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Jello Salad, Red Beer, and F*** Iowa: An Interview with Corn Nation // Better Know a B1G Blog

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Half the state of Nebraska stops by to explain how Huskers bloggers keep things fresh, original, and B1G.

Welcome back to B1G 2019, Off Tackle Empire’s week-by-week preview of all fourteen Big Ten teams!

One feature we’re adding this summer is “Better Know a B1G Blog,” wherein we get a chance to hear from the various schools’ own bloggers about what makes their site, their school, and their fans unique in both the Big Ten and the college football landscape. Check out our pieces with Rutgers’ On the Banks and Illinois’ The Champaign Room, too.

We’re onto Nebraska Week, and that means a chance to talk with...well, one of the chattiest, busiest, and most unique SBNation sites out there.

I’m grateful to Jon Johnston, founder and legend at Corn Nation, SBNation’s Nebraska Cornhuskers site, for not only taking the time to talk with us, but for giving us a 3500-word extravaganza with the help of what feels like everyone on the damn masthead at Corn Nation.

Give Jon and CN a follow on Twitter, and check out their amazing answers below.

But seriously—this is ridiculously-good stuff. This is a morning constitutional read. Block out some time, and don’t skimp, because it’s excellent. I’m giving you a table of contents over on the side, because oh my goodness, these folks brought their ‘A’ game.

(1) About Corn Nation

OTE: Tell us about Corn Nation: Your origin story, any particular in-jokes or memes we should be aware of, or any other Nebraska-specific quirks we should know about when we pop over to read an article!

Jon: Hmmmmm….. I started the site around 2005-06. This will be our 13th year (I can’t do math). I was asked to name it “Husktalk.com” but I thought that was dumb. So I went with CornNation because I am even more of an idiot than you think I am.

Steve Pederson was Nebraska’s athletic director when we started and I felt like he was so much of a megalomaniac that he would sue anyone with “Husker” in their name or anything close to it, so I thought of a combination that would be so generic we could not be sued.

I’ve been dead.

I have a brain injury because of being dead.

I lost a writer and a close friend, Brian Towle, who didn’t survive his heart problems.

I’m still here. I’m still here because I feel like it’s my place to be. I have an army of writers. They are my family. One of the most difficult questions in life is figuring out where you want to be versus where God wants you to be. God wants me here. Heavy stuff, right?

Jello salad is a thing sometimes.

Patrick Gerhart: I have only been writing here for about four years so follow Jon’s lead on the origin. I am here because no one wanted to write about Nebrasketball. Quirks or I would say “Nebraska related items”:

  • We don’t care about the Rose Bowl
  • We don’t care about “how things use to be better with 10 teams”
  • Forced rivalriess are not fun rivalries (long live the chair)
  • Big 12 baseball is better than Big 10
  • The money is nice
  • We are a volleyball state
  • Nebraska is the true 1997 National Champions and Michigan received the participation trophy.
  • Dorothy Lynch salad dressing is just ketchup, vinegar, and pepper. Don’t trust Nebraskans who use it.
  • Nebraska is windy because Iowa sucks and Colorado blows. That and we don’t have any trees...

Paul: The last few years is kind of a blur for me, but if I recall correctly Jon reached out to me in 2012ish after he read something I wrote about comparing Nebraska of the 90s to Alabama of the 2008-2012 era. (side note...it’s not particularly relevant anymore).

I like sports data and visualizations and modeling and I guess I’ve kind of evolved into the go-to guy for that kind of thing here. I have also done a fair bit of free lance work for other SBN sites...we’re all friends, right? Except Colorado. Those guys can fuck right off into the Pacific Ocean that they are 3 states away from.

Some random thoughts:

  • Jello salad is NOT a thing.
  • We do care about the Rose Bowl, but it’s just another big bowl game.
  • Jim Delaney has made it rain in the Big Ten, and NU needed that money.

I’m from Iowa and went to Iowa for grad school, which is kind of an interesting dynamic. I live in south Texas now, which is cool because there are a lot of Big Ten folks in my neighborhood.

Nate M: Like above, Corn Nation’s origin story should be left to Jon, as I am one of the newest contributors for Corn Nation...relative to some of the others.

I joined in 2017. I write about football and now I have recently started talking about basketball for Corn Nation. Patrick and I just started a new podcast called Of Bangarangs and Daggers, in which we focus on Nebraska basketball.

  • Jello is food for kids. I remember, as a kid, repeatedly checking the fridge every 15 minutes to see if it had settled enough to eat. Now, Jello tastes like...poop. Jello salad is terrible.
  • The only people who like Runzas are Nebraskans.
  • Same goes for Amigos. But Amigos is so good.
    (Pro tip: Go inside to fill up the ranch cups. Get extra and put it in your fridge)
  • Some of us actually miss the Big 12 merely because the away games were much much closer.

