John Garrison is amongst the Husker elders. A senior approaching the end of his career, a captain as voted by his teammates and a spokesman for this team's morale. He's one of the elder statesmen for the lack of a better way of putting it, but he's definitely one of the leaders. This year, he's probably had to do much more than he ever imagined.
If you can feel as a Nebraska fan what the game against Colorado was like, you can probably not even comprehend what it's like for a player. To be on that team, to be a part of that squad that was trounced so convincingly, so utterly, it's a bitter pill to swallow. "It was embarrassing." Garrison stated. "It's something we don't want to remember. But, with the game coming up, it is something that is going to be flashed in front of our face."
That's not all that has been flashed in front of the Husker players' faces. Five losses, a home-winning streak down the tubes. A loss to Iowa State, a loss to Oklahoma State, the first in over 40 years. The AP poll streak of 348 weeks and allowing players like Chris Simms and Ell Roberson to best personal if not team records against them.
Would you want to be a leader on this team right now?
For Groce, Kelsay and Garrison, these are trying times indeed. Whatever the cause, these player-appointed representatives have been given the arduous task of trying to maintain the morale that seems to be decaying at a feverish pace. It's not something captains like Wistrom or Frazier had to deal with and it wasn't anything Garrison expected. "Past leaders, it's been so easy for them." Garrison stated. "This year, it's been tough to be a senior and a captain. Things haven't gone the way that we wanted them to."
"A lot of people in the program and outside of the program are looking at you for answers and those answers can't always be provided, so it's been a difficult time."
That has to bite. Pardon my little break for the norm as far as politically correct jargon, but one of the pervasive themes this season, aside from the losses, has been that this team has managed to actually stay together. While Michigan State fired it's coach, their players are allegedly dragging cops down main street and their starting QB is in rehab. this unit has managed to keep itself together when it had every opportunity to fragment.
Shouldn't the captains get some credit for that? "You hear about teams in the NFL and around college football that are kind of struggling, that have totally split." John said. "They have totally forgot the main cause of why they are there. They battle with each other, on and off the field and with comments in the papers and on TV."
"That hasn't really been the case here. We've been motivating towards each other. I have said stuff to them to maybe get under their skin, but it's to get them going and to get them excited. I still love them and I still care about them and for us to stay together like we have had really says something."
That it does.
Each week though, the proof in the pudding is that the Huskers have five losses. Despite the unity, despite that will to fight for each other, what has been done cannot be undone. So, how can anyone believe in what they can do with only two games to go?
Much of it depends on this game of course. It's against a ranked team, it's a foe that trounced them convincingly the year before and it's the last home game, the last game of the season, thus it's the last regular season game the seniors will ever play. That's motivation that they haven't had all year, but even with that, will it be enough? "Colorado is a good team." Garrison stated. "But, we have faced good teams before."
"Texas was ranked 4th when we played them and that's a game that we should have won. It got away from us, but as far as the competition level, Colorado won't be anything we haven't seen already."
In all reality, it's a game that shouldn't need a leader. It's a game that shouldn't need anyone motivating them, a video psyching them up. It's a game that stands on it's own and like they say, if you can't get up for this one, you need to check your pulse. Or maybe it's put better by a leader on this team, someone that has at the very least, earned the last word.
"I look at it [this game] as a motivational tool, because the way we were handled last year, if you don't get excited about this game, you shouldn't even be playing."
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619