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  • The Pressure to Compete

    “We live in a cynical world...a cynical world. And we work in a business of tough competitors...” - Jerry Maguire

    For most of Husker Nation, Bo Pelini had them at hello. Unanimously as the DC that un-Bohl’d the Blackshirts in 2003 and substantially as Dr. Tom’s choice for head coach in 2008. Detractors favored Turner Gil or felt Bo lacked experience. Others felt that Bo, having challenged sixty-something KSU coach Bill Snyder to an alley fight and snaring an Alamo Bowl 15 yard flag, hinted of too volatile of a temper, but that never really materialized, did it? OK, so the point was that although no one was going to please everyone, Bo’s arrival brought the closest thing to unity that Husker Nation had seen in at least five years.

    In 2003 Pelini seemed like a guy that truly “got it” when it came to appreciation for Husker culture. When he quickly turned the program into a Secret Garden and showed volatility never seen before in a Husker coach, barring maybe catching Devaney on a bad night while out on a bender, a few fell off the Bo wagon but hope generally remained. Pelini had a firm plan that took shape quickly, especially with a near repeat magic act of making gone-missing Blackshirts reappear. Bo exuded confidence, enough to shoulder the hopes of an entire Husker Nation. A confidence in himself that has never wavered.

    After a disappointing :01 loss, regardless of some post :00 antics, one thing was certain; NU’s competitiveness was back. People believed that NU’s D could get better, even when losing its Ambassador of Kwan in Suh. Crick would now take Suh’s double-teams and someone else would reap the benefits.

    It didn’t quite go that way, and although a naked-eye downward trend in competitiveness could be seen against the better teams and total confidence in Pelini waned, the man’s belief in himself never did. Not a convincing loss to Northwestern at home or blowouts to Wisconsin and Michigan could ding Bo’s armor. Being 'off' could be turned back 'on' and broke could be fixed.

    Then came UCLA and 653 yards.

    All the other losses a man could convince himself were just injury bugs or bad days, but not 653 yards. Not when only once before in history did a team gain 3 more yards on Nebraska; a bad Husker team at that, 56 years ago against an undefeated Sooner bunch that OU fans will tell you was better defensively than NU’s ’95 team (and have enough reasons to debate their point).

    Consider unwavering confidence wavered. Bo couldn’t explain 653 yards to anyone, most notably to himself. I’m sure Pelini did have the flu or some virus causing his physical symptoms. You get sick when you don’t sleep and you don’t sleep when you’re mired in the pressure of 653 yards which to a confident competitor like Bo Pelini simply doesn’t compute.

    Don’t think for a second the pressure that got to Bo was from the media, fans, Osborne, boosters, or anyone other than the person he always says “points the thumb not the finger.” Pelini wasn’t raised to worry about what anyone else thinks and he also would be the first to fire himself if he truly believed he wasn’t getting the job done.

    Regardless of what the scoreboard said, he couldn’t ignore he fielded a team in the Rose Bowl that night which didn’t compete in his trademark area of excellence. He didn’t make himself sick by trying to make himself feel better. Bo made himself sick from embarrassment and feeling a debt to the staff and players he feels he let down.

    The Arkansas State game was a coughed-up game suppressant, but not a cure for anything and Idaho State won’t be either. Neither could be, because ASU wasn’t nearly UCLA and Idaho State won’t be nearly ASU. The Huskers prognosis won’t truly be in until the tough, October league stretch.

    I won’t go too deep into the ASU game, because it was just more evidence of what we’ve known for 50 years. NU will beat sub par teams. The good and bad news for the D was the same. They were all over the place. There’s some raw skills and talent for sure in Zaire and Seisay.

    The blowout was nice, but could’ve been much closer had the Red Dogs not missed probably more tackles in the backfield than NU did against UCLA, which is not a good sign. The duplicate sackfumbles were egregious and telling in the ‘fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me’ sense. In short, as NU enters league play, I’m predicting the small well that started to fill up with goodwill and faith from Barney’s detractors after a solid SoMiss game will have run bone dry by November.

    The biggest question is perhaps whether NU has already faced