Jill (ranchbabe): I don’t remember when I joined. About 2013 or somewhere in there. I was the resident “corny” poetry person at first (I’m especially proud of the gothic-themed, mad-libs generated, crowdsourced corny kickoff poetry.)

Now I pretend to be a statistician once in a while and hope Paul doesn’t read my stuff and correct me. I also write about the women’s basketball team because Jon hasn’t been able to recruit someone who actually knows much about it to replace me.

  • Jello is a dessert, NOT a salad (but Google ‘horrifying jello salads’ if you are bored at work)
  • Some game threads from my early days at CN consisted almost entirely of cat gifs and increasingly disgusting jello recipes. That and arguing about whether Bo Pelini was actually a good coach.
  • We still like Oklahoma better than any of you. Sorry.
  • Conversely, we like the Big Ten better than the Big 12 and really appreciate you sharing all that sweet BTN money.
  • Maybe just Nebraska fans of a certain age still like Oklahoma better. I’m probably old.
  • Tommie Frazier and Ndamukong Suh were both robbed when they didn’t win the Heisman in 1995 and 2009.
  • There was a time when I could type Ndamukong without stopping to google the correct spelling.
  • No Ohio State, you were not the 1970 national champions.
  • No Michigan, you would not have beaten the Huskers head-to-head in 1997.
  • Tom Osborne made the right call in 1984.
  • Your obsession with the Rose Bowl is a little creepy.

Uglydog56: I am a latecomer as well. Recruiting is my beat. I came onboard right about the time Scott Frost was hired, and it’s been quite frenetic.

  • Jell-O salad with peas is an important part of every potluck. And 3 bean salad. Also, eat before you go to a church potluck.
  • I miss fullbacks.
  • I can be convinced to write about old cars and cowboy racing during the off-season.
  • Irving Fryar threw the game in 84.

Andy: I’ve been around for...well...years. I started out writing for a site under Barking Carnival (Texas) called Better Off Red. Then one day, I got an email basically saying that we’d been traded to Corn Nation. Which was fine because every now and then my sense of humor at BOR got me yelled at on occasion and, in one case, suspended.

Jon yells but he’s never suspended me, so standards for what is considered too gross, profane or offensive here are much lower. Either that or no one’s reading my shit stuff and I just hosed myself by running my mouth. Ah well, not the first time.

[MNW note: I don’t recall asking about Jello salad, but I’m all the happier that Jon and the gang decided to tell us that. Awesome.]


(2) Being Original in the Nebraska Blogosphere

OTE: Give us an idea of what kind of #content you think exemplifies the qualities of Corn Nation. How does CN navigate a very active Husker blogosphere, when places like HuskerMax, 24/7, and others exist? What’s been your favorite writing assignment or experience for CN?

Jon: I have never wanted to run a website like every other Nebraska website. Nebraska football is a religion. That’s a bad thing. I want to run a place where people can say what’s on their minds, profane or not, as long as they’re not attacking other users; a place where you can say “FUCK IOWA” and mean it, but at the same time recognize that it’s fun. We’re different because you can come and be a dysfunctional human and fit in.

Come to me. Come to us. Join CornNation. Just don’t consider yourself better than someone else.

Favorite writing assignment… Geez. The most popular article on CN is “We Are Marshall” and “The Marshall Story” — Hollywood vs Reality, an article I did back in 2007 about what the movie got right compared to reality. Last year I did a piece on Dirt Track Racing in Oklahoma I was proud of.

I’ve tried to do a lot of satire/humor articles over the years, but I am lacking lately. Anyone can be Cobby, these are not all just by me.

Paul: There are a ton of Nebraska fan sites, but I think that there are two giants: HuskerMax and Corn Nation.

HuskerMax is cool, and David Max has a lot of connections to the program. His site is primarily a news aggregator and a tool for his marketing business (which is totally cool...he sold some stuff I produced a decade or so ago) but I think CN is the biggest site with original content. Most everything else is much newer. We have a lot of discussions on Slack about how active to be in patrolling the comments. For instance, the background to what Jon wrote about “Fuck Iowa” was that it kind of got out of hand last season, and we had to tell folks to dial it back. But for the most part we expect folks to be nice to each other (teams in gold and black excepted) and try not to moderate too much.

Nate M: Like Paul said above, we try and produce original content. Also, if we are repeating something somebody else wrote then we always give credit where it is due. Also, we generally don’t write articles for EVERY new piece of news that comes out of the football department. We leave that to the professionals.

Because if I am sure of one thing, it is that we are not professionals.

Jill: I read Corn Nation long before I started “writing” there. One of the things that drew me to CN, and to all of SBNation, was the mix of funny content with informative. We haven’t done as much funny stuff lately at CN and I sometimes think we need to get back to it more. But maybe we’re growing up.

