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Did Nebraska Football Curse Matt Rhule Before He Could Coach A Game?

The Cornhuskers changed more than just their head coach...

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NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Nebraska
“And I told them to at least give me one season, but...”
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Something terrible has happened to Nebraska football.

I don’t mean the on-field product. Most of you don’t find that particularly terrible, and for the rest of us, that particular demise has been covered at length.

No, this one, as so many terrible decisions are, came from the folks in administration, the ones who make a lot of money to mess things up and create headaches for those under them. Who change things for the sake of their own ego and vision with little regard to whether these changes are needed or beneficial. You know the ones I mean (and if you don’t, congratulations, you’re probably one of them.)

This spring, the Athletic Department announced that there would be a NEW HERBIE. A new logo, a new mascot, a new everything! Why? Well, we’ll get to that in a second. First, let’s go ahead and review the recent history of Herbie and rest our eyes upon the sack of crap that is his latest iteration.

A Brief Herbie History

Now, Nebraska hasn’t always nailed it when it comes to mascots, as we know. There was room for improvement in this area - but it had nothing to do with Herbie. Way back in 1993, at the peak of Husker Football’s powers, the Powers That Be decided that the thing to do with all of that cultural capital was to create a secondary mascot, specifically, a giant bouncing toddler named Lil’ Red:

The people did not need this. The administrator with “vision” responsible for this monstrosity was Barbara Hibner, then the associate athletic director. In a perfect encapsulation of older people not understanding younger people, she claimed that this was done to appeal to younger fans. Perhaps small children do like this soulless, bouncing monstrosity - but small children also pee their pants and throw tantrums when you cut their sandwiches wrong, so maybe major branding decisions shouldn’t be made solely to placate this demographic.

Nevertheless, Barb’s dream was born, and 30 years later, we’ve still got Lil’ Red.

Herbie Husker himself is not quite as old as you might imagine, although various agricultural workers have represented the Huskers since at least the 1940s. But THE Herbie didn’t come about until the 1977 season, and his genesis was a cartoon on the cover of the 1974 media guide drawn by Dirk West:

Beefy (or portly, if you’re less kind about it), this Herbie definitely had never heard of Leg Day, and his rugged face and blonde hair were, I guess, a nod to the fact that most of the state had German heritage. (Not this writer - Česky nade vše!) Made the official mascot in 1977, this Herbie was meant to symbolize Nebraskans’ hard-working agricultural heritage, matched by their hard-working football team.

In 2003, a man many Husker fans consider in retrospect to be the football antichrist, Steve Pederson, was in his first year as athletic director. As is common in the way of administrators, Steve-o wanted to shake things up a bit, and decided to do this with a complete re-design of Herbie Husker, so that he better reflected the modern Nebraska farmer.

Now, Pederson’s choices did not always work out well - other pens have written this story many times, and how this particular administrator’s reign did not result in good things for the football program. But I don’t think this particular redesign was a terrible idea - putting Herbie in a more normal outfit (jeans and a polo, or “work shirt” as the University described it), and making him more ethnically ambiguous was not a complete disaster, in my opinion. However, it was a complete disaster for many Husker fans, who hated brunette Herbie with a fiery passion, completely ignoring the the larger, inflatable mistake which (was) much more severe.

Introducing New Old Herbie

On April 17, 2023, Husker Athletics unveiled a “modernized” version of the Herbie Husker logo, announcing that AD Trev Alberts and “University leaders” had “led the initiative to develop an updated and modernized version of the Herbie Husker logo and costume.” Great work, everyone. Focusing on the real problems of today, aren’t we.

“Herbie Husker has been one of the iconic symbols of Nebraska Athletics for nearly 50 years,” Alberts said. “Our fans are passionate about all things related to the Huskers, and they have a particular fondness for Herbie. We are excited to present modernized Herbie Husker marks and logos and thrilled to unveil our new Herbie mascot at Saturday’s spring game.” The press release continued, “Throughout the process, the focus remained on digitally updating the beloved Herbie mark that features blonde hair, overalls, and an ear of corn in his pocket.”

Now, you’ll probably notice that there is heavy emphasis on the word “modernized” here - which is very funny once you look at the logos, which you’ll notice look strikingly similar to those inaugurated 50 years ago:

Something called “Torch Creative” was paid God-knows-how-much to come up with that “redesign.” The only changes are that Herbie has apparently been cutting back on Runzas, and the hat is less wonky than the 1977 version. But… THAT’S IT. That’s modernizing, you guys!

I’d respect this more if it were more honest: “Truthfully, we know we’ve sucked long enough that people are going to stop buying tickets, and young people aren’t buying tickets anyway. Our bread and butter is Boomers, who still think that the ‘70s and the ‘90s can come back, because they live in a warped version of reality most of the time. We’ve got another 10-15 years of their money, and we intend to get it. So… old people fan service, don’t hate us.”

Truthfully, I don’t hate the logo version. I don’t think it was necessary, and I liked brunette Herbie, but the logo isn’t… awful.

But wait until you see how they anthropomorphized this. It’s a flea-bitten abomination.

To be fair, humanoid mascots are always a bit of a challenge– you never want to go full Purdue Pete, or whatever the hell Okie State is doing, right? But there are plenty of examples that get it mostly right (what up, Sparty.)

I’ve delayed long enough. Though it crushes my soul to share this shame of my state with you all, I must do it:

Oh god.

Here are some things that this “redesign” made me think:

  • This is the most unlikely place for Lea Michelle’s buccal fat to have resurfaced, but here it is!
  • That “hair” is definitely this $3.99 boa from Hobby Lobby, and you can’t convince me otherwise
  • What is happening with his eyes? He looks like he is about to cry - this may actually be very appropriate for a Nebraska football mascot, but I’m not sure we officially needed to go there
  • I’d love/hate to know how much Torch Creative was paid for this lumpy faced, cheap-looking monstrosity. Moreover, I’d love to know how I can make six (seven?) figures for committing absolutely heinous redesigns on established brands. I think I could really flourish with the work. Behold, Iowa fans, it is New “Modernized” Herky!

This is certainly not the biggest thing that the Huskers have tried and failed to do well in the past 20 years - but for Matt Rhule, it has to be hard to not see this as the darkest of omens to the beginning of his tenure here.


What is your take on New Herbie?

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    (154 votes)
  • 9%
    Give it a season or two!
    (25 votes)
  • 25%
    (66 votes)
  • 7%
    I am an Illinois fan whose opinions on mascots need their own separate poll answer
    (19 votes)
264 votes total Vote Now