From past to prologue

Old vs. New. A legend and his incumbent pupil. Many are the comparisons that have been made between Tom Osborne and Frank Solich, most of those comparisons of a statistical nature. What better comparison though, than from someone who remembers the entire Osborne era? You never know what you might learn and as unique as Solich's situation might be thought to be right now, you will find that it's not so unusual after all.

The year was 1977, and the Huskers were on the ropes.  Tom Osborne, the
5th-year head coach had taken over a program on the heels of
unprecedented success, and proceeded to have a string of successful, but
not particularly stellar campaigns. 

The Huskers started the 1977 season not particularly well regarded in
the media, with a preseason ranking of 15.  They had gone a
disappointing 9-3-1 the previous season, including losses in their last
two conference games of the 1976 season, to Iowa State and Oklahoma.  In
fact, NU had yet to beat OU under Osborne - a record that was beginning
to really rankle.

The good news was that NU fans were anticipating an easy opening-game
victory against perennial patsy Washington State. Unfortunately, that
patsy turned out to be coached by Warren Powers, and quarterbacked by a
young gun they called the Throwin' Samoan, Jack Thompson.  The result
was a 19-10 defeat at home that sent the natives into a panic.

It was the Husker's first home-opener loss in 8 years, when they lost to
5th-rated USC.  It was their first home-opener loss to an unranked
opponent since the 1957 Bill Jennings team that went an all-time-worst
1-9. 

Next up was the 4th-ranked and prohibitively favored Alabama Crimson
Tide, coached by the Immortal Bear Bryant, to be played on national
television.  It didn't take Husker fans long to consult their press
guides in order to find out when the last time the Huskers opened 0-2 (a
prospect most fully expected to become a reality in one short week.).
That was also the 1957 season.  Adam's apples tightened across the
state, as Husker fans bitched and moaned about their incompetent head
coach, and the way he was about to run the program Devaney had built
right into the ground.  No one (save the Bobfather himself) seemed
confident that Devaney had chosen the right guy to inherit his program.
Many were openly wondering if NU would not be doing better with Warren
Powers at the helm. 

The way most fans saw it, this was the beginning of the end for Tom
Osborne and the Cornhusker Football program the state had grown to know
and act smug about as they traveled all around the country with their
team - telling anyone who would listen that "they" were number one.  For
most Husker fans, the winning was still relatively new - about as fresh
as KSU's experience with success is today.  Many Cornhusker fans had not
yet learned how to win with aplomb.  Now, it all seemed certain to
vanish before our eyes. The football team was about to go 0-2, on its
way to a complete duplicate of the 1957 season, since everyone knows
that history repeats itself.

Then, the good people of Nebraska would have nothing to show the rest of
the nation that they even existed. 

This was serious.

Despite the presence of the ABC emblem in the end zones and cameras on
that stanchions, the crowd was not its usual "big-game tense" to start
the contest.  They made noise, but before play began, Cornhusker fans
were telling Alabama fans they hoped it would at least be respectable.
It seemed like the only folks wearing Nebraska's shade of red that day
who believed they could win that game was the players.  As the players
picked themselves up off the mat from the week before and proceeded to
play Alabama tough from the outset, the crowd began to follow suit.
What was a relatively calm game in the beginning was a team-fan love
fest by the end, with commercial breaks providing the opportunity for
spontaneous roars of approval while the kickoff team awaited the
resumption of play.

All was not lost, after all.  In fact, on that day, all was right in the
world for Nebraska fans everywhere.

Of course, all wasn't exactly the way Cornhusker fans wanted it.  The
Cornhuskers still ended up losing three games that season - including
games to Iowa State (again) and Oklahoma (again).  But the Alabama win
preserved a string of nine-win seasons that stood at 9 years at the end
of '77.     The following year, Osborne finally broke through against
archrival Barry Switzer and Oklahoma - only to be forced into a rematch
in the Orange Bowl when the team came out flat against Missouri and lost
on the heels of the emotional win over Oklahoma.  Such were the early
Osborne years - even the tougb, hard-won victories against more talented
teams were negated before the season ended - in some fan's view.

The irony was that after the '78 OU win, and a rematch that turned out
more competitive than most people expected, Husker fans began to warm a
bit to Coach Osborne - but only a little.  He had still lost his
television show (he was no Bob Devaney, you know - Bob still had a
show).  The pressure was so great by the end of that decade - and the
rewards so marginal - that Dr. Tom took a long look at the Colorado job.
It took almost losing him for the majority of Husker fans to really
start thinking about what they had in Tom Osborne. Tom got his
television show back. It would be four more years before an
Osborne-coached team would beat Oklahoma again, and o;' Tom still took
some heat - but the venom was far less during those years than it had
been before the Colorado Courtship.

Nebraska was finally warming up to its native son.

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