I do think that what makes CN special is the community. There is a lot of arguing (it got out of hand for a while until I started using my “mom” voice, but I’ve fortunately been able to step back and we have a pretty light moderating hand now) but there are even more people there to lift up fellow commenters and help them through tough times. Life, death, sickness, unemployment...CNers rally to support each other.

Patrick: Corn Nation is led and managed in a way that can be only described as a hippy commune mixed in with freshman english 101. Not the class where you learn how to write but the one where you play catch up to everyone else. So it’s more like 5th grade english. From there you throw what your product is against a wall and hope to God someone reads it. Our twitter bio describes us the best.

We beat every other Nebraska blog. If that’s not our belief then we shouldn’t be here.

My favorite writing assignment was probably from my first year on the Nebraska vs. Creighton basketball rivalry.

Uglydog56: There should be self-deprecating humor and real information in every Cornnation article. Jon gives us a pretty long leash, as long as we’re putting out content he’s happy.

Like Jill, I was a long-time listener first-time caller before I started writing. It would be difficult to point a favorite recruiting article—probably the signing day running threads, because I get to use pics of my corgi.

Probably my best received article was this cowboy racing one. My wife and I were at a weekend horse obstacle clinic held by the world champion cowboy racer Magen Warlick. That evening we all went to dinner together, and it came up that I was a “writer”. She exclaimed, “Oh, you’re THAT Rick Cone!” I was THAT someone because of Cornnation. It felt pretty awesome.

Andy: In real life, I’m a stat-head and numbers freak, but my when I start banging it out for CN, I’m usually looking to put a humorous, satirical or biting edge on things and get beyond the numbers. Or as Jon has requested more than once: “You’re an asshole. Be an asshole. And write more.”

Well, there it is.

As far as my stuff, I do a column that I try to make regular during the season called The 24 Hour Rule and I’m also in the low 40’s on a top fifty sports movies list. One of my favorites I did early on was The 15 People You Hate To Tailgate With. I still giggle.

(3) Nebraska Stereotypes

OTE: We often hear accusations leveled back and forth that team-specific blogs and Off Tackle Empire are “echo chambers”—at this point, I feel like we’re just talking past one another. What’s one stereotype about the Corn Nation commentariat and Nebraska fanbase that Big Ten observers as a whole get wrong?

Paul: I really don’t know what our rep is. If we have one, it’s probably in contrast to HuskerMax. As for Nebraska fans...we have “Through these gates pass the greatest fans in college football” in stone over one of the entrances to Memorial Stadium.

We are nice. You’ll never have a Nebraska fan pick a fight with a visiting fan or get hit with a balloon filled with urine (Colorado, I’m looking at you), but we are not that great. We fight viciously with each other. We do boo in the stadium. So that’s probably the biggest BS stereotype.

Nate M: One stereotype or criticism that drives me nuts is about the Nebraska fans’ expectations or standards. We continue to hear from national writers that our expectations in general are unrealistic.

Really? At this point all we want is to contend for the division. Perfect example is this upcoming season. Most husker fans are expecting seven to eight wins. I don’t know if that is a top 25 team. But some national writers have us in their preseason top 25. Don’t they know that we have to replace the entire interior offensive line? Plus, our defense was a sieve last year.

Oh, and in terms of our football program. Stanley Morgan statistically is the best wide receiver in the history of the football program and he went undrafted.

Jill: No, we don’t live in the 90s.

I threw out my hubby’s zubaz at least 5 or 6 years ago (don’t tell him). We don’t have unrealistic expectations. I mean, we only have Scott Frost and Fred Hoiberg leading our two marquee men’s programs and only the greatest women’s volleyball coach to ever live. That should be good for one or two natty’s a year.

See? Realistic.

Actually, football fans in Huskerland are raising eyebrows at national writers right now. No one here would put Nebraska in any preseason top 25 in football. We’re just hoping to stand up to the Quadrangle of Hate this year. We also aren’t planning any Sweet 16 trips anytime soon for March Madness. Winning a game in the tourney would be nice, but we aren’t holding our breath.

We are really Nebraska nice. If you visit Lincoln, proudly wear your team jersey or sweatshirt. People will go out of their way to walk up to you and make sure you are being treated okay and will hand you beers. The worst that will happen is that someone gets a cross look on their face when you don’t know what to do with the red beer they just handed you. Don’t offend Nebraskans. Just drink your damn red beer.

Patrick: Contrary to popular belief, Nebraska does have a basketball team.

Andy: I’m not sure what the CN rep is either, but if it’s bad in the eyes of other teams, then we’re doing something right.

