As a Nebraska native, life was pretty simple. Living in Kearney, NE was hardly exciting and one had to find ways to entertain themselves. Sports became my passion and for my Dad and me, it was always football. Sure, we watched our beloved Jayhawks basketball team but it just wasn't the same as watching football.
Unfortunately, I got the "Kenny" gene when it comes to watching football and being competitive. My Dad loves football and so do I. What both of us fail to realize is that it's just a game. Sure, we understand that it's not life or death two or three days later but for both of us, it seems like our lives depend on it.
My introduction to football started at a very early age. Honestly, one of my very first memories has me dressed up in full pads lined up across from my Dad in a four-point stance trying to get around him. Anyone who knows me and my stature knows that I had no business in a four-point stance. Still, between every commercial break, you would find my Dad and me throwing down on the floor. I would like to say I won many of those matches but knowing how competitive my Dad is, I doubt if I won any.
My Dad and I are about as opposite as two people can be. He is an electrical engineer, I can't figure out my remote. He loves Star Trek; I would rather die than watch Star Trek. Dad loves the old and the traditional, I love new things. He is a pessimist, I am an optimist. There was always one thing we could agree on that that was football. That was until he turned on me and became a Husker. I say he couldn't take the Davie years and converted, he says the Huskers were easy to follow (Hey Dad, your son covers Notre Dame for a living; I might be able to keep you informed). Once again, the competition had begun.
My competitive nature comes from my Dad but that isn't always a good thing. It was a bad thing when I when I was 12 and I saved money from my paper route for months to buy this $100 Prince Pro tennis racket. The first time I used it, I was playing my sister, she was beating me and I smashed the Prince Pro well beyond repair. It clearly had to do with faulty equipment.
It was also a bad thing on the football field. I remember my 7th grade year, Kearney Catholic field; a game of pickup up football was my first introduction to my best friend (a Husker). We both have two very different versions of the event. I happened to be running after one of my amazing catches towards the end zone. He happened to be in the way. A collision, a fight, he ended up going home crying to his Momma. His version is slightly different and the recollection of the event is rehashed often and almost always while watching football.
It was also a bad thing while in college. I tempted fate and chided and gloated Husker fan after each crushing defeat while my Irish were competing for National Championships but more on this later.
After college, I moved to Omaha because Kearney Husker fan had had enough me. I moved right into the heart of Husker country with my game face on. Dad missed me but the phone was always a few feet away.
The Davie years were hard on me. I watched one and then two and then three Husker National Championships on my couch surrounded by Husker fans. The Irish were either not in a bowl game or they lost a bowl game the same day. My friends even had the audacity to ask me if I wanted to come along as they celebrated each Husker National Championship on the corner of 72nd and Dodge. It was like a dull knife through the heart of a dying Irish fan.
Husker fan enjoyed watching my meltdown on Saturdays, they acted supportive but I knew they were laughing inside. They witnessed the worst in me on many Saturdays. Tantrums that would make my Mom go find a paddle. They had six long years of enjoyment watching me become that other person and embarrassing myself beyond explanation. It just doesn't seem fair that I only got to witness their meltdown for one year with more likely coming in the future. My best friend (a Husker) knows it and I'm sure his phone will be conveniently turned off this year.
I suppose I deserve it. Steve Ryan (Publisher of Husker Connection on Insiders) was my roommate in college and he witnessed many of my meltdowns and would probably agree. I watched many Husker Orange Bowl losses while Husker fan's hopes and dreams were crushed as I giggled with glee inside. I watched my beloved Irish and Tony Rice march all the way to the '88 Fiesta Bowl and National Championship while dancing on the ashes of Husker dreams. I proudly displayed my naked body that night strapped to that light pole on the busiest street in Kearney, NE all in triumph of the Irish victory and Husker defeat. For my sins, I don't deserve happiness.
I'm going to miss the Huskers. Living here in South Bend is going to take away so much of my football watching pleasure. I'm going to miss "Football Saturday" with my buddies. 15 Huskers all decked out in the red, plopped around my living room staring at the mammoth big screen like God himself was speaking.
I am going to miss driving down the street and seeing every other house having a big red flag flying the Husker Red proud as can be. I'm going to miss seeing Omaha turn into a ghost town during those three hours of Husker pride.
I'm going to miss those little red flags hung on car windows on game days as the entire town of Omaha empties looking like a Presidential convoy onward to Lincoln. I'm going to miss the arguments—boy did we have some arguments.
I'm also going to miss Husker fan. Don't get me wrong, I love Nebraskans, I just don't like Huskers. I suppose they are like any other fan, full of faith, short on reality but the truth is that Husker fan is loyal to the bone. I admire Husker fan for that.
Most of all, I'm going to miss the competitiveness. Not just with the games but the wit and banter amongst friends while watching the games. My best friend moved away after college for three years before rejoining "Football Saturday." He recalls returning and the sure abuse he took for an entire season because he wasn't sharp with his game. That could never be me surely.
I now enjoy the friendly confines of South Bend, IN and am surrounded by Irish fans. "I love the Irish," I say. Someone else says "me too." "Notre Dame is going to kill Michigan," say I. "They should beat them," says another. How much fun is that?
I'm going to miss my friends more than I probably know now. I'm going to miss calling my best friend and yelling at him because he isn't over yet and it's only 8:30 in the morning (I'll still call). I'm going to miss the "Lav Man" and how he is so conservative and boring in real life until you get a few pops in him on "Football Saturday." I'll miss Darren, Nick, Tyler, Bone, Mayo, hell; I even miss Marv and his tight pants.
I'll certainly miss the late-night Fox games that cover the Pac 10 and the booze-enhanced excitement they seemed to have. I'll miss the touchdown dance we created during many of these nights (some things are better left unsaid) and the Oregon Duck quack we created to add to the excitement of the game.
I'll also miss my Dad. We just don't get enough time to watch football anymore. The good news is that Dad will finally get to see his first Notre Dame game this year as the Irish take on Florida State. Maybe we can convert him back. Nah, how much fun would that be?
Football is a bonding event. It's a time to gather with friends and family and to forget about the pressures of life for a while. It's a time to witness heroic feats of courage and strength and admire those that sacrifice their bodies for our enjoyment—yet most of us criticize these players and hit stress-levels far beyond what is considered healthy—go figure.
I'll be in Irish paradise this year and certainly enjoy many Irish victories with Irish fans. Still, there is still something dangerous and exciting about being in enemy territory--even more exciting when you know that you will have the upper hand this year. Best of luck to the Huskers (yeah, right) and Omaha lost a great adversary in Mike Frank. Just ask my friends as I'm sure they'll be missing me.