Alamo Journal-Day 2: It's about time

Did you get anything good for Christmas? As we flock to the trees, tearing about to find the one gift we didn't open before Christmas actually arrived, who knows what Santa brought you this fine day. He brought sunshine and close to 80 degree temperatures to both Michigan and Nebraska as they continued preparations for the Alamo Bowl. No, it's not a white Christmas, but you can bet that whoever leaves this town with a win, will feel better about their holiday from home.

I remember last year and some of the headlines in the papers around the state after the Huskers found themselves mathematically eliminated from the post season. "Home for the Holidays" seemed to be the most common theme as for the first time in longer than I have been alive; the Huskers weren't traveling southward for Christmas.

Former Husker Barrett Ruud put it pretty simple about his thoughts on being in Lincoln during bowl-season: "I'd rather be playing football."

No offense to the families of those competing in the game, but when you don't make the post-season, it's hard to really be happy about being home, because you know you are going to be watching almost 60 teams doing what you were one game away from doing yourselves.

Not this year, and while everyone misses the loved ones that couldn't make the trip, the extra month of practice, the almost sultry weather – this is what college football is about.
Tom Osborne orchestrated one of the
greatest runs in college football
history


"You play all year to get to a bowl game," junior defensive end Adam Carriker said before heading down to San Antonio. "You'd rather be playing for a national title, but this is a great step for us in getting this team back to where it belongs."

Where it belongs

Think about that and think in your mind as a Husker fan what that means to you. For a period of five years, Nebraska was all but unbeatable, stumbling rarely, conquering almost always, leaving the field with more hardware in half a decade than most football programs have earned during the entirety of their existence.

Is that where Nebraska belongs?

A 60-3 record, three national titles, four conference titles, along with trophies, emblazoned with titles like "Outland" (Nebraska won two in that time-span), "Lombardi", "Butkus" and "Unitas."

That is one of if not the most prolific and impressive five-year runs of any college football team…………ever.

That isn't where Nebraska belongs.

Ok, sure, that's where Nebraska was, but I believe that when people talk about where Nebraska belongs, you can probably assume they are talking more about the times during the 80s or even the 90s when this run began to gain steam.

Nobody really thinks or even dreams that anything close to that type of run is possible again, much less the goal of where they want Nebraska to be.

To me, the idea of what Nebraska is all about is based on its consistency. Up until 2002 the team had won at least nine games every single year since 1969. Until last year, they had been to a bowl game every single year since 1963. They were always competing for the conference title, almost impossible to beat in Lincoln and there was no team out there that you didn't think Nebraska could beat.

That's where Nebraska belongs

It's a tall order to be sure. There's a reason all those staples of Nebraska consistency were in many cases NCAA all-time records. And it says something that these records are achieved by a school that couldn't be farther away from the three major recruiting hotbeds (Texas, Florida and California) in the country, unless, of course, they were in Alaska or Hawai'i.

Zac Taylor was one of may junior
college players brought in to aid
the transition from the option to
the west coast.
Is it possible, though? In this day and age you've got this thing called parity. You have this thing called scholarship limitations. Plus, you have coaching tenures that are growing shorter and shorter either due to coaches trying to make the leap to the NFL or just from the harsh reality that the "win-now" philosophy gives the head men far less time to bring a program to prominence.

Tolerance and patience are seemingly as much philosophies from back in the day than they are part and parcel to today's strategies for the future. Good old-fashioned gut, grit and determination has now been replaced with flash, dash and what have you done for me lately.

Only at a program with modest expectations and with little to no tradition can a coach survive on the antiquated mind-set that with time comes progress.

That program is certainly not Nebraska.

Head coach Bill Callahan said as much himself in his most recent press conference, the team preparing to head down to San Antonio for this year's Alamo Bowl. He said that he didn't know what the expectations were at other programs around the country, but he knew that at Nebraska, they were to win and win right now.

All the junior college players?

Win right now

The simplification of both offensive and defensive schemes?

Win right now

The constant tweaking of schemes, switching players from one position to the other and throwing many of the best players he has on special teams?

Win right now

I'd agree that this is a philosophy any coach would have, because whether it's about right now or in the future, every coach wants to win every game in which they are involved. But the moves, decisions and recruiting all seem to point toward a direction that says this isn't about building a program for the future, because if we don't win right now, there is none.

I suppose we have ourselves to thank in the media for piling on when things weren't going so well. Of course, we weren't alone as I remember listening to radio programs, fans calling in to complain, some to support, but the former outnumbered the latter about 10 to 1.

I suppose you could call it irony when a collective fan base, who used to look at the end of the season to judge a team, was now banging the gavel, yelling "Court Adjourned," slightly after the midway point of the year.

It could be everyone in the Cornhusker state is catching up to everyone else when it comes to possessing that insatiable desire, which overrides the temperate perseverance that almost defined the Husker nation.

When Bill Callahan arrived, he already knew all about that mind-set. Being the employee of one Al Davis, coach Callahan was well-versed in the ways of dealing with the most demanding of people. I have to think that he probably thought it couldn't get any worse in that respect, at any place in the country he was going to coach.

Now, I am not saying that the rabid red are more demanding than Al Davis, but it's pretty clear that the overall expectations aren't all that far apart. So, after probably getting an ear-full over the months following the 5-6 season, Callahan got back to doing things as if he were back in Oakland with the notorious Davis breathing down his neck once again.

The result? 12 junior college players last year, seven more this year so far and the coaching staff utilizing just about every trick in the book to get everyone on this team on the same page, and as quickly as possible.

That brings me to this week down in San Antonio and what I believe was the single biggest achievement of coach Callahan and his staff over the last year.

It's nothing that has just materialized now, but has only improved in its consistency and pervasiveness, and it is most definitely the reason this team is even in San Antonio right now:

Unity

The players beat this mantra to death before the season and I am sure many thought it was a lot of coach-speak from players' mouths, especially based on everything we heard about the inner-turmoil last year.

Even the head coach himself said during Big 12 Media Days two years ago that you couldn't create it unity or a sense of togetherness. It was just something that had to develop.
The yellow jersey single players out,but
was a representation of the unity developing
within the team


I would say I whole-heartedly disagree

You remember the yellow jerseys, right? Emblazoned with the words Trust, Love, Commitment and Belief - it was a Callahan-idea that was meant to show the players that to succeed there first has to be many players with one idea, one thought, one mind.

How about the soft ball game, the bowling, the movies?

Then there are the various things done throughout the season that has ingratiated the coach to his players even more. Who can forget the infamous throat-slash gesture, Callahan later saying it was a way of saying he was fed up and it was his way of standing up for his players. How about the "Restore the Order" slogan, another Callahan-idea, this meant to give the players a sense of where this program should be in respect to the conference and even the nation.

From the outset of this comeback-season, Bill Callahan has either through perseverance or coincidence created a bond amongst the players that has seemingly grown stronger with each and every game.

Add to that the respect he's gained along with the admiration, even if everyone on the outside isn't quite convinced, everyone on the inside seems absolutely so, that their coach knows exactly what he's doing.

Bill Callahan has implented his offense,
but it seems he's also created chemistry
throughout the team.
Going into this game with Michigan, a win doesn't justify anything, nor does a loss tear down anything they achieved all year. A blowout loss wouldn't help, but there are no illusions about who on-paper is the better team. While you don't necessarily see that win-or-die attitude, you know that's what everyone out there is trying to do. And what's more, they are trying to do it together.

Coming from Oakland, one of Callahan's first observations about heading back to the collegiate level had to do with time, and how there was so little of it available. He had to rebuild a program. He had to build a team almost literally from scratch and the demands of a tradition-rich program demanded that he now dawdle in accomplishing that feat.

They aren't bound for a national title game, nor is this team back amongst the elite, but considering the obstacles, expectations and yes, the time he has to work, he's got a team that won't give up on plays, is actually making more of them than they aren't game-to-game and they believe in each other, from walk-ons to those in charge.

All in all, that's not too shabby for two year's worth of work. Imagine what he'll have in two more.

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