As far as the fanbase, I think the one they get wrong is saying that we bring our five national titles into every argument, which I almost never hear unless someone wants to turn the argument to whose program is the best over time. Yes, we can bring up the titles when discussing that subject.

Personally, I think the stereotype should be that Iowa fan can’t discuss football with a Nebraska fan without yowling that we’ll mention the national titles.

All five of them, bitches. :-)

(4) Expectations for 2019

OTE: What are you most excited about for the Nebraska 2019 season? For the uninitiated fan of another Big Ten school, what are the storylines surrounding your program? Where do you see Nebraska in the pantheon of Big Ten football going into 2019?

Jon: Wins.

Paul:

Nate M: The main storyline is that in Scott Frost’s second year at UCF he went undefeated. What will he do in his second year at Nebraska? Also the legal trouble with Maurice Washington is kind of lingering, as we do not know whether he will be a part of the team in the fall.

If the interior of the offensive line can be shored up then I think we should be able to contend for the division in 2019.

Oh, and wins.

Jill: Will Nebraska have a starting-caliber running back this fall? Washington’s legal troubles and the uncertainty around Dedrick Mills qualifying (recent indicators are that he will) [update: he did!] have been a big storyline. The interior of the OL (as mentioned above) are all going to be newcomers with the center probably a redshirt freshman converted tight end. If these guys can protect our shiny Adrian Martinez toy, that would be helpful. And who will be catching the ball besides JD Spielman? Will the tight ends step up? Will another wideout or two be able to replace at least some of Stanley Morgan’s production?

There should be more questions on the defensive side of the ball. What came out of spring (besides everyone being bigger, faster, and stronger) was that the d-line looks like the strength of the Blackshirts and the defensive backs room did a 180 turn in work ethic and buy-in. That leaves a perilously thin linebacking corps as the main concern. Will there be enough bodies in the second level by the end of a 12 game season?

Not starting 0-6 would be good too.

Patrick: A few things I am looking forward to in 2019:

  • Beating Colorado in Boulder
  • Fred Hoiberg becoming more popular in the state than Scott Frost
  • Watching Doc Sadler decimate a Valentino’s buffet
  • Creighton getting beat by Bellevue
  • Chadron State College winning the Division II National Title
  • PJ Fleck leaving for an NFL job

Uglydog56: Exciting future events would include a 50-burger on Colorado. The football team is lacking a center and pass-rushing outside linebacker to make any noise in the B1G.

Andy: No one’s expecting a national title this year, but as stated a little above, the improvement in the stats has to translate to more wins and bowl eligibility is an absolute must. (Are these unrealistic Husker fan expectations?)

The offense has to continue to roll up yards and the defense has to show they can start making some stops in big games and shave several points off the PPG given up. Get to a bowl game, make a run at the West title and keep trending up. That will keep people happy.


(5) What to do in Lincoln

OTE: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us! What else—tailgating advice, Lincoln or Omaha bars to visit, local cuisine, etc.—have I neglected to ask that we should know about Nebraska and Corn Nation?

Paul: Come to Lincoln. You will most likely be invited to join someone else’s tailgate. The experience in the stadium is second to none. You won’t regret the trip.

Nate M: If you are in Lincoln on game-day head west of the stadium under the viaduct for tailgating. Also, the relatively new haymarket area is really nice with a bunch of bars and restaurants.

Jill: Have a runza (No, don’t do that. I’ve lived in this state for 23 years and have yet to eat one). Do have a red beer. I’m not a huge fan of those most of the time, but they are the best tailgate drink ever. Come to comment on Corn Nation with a modicum of self-deprecation and you will be welcomed with open arms (and cat gifs and jello recipes).

If you can write at least four sentences on why the demise of the fullback is going to be the ruination of college football, we may even make you an honorary Husker fan.

Patrick: If you need a hug, ask a Nebraskan. We are a hospitable and friendly group. If you need an emotional support group at 3am, come to Corn Nation.

Andy: I’m lucky if I make it down to one game a year, but the only thing I’ll eat in the stadium is a hot dog. As far as tailgating, the group I hang with if I’m there sets up in the baseball field parking lot across the bridge. I try like hell not to have to pee in the stadium because it can be a 30 minute adventure sometimes.


Holy shit. That was a blast.

Thanks to [/deep breath] Jon, Paul, Nate, Uglydog56, Jill, Patrick, Andy, and everyone at Corn Nation for taking the time out to talk with us! Give them a follow, please [I linked what I could find above!], for the best damn Nebraska content on the interwebs, and thanks for tuning in to Nebraska Week at OTE!

If you’re new here, stick around! We don’t want to replace Corn Nation (and God knows we can’t), but we’d love to hear your Nebraska perspective at Off Tackle Empire! Feel free to check out the B1G 2019 guide and Hate Fridays primer, and stick around for Nebraska Week and beyond!