that you’re a "stable genius" via Twitter
You at your job, Monday morning, 8:05 am
Raaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiinnnnn on your wedding day
Ten thousand spoons, no knife
2017 Nebraska football team