As I talked to someone much older than I, I looked for his memories to bring me into a world he recalled as being this bad. Moments from "his time" that appeared possibly even worse. Didn't happen. Not even all his memories could offer anyone with anything but this foreboding feeling that we were now treading in waters once calm with the thought of contentment.
Or perhaps, it was complacency.
With the changes that took place after Tom Osborne left and subsequently with the departure of Charlie McBride, the Nebraska football program turned the page, hoping to find itself on a new chapter, but with the same old content of winning, titles and glory. Again, didn't happen.
NU is in trouble.
Ok, that's not exactly headline news. Everyone knows it, but by the end of this season, it's going to get that much worse. Nebraska faces an Aggie team that just found their offense, on the road. They face a Kansas State team that is amongst the country's finest in defense, on the road. Plus, they face the Texas Longhorns, at home, the Horns the last team to beat Nebraska in Lincoln. You think it's bad now? Get out our pepto bismol.
People ask why. They ask how this could happen and everyone has an answer for everything. It's the players, it's the coaches, it's the players and the coaches and hell, let's throw in Bill Byrne. After all, he's the A.D. and this is happening on his watch.
How would you like to be Mr. Byrne? All the good he has done for this program. All the great facilities and improvements and the insight in selecting fine coaches to help this program to succeed. The baseball team could win two national titles, the Volleyball team, five and even the Men's basketball team could go to the final four. What would it all mean? If the football program went into the toilet, Byrne's resume' might as well be a book on recipes by Husker greats, when the Huskers were once great. Not fair, eh?
You can't feel pity for him though, nor can you the coaches. They all were adults when they came here, are getting paid quite well for what they do and nobody takes a prominent position at a prominent program and expects rose pedals and champagne even when things go bad. Like the quarterback of a team, they get the credit and they get the blame. Nowadays, there's enough blame for all of them, with more than enough for anyone willing to put it on their shoulders.
You do have to find a great deal of compassion for the players though. Yes, they came here just as the coaches did and yes, when they stepped onto the field as starters or even back-ups for the Huskers, they to became as much targets for critics as they did become heroes for children around the state. But, most of them are yet children in their own right, finding most of their adult education between practices and games. This is their life. This is their realization of who and what they are. On the stage of one of the most eyed programs in the country, they not only try to get better, but simply to grow up.
All we have heard lately is how unified the players are. How Kelsay, Groce and company have done what they can to bring all the players together, willing to fight to the end for each other. Nobody mentioned the coaches. I've heard some credit sprinkled about as to coaches doing this and coaches doing that, but have you ever once heard the kind of remarks that were uttered so frequently when players on defense talked quit eagerly how they were willing to go through a wall for Charlie McBride. They believed in him and now, it looks like this edition of players just believe in themselves.
Across the board, the players seem to have had no problems going to the plate for each other, but the coaches seem to be on the outside looking in. They offer schemes, they motivate them during practice, but when the game comes around, players are playing for anyone but those telling them how they should play the game.
It seems hardly ironic that two weeks ago before NU faced Missouri that the talk was about how coach Craig Bohl left the players to decide their own fate and for that game, the players truly did what they hadn't done possibly all year. Dominate, fly around and at times, it looked like they were even having fun.
The burden of battle comes not from the battle itself, but of those leading the charge.
How well does a team perform without leaders where leaders should be? They may fight, they may bleed, but in the end, they lose, because of their division.
The greatest crime here is that this team doesn't suffer because they are bad. They do not lose because they don't have all the talent and all the speed. They lose, because their identity isn't based on unity, rather what unity they can find. It's a team with divisions where divisions simply can't happen.
Teammates bicker amongst each other. Even at the best of times, teams are not completely unified. Why, during the year of 1994 when an Osborne led team finally realized their national title dreams, there was a division amongst the teams stemming from the decision on whether it should be Berringer or Frazier. Lines were drawn, players bickered amongst themselves, but guess what happened. Coach Tom Osborne said the decision was his and that was that and what do you know, NU went on to win the whole damn thing.
You could say that Osborne took control before a situation ever got so bad, that control would only be an idea. What he did though was take a team only slightly divided and brought it back together.
Continuity can never be overestimated in it's value to a team's success. That unity between all where thought, communication and action become almost an after thought, everyone on the same page. It is a togetherness, because everyone believes in the other and even a lack of size, a lack of talent and even a lack of speed can turn a mediocre team into a potential world-beater.
If that kind of unity between every member of the team from the players to the coaches can do that for a mediocre team, imagine what it could do for Nebraska?
It's too bad we will probably have to wait until next year to find out.
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619