I remember back around ‘91 and ‘92 when Nebraska was close to as bad as it could be, at least in the eyes of Husker fans and come the next season when NU was ranked in the bottom part of the top 25, NU fans still bristled and screamed ‘No Respect'! This year, chances are, Nebraska won't see the top 25 in anyone's preseason poll, but the Husker faithful will probably just acknowledge it, hope for the best and move on. Have things changed that much?
Sports fans are pretty predictable. When it's all said and done, phrases most common are, "we deserved this" or "If this would have happened....." or even better, "They were just lucky". It's sour grapes and oh how sports fans are the best at bringing those to the fray in an argument about why their team didn't get the job done in a particular game or season.
The profusion of excuses run the mouth dry, but of course they don't do a darn bit of good in the end.
Nebraskans experienced what can only be called humility this last season, record streaks lost, winning streaks over conference foes gone and people having to look back just to see if it was all real.
Yep, those results and box scores don't lie. NU was just that bad.
This year, it's kind of funny. I ask around and people don't know what to think. They become confident if only out of habit, but if you ask them why, they don't have a darn clue.
They are putting all their eggs into this basket of new college coaches, a few of them never having coached at the collegiate level at all. In fact, when you look at it on paper, NU should probably be worse this up-coming season and not better, simply due to this overabundance of inexperience at the helm.
When NU fans were often living mentally in the mid to late 90s every single year afterwards as they wished for another trophy to add to the case, the teams they were banking on doing just that didn't resemble a team that was part of a dynasty, rather a team hell-bent on tragedy, at least as far as the Big Red fans go.
Now, the Huskers will go into this year not ranked, barely respected and with very little ground to say they are going to be any better than last year, if they will be better at all. And, in the end, most of the respect they get to any degree is because, well.........they are Nebraska.
While history certainly looks good on paper and it makes you smile as you wax nostalgic over glorious victories and trouncings galore, it doesn't win a single game that has yet to be played.
The 1995 Nebraska team won't gain a single yard on the ground this year, won't throw for a single touchdown and Osborne isn't calling the plays.
What you have then is a team just like any other, no longer a team of the decade or the best college football team of all time. They are just another team and you have to look at them that way if you are to get any idea of just what they are capable.
I'm probably a bit of a hypocrite spouting off about rose-colored glasses, but there's nothing like a 7-7 season to take that reddish tint right off. I woke up one day and all of a sudden, Nebraska wasn't unbeatable.
Heck, Nebraska was giving up over 60 points in a game. They were allowing one 100 yard rusher after another and they even lost at home. I scratched my eyes, shook my head and NU actually lost to Oklahoma State a team that they had beaten prior to this, 35 out of the 38 times they played.
Nobody was saying, "Nebraska doesn't rebuild, they reload". Actually, it was closer to, "Nebraska can't reload, because they can't recruit", thus the "success" you have seen in the last year and two games.
Reality really is a bite in the rear, ya know?
Ok, so back to today. Back to right now where there is nothing but time and it's time that people are going to spend thinking, theorizing and yes, praying that this clamorous need to think that everything is just fine will be justified by the end of next season.
It's almost an insult though, don't you think?
Nebraska fans have always been used to looking at a season in a very backward way, at least in comparison to most schools out there. They don't look at each game, hoping for a winning season, trying for a shot at the conference title and maybe a good bowl at the end. To be honest about it, there are companies that give away bowl trips in Nebraska every year before the season even begins.
Is that arrogance? Probably, but considering NU's history, it's more than justified.
A justified state of mind that says National title first and scoffs at people when they ask what they think of their chances at a conference title game. A conference title game? Please, like we would be worried about something so trivial.
The trivial has now become the goal, because NU did something they haven't done in a while. They lost as many as they won.
It's really quite a confusing time for your "average" Husker fan and for those in their mid-thirties and younger, we don't know what to think. The closest I have seen this team come to true mediocrity is the last loss to Iowa State in the early 90s. I didn't want to leave the house for a week I was so ashamed.
And that's the issue right there. It's about perspective. What your experiences are tell you what and how you should think and for Nebraska fans, we've gotten a very skewed view of what the competitive world of collegiate football is all about.
It's them having to beat us if they want to go anywhere, because we know darn well where we are going. Everyone plays Nebraska hard because NU is the big dog and not the other way around.
One of the most ironic things, at least for me is that when I look at Kansas State, I will acknowledge the success they have had, the great strides they have made under Bill Snyder and I will concede quite graciously the losses down in Manhattan. Still though, this is Kansas State. I'll never get this memory out of my head when they were the complete doormat of the Big Eight, rivaled only by their in-state foe, the Kansas Jayhawks. I just can't get over it. Nebraska didn't just beat them for decades at a time, they trounced them, humiliated them and all while barely breaking a sweat.
I look at Nebraska that way as well in that I can't get this thought out of my head that they will be back in the top ten, vying for a conference title and maybe a national title after that, simply because it's Nebraska and that's the way things are. What can I say? It's a congenital state of mind.
And with that old saying of old habits dying hard, so to must there be somewhat of a change in the mindset of Husker fans abroad. It's just not that easy anymore. Well, not as easy as it once seemed not so very long ago.
Times have changed, the team has changed and like it or not, Husker fans are going to have to change exactly what they think going into every season, probably for a long time to come.
So, what do I think about NU and what they are doing to do this season? Well, a national title would be nice.
How about a win over Oklahoma State?
Man, that felt weird.
*Sigh*, this is going to take some getting used to.
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619