To me, if I am talking about a fan of any one sport, I think of someone that follows the team, roots for a win, chides a loss, but doesn't go much farther than that.
Sure, they may read the papers, watch a little TV and even yell at an analyst or two that says their team isn't that good.
They aren't analysts though, just fans. And, that's probably just what they should be.
Nebraska fans aren't or at least, they weren't. Not up until this year. Nebraska fans ceased being those avid and average armchair quarterbacks say, about 30 years or so ago.
I call those types not armchair fans, but armchair analysts instead.
Ask a fan of the University of Kansas something about football. Yeah, quit laughing. I'm serious here. Ask them about football and how their team did one week they played. They are likely to respond fairly simply, remarking that they either won, they lost and if you asked if they looked good, they say either "ok" or "not so great".
You see? Pretty simple.
Now, ask a Nebraska fan about how the football team did. Oh, and go get a lunch before you do because the answer is going to take awhile.
The explanation will extend far beyond the simplicity of a win or a loss. No, it will extend into formations, plays, and assignments missed or done well. Did someone run well, did they block well or how they did move "in space"?
Many will be the detailed retorts as they rattle off stats, projections, rankings and the depth chart and after that, they will actually get into the "good stuff".
That's a Nebraska analyst, commonly referred to around here as only a "common fan".
On the outside of the Husker world though, they are referred to as fanatics, obsessed, blindly loyal and the one I really like "people with nothing else to do".
Yeah, I've heard that explanation of why Husker fans are so involved with the football team in Lincoln. There's nothing else to follow.
That's a load of bull.
The rabid following this Nebraska football team has isn't because the stadium holds so many people, hence an automatically bigger following. And, it has nothing to do with the fact that there aren't any major pro teams within the borders of the state.
It's about success and as you well know, this football team has had a whole lot of that.
From even far before Bob Devaney ever took the field as the head coach for the University of Nebraska, the Huskers were winning a ton of football games. And, because they had built a pretty decent tradition up until the 40s, some of those fans stuck around as the Big Red languished in sub-mediocrity for a good 20 years.
After Devaney arrived, however, the dynamic of what a Husker fan REALLY was, was about to change forever. Well, at least until 2004.
Wins, wins and more wins. National title after national title after national title. Trophies, awards, plaques, TV specials and coaches that are now regarded as legends.
That'll make fans out of anyone, but over time it makes them analysts as well.
Back to Kansas, ask one of those Jayhawk fans about basketball now instead of the old pigskin. Yeah, I know, same thing about Nebraska and their football. They are crazy down there about their round-ball and just like you as a Husker fan can riddle off plays born from the "option", the Kansas fans can talk endlessly about the ins and outs of whatever they do down there. It's like listening to an analyst.
That's what success does. It destroys the fan in each person, making them this insightful, nit-picky, overly-anal living-room coach from hell.
A fan sees a run for a touchdown where the running back went up the middle in a hole you could drive a truck through.
An analyst sees what looks like an "ISO" play, where the center seals off the nose tackle, the left guard seals off the defensive tackle, the fullback-lead chips the middle linebacker, thus the running back has clear sailing to the end zone. Of course, that is if the wide receivers picked up their blocks as well.
A fan doesn't care if they win by 40 points or 4, but the analyst not only wants the big win, but they want it with no turnovers, no sacks on the QB and that yards per carry better be good.
Even if you think I'm exaggerating a bit, it's only just a little bit.
How many times did you hear Kent Pavelka roll formations off his tongue? Because of that you knew what a "Maryland I" looked like. You actually understood when he said "Trips to the right" and you registered instantly that a "no-back set" meant either a pass or a punt.
For forty years the Nebraska fan fell silently into the abyss replaced by people that knew way more than any "average" fan should about the sport they follow so much.
Well, now that's over boys and girls. Long gone are the days where you could literally predict the play when you heard an audible being called. No more are the times where you could play QB1 and riddle off perfect predictions up until they pulled some fake punt in the third period that resulted in a touchdown going the other way.
Along with a new era, it's a new offense, one that is so markedly different from what Nebraska used to do, analysts have to become fans once again.
And, it's not just about adjusting to the new offensive philosophies, but the personalities as well, because this isn't your stoic-beaver-cleaver personas at the helm. Certainly not and Callahan probably illustrated that the best in yesterday's press conference when he said what will no doubt become a calling card line of his: "We don't take what defenses give us, we take what we want." He said. "And, we're going to do that on Saturday. We'll take exactly what we want."
Talk about a change in atmosphere, eh?
Everyone just went from "in terms of", "on that end of it" and "no question" to "It's not where you line up, it's where you wind up", "we have to have poise in the noise" to "we take what we want".
For me, it's some of the most fun I have ever had, especially in the last few years. Here's a guy and even a staff as a whole that from one day to the next, you just don't know what to expect.
Think about that for a second. A Nebraska fan that doesn't know what to expect. Sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn't it?
That's what you have now though and probably will have for some time.
"Trips Right Sally 20 X hook"
You know what that is? I don't have a damn clue either. Isn't that great?!?!?
And how long will it be before you figure that one out? Well goody for you, now you have just 3,000 more plays to go and you'll be back to being that analyst once again.
For right now though as much as you might grit your teeth at the idea. As much as you might want to pound the pillow in defiance, you just have to deal with it folks. If Nebraska wins, they win. If they lose, they lose. And, you can try and analyze it all you want.
I am going to sit back in my chair, watch this game and know that I don't have ANY idea what they are going to do next.
And when someone asks me that wasn't looking how Nebraska just scored, I'll put down my trumpet as I twiddle off an out of turn version of "Hail Varsity" and exclaim "I don't have a clue………..and I love it!!!"
My guess is, so will most of you.
Welcome back fans of Nebraska. It's nice to see you all again.
Steve Ryan can be reached at SteveRyan@bigredreport.com or 402-730-5619