By Clint Andersen
Watching Nebraska football is a lot like playing golf. Sometimes everything comes together, you make the perfect shot, and it seems so easy. Other times, you can’t make a three foot putt to save your life. When you make the perfect shot, do you give credit to your club? Your ball? Your partner who told you to keep your head down? How about when you chunk it – surely it’s easier to blame the club, ball, wind, last summer’s eclipse…you get the point. In football, like golf, it is much easier to assume that success is normal and to find someone or something to blame when things don’t go quite right.
Following the Huskers feels the same. When they win, we are satisfied because in our mind they were supposed to win. When they lose, it must be the result of faulty play calling, poor preparation, horrible officiating, or gross football incompetence. We are spoiled fans. From 1993 to 1997 we watched the Huskers roll over opponents with impunity. Heck, it was even possible to take a nap in the second half of most of these blowouts!
But things changed. The NCAA wanted parity, so they targeted powerhouse programs like Nebraska to limit the things that gave them a competitive advantage. Scholarship limits began to spread talent more broadly in college football. Add to that the changing conference landscape and the battle to create and keep as much revenue as possible (insert the whole Big XII-Texas debacle here).
Maintaining a program at a consistently high competitive level became infinitely more difficult. It has become common for programs to surge out of nowhere to national prominence only to crash back into mediocrity after a year or two when their uber-talented, under-the-radar class of athletes graduates.
As Husker fans, our expectations are stuck in the 90’s while our patience level is firmly rooted in today’s instant gratification culture. It is impossible to reconcile the two. We want results NOW, yet we also expect championships year after year after year. Dynasties don’t come along every day. National titles are elusive. Conference titles require talent, coaching, and a lot of luck. The inability to achieve these goals does not make our program a failure.
After I had been golfing for a few years, I thought that I was getting pretty good. I started to assume that every shot should go exactly where I wanted it to go. When my game didn’t meet my expectations, I threw a fit – often throwing a club or slamming it into the ground. I crashed back to reality one day as I was photographed by my so-called friends emerging nearly naked from an irrigation pond after retrieving a club thrown following a less-than-perfect shot. Since that time I’ve tried to remind myself that golf is supposed to be fun and I learned that taking myself too seriously can quickly suck the fun out of the game. Many of us need to adopt this same approach to Husker football.
I’m not saying we should lower our hopes and expectations for conference titles and bowl game victories. Rather, we need to quit taking things so seriously. It’s okay to yell at the television, but we also need to accept the fact that the other team’s touchdown may have been the result of a terrific athletic play or a particularly good scheme. Things don’t always go according to plan, but nobody – nobody – wants to win more than our players and coaches.
We expect our players to be bigger, faster, stronger and smarter than everyone else’s. We expect our coaches to always have the best schemes, plays, and preparation. After we’ve won (or lost) we expect them to smile like a movie star and turn some clever phrase to make the media fall in love. Hey, folks…that’s not reality. Do you achieve absolute perfection in your job? No one does, so cut these guys some slack. Our opponents’ coaches and players are working just as hard to find an edge, too. Give them a little credit.
We have a tough, gritty coach who is all business. Imagine cameras and commentators watching you during your workday. Would they see you calmly put the neighbor’s bull back with a smile on your face when he jumped in with your cows for the fourth time? Don’t kid yourself. If we had to live under the microscope that these coaches and players do, most of us would be unemployed.
Don’t get me wrong, I yell at the television as much as the next guy and say things that I shouldn’t, but it’s time for us to quit pouting like petulant, spoiled children and remember why we watch Husker football – it’s a game that’s supposed to be entertaining and fun. If you can’t find something exciting, entertaining and fun in the eleven games played this season, then we’re not watching the same team. Give credit where credit is due, Michigan State and UCLA are quality outfits and Minnesota is better than anyone realized. And when you start thinking about a new coach, it can always get worse. Remember Bill Callahan? Yeah, GO BIG RED.