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B1G 2022, Nebraska Potluck #1: Can we fix this turkey?

Omaha innovation and Lincoln stagnation.

Ohio State v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Necessity is, of course, the mother of invention, and we’d like to start off Nebraska Week with a little bit of an obvious statement: Nebraska Cornhuskers football is in need of a little bit of a reinvention.

(Perhaps our Nebraska writers are already rolling their eyes. Oops.)

Food: Lots of Leftover Frozen Turkeys

But it turns out there are a lot of fires to put out in Lincoln these days–Husker basketball was yet again atrocious under Fred Hoiberg, who’s back for 2022-23 under a renegotiated contract. Husker football has…uh…struggled…under Scott Frost, who’s back for 2022-23 under the dreaded vote of confidence. And baseball just got totally jobbed by Purdue for the coveted eighth and final seed in the Big Ten Baseball Tournament.

(This is the “Food” section, MNW.)

Right. Right. My apologies.

In the 1940s, with the nation locked in World War II and then seeking to sustain the high rates of economic production and prosperity in the postwar years, the family upheaval of men fighting on the front lines and women leaving the home in greater numbers to head into the workforce meant there was less time at home to take care of the cooking and traditional dinner preparation time.

Enter Omaha-based Swanson Foods.

You see, Clarence Birdseye had invented the double-belt freezer to package frozen food in the 1920s and airlines had adapted the technology to serve hot meals in the 1940s. But it was only after Thanksgiving 1953, after Swanson (founded by Carl A. Swanson, a Swedish immigrant to Blair, Nebraska) had gravely miscalculated and had 260 tons of leftover frozen turkey, that Nebraska changed the game for us all:

According to the most widely accepted account, a Swanson salesman named Gerry Thomas conceived the company’s frozen dinners in late 1953 when he saw that the company had 260 tons of frozen turkey left over after Thanksgiving, sitting in ten refrigerated railroad cars. (The train’s refrigeration worked only when the cars were moving, so Swanson had the trains travel back and forth between its Nebraska headquarters and the East Coast “until panicked executives could figure out what to do,” according to Adweek.) Thomas had the idea to add other holiday staples such as cornbread stuffing and sweet potatoes, and to serve them alongside the bird in frozen, partitioned aluminum trays designed to be heated in the oven. Betty Cronin, Swanson’s bacteriologist, helped the meals succeed with her research into how to heat the meat and vegetables at the same time while killing food-borne germs. [SmithsonianMag]

And so, writers:

1. Does the TV dinner feel quintessentially Nebraskan to you?

2. Was it part of your childhood or adulthood in any way? (Tell us your favorite brand or recipe, if that’s the case.)

BoilerUp89: I have no thoughts on TV dinners, but thanks for the history lesson. I should note that Purdue didn’t take the 8th and final seed of the B1G baseball tournament away from Nebraska. They took the 7th seed. Indiana took the coveted 8th seed although I don’t understand the tiebreakers used for them to get in over Northwestern.

misdreavus79: Not a big fan of TV dinners, or any kind of frozen meal that isn’t the “I cooked this myself and had leftovers to eat later” variety. Which, I guess, is how TV dinners originated, huh?

MaximumSam: Man, I haven’t had a TV dinner in ages. My mom used to “cook” them, and they were uniformly awful, with the exception of Stouffers mac and cheese, which wasn’t terrible. Can’t say I associate them with Nebraska, but then, not sure I associate anything with Nebraska, besides the football team, which used to be good, unlike TV dinners.

WSR: Yeah, I had a few growing up. I’ll politely say that it was quicker than the various hamburger helpers we made, but not quite as good. If we were to change the instructions a bit and include pot pies then my opinion would change immediately. I still love pot pies for some reason.

Kind of…: How very All-American. I’m sure Swanson has a wonderful backstory and has contributed nothing bad to the current environment. We lived close to both sets of my grandparents growing up and my mother worked every-other-weekend. Plenty of Saturday noon meals were my maternal grandmother letting us eat TV dinners. Of all things I’m nostalgic about from my childhood, it’s pretty far back. Still, you asked and I answered. And yes, it does feel VERY Nebraska.

Football: Reheat it and run it back?

I swear, the metaphor of the train just aimlessly riding between Nebraska and the East Coast feels like such a metaphor for the Big Ten, Nebraska, and Rutgers, but I can’t fully connect it.

So tell me, writers:

1. Keeping Scott Frost, Fred Hoiberg, and (probably) Will Bolt: is Nebraska just reheating some turkey, or will this lead to something bigger?

2. What’s one innovation that saved your athletics program in its darkest hour?

3. Apply that innovation to Nebraska. Just for one minute, set aside being an internet troll, and earnestly devise a solution to fix Nebraska’s sportsing woes.

BoilerUp89: Frost and Hoiberg seem unlikely to do anything. Bolt did just win the conference in 2021, so I wouldn’t write him off yet. The only thing that saved Purdue athletics in their darkest hour was that they helped form this conference over 100 years prior. To go along with the idea behind the third question, if Nebraska was to apply this innovation themselves and form their own conference with Rutgers and Maryland, I think they could do great things and I would wish them the best of luck in their attempt.

misdreavus79: Funny how both Nebraska football and Basketball should be ahead of where they are right now, based on who they hired to coach each respective teams. Yet, here we are. I’m not a big fan of hastily firing coaches looking to strike gold eventually. That’s how you go from power to former power. That said, one must assume both Hoiberg and Frost have to show something this year else they’re both gone, yes? And boy is it going to suck to have to fire both your coaches in one offseason…

LOL I wouldn’t call it an innovation per se, but when Bill O’Brien came to town, he immediately saw that Penn State was stuck in the 80s in just about every category that mattered, and began the process of modernizing the program. Franklin then took that to overdrive, and Penn State football is finally investing in the program in a way that a team with their reputation should. Surprisingly enough, Pat Chambers and Micah Shrewsberry have done the same thing on the basketball side!

I honestly don’t know that there’s a quick fix to Nebraska other than just winning. Make a bowl this year and things start to turn quite quickly. Or, you know, get some A&M level boosters and buy yourself a couple of top classes.

MaximumSam: College sports has long had a savior complex where places look to that One Guy who will turn the program into the ‘86 Bears every other season. Perhaps that had some merit when coaches could control everything, but with NIL and transfers. Now, the entire program needs to be on the same page with one goal, which is to get the very best players you can. Does Nebraska have this goal? Is Trev Alberts the man to lead them? Tough to say at this point, though his comments, which veer into lazy B1G territory about how much more important it is to follow NCAA rules rather than make sure the athletes are paid, doesn’t give me hope.

My squad’s darkest hour was probably the now quaint TattooGate, where Jim Tressel was run off. In its darkest hour, OSU hired Urban Meyer. Nebraska could try that, too. I hear he’s available.

WSR: Who knew that you couldn’t easily repeat the simple process of turning a football team in central Florida back into a winner in Nebraska? Or that Nebraska basketball wouldn’t pay its players as well as Iowa State did? There’s still a possibility that the Cornhuskers could get “something bigger,” but only because they forgot to take the tin foil off the package before they put it in the microwave with these two coaches.

Wait, you only want me to pick one “darkest hour?” We hired Tim Brewster. We moved from Memorial Stadium into the Metrodome. We promoted Tracy Claeys to HC. Minnesota football’s “innovation” to save itself seems to be “Take out the checkbook to pay to fix things well after we should have.” Sadly, it’s not applicable to Nebraska because they already try throwing money at everything with non-existent success.

Kind of…: I’ll have to wait to see what our “expert” Nebraska “writers” say as the week goes on, but, against my better judgment, I’m moving in the direction of being a Scott Frost truther. Nebraska was very unlucky last year and easily could’ve been 6-6. I assume they’ll be better this year. That said, this is the nth season in a row where that argument sounds plausible in late May. Hiring a special teams coach should be good for 1-2 wins alone, though. If nothing else, the leftover turkey sandwich should be better this year.

[As for hoops, Nebraska is cursed/apathetic/cursed by their apathy. Iowa State, who plays in Iowa’s shadow, has had eight coaches since 1980. Seven have won a tournament game. Six have taken Iowa State to a Sweet 16. But Hoiberg–one of those–has belly-flopped, and the one who didn’t–Greg McDermott–has built Creighton back up thus inhibiting Nebraska’s advancement. There’s no reason I can think of why Nebraska couldn’t be closer to Iowa State. But the past history is speaking pretty strongly on this one.]

The biggest innovation for Wisconsin was hiring Pat Richter as Athletic Director in 1989, even though he’d been in the private sector (Oscar Mayer) for most of the previous 20 years. He hired Barry Alvarez within a year and the rest is history. As all Nebraska fans already know, other than Richter, nobody influenced how Alvarez approached his very successful run as AD more than, um, Bob Devaney. What the fuck has happened to you Nebraska?

My honest suggestion for Nebraska is to steal from Wisconsin and get “back to the basics.” You don’t have to go back to the triple option (or play UW-style hoops), but realize that the 90s aren’t coming back. Build your program on becoming a regional power. There’s no reason Kansas State should have more football success over a sustained period of time than Nebraska. You’re the only program in your state, yet you’re lagging both Iowa AND Iowa State? Stop trend-chasing. You HAD to roll the dice with Frost, I get it. But there are a LOT of coaches out there having success who Nebraska would have thought beneath them the last ten years. Wrestling and volleyball are both in great shape. It’s a Husker-mad town. Just try to play fundamentally sound football/hoops and the fans will reward the effort. Build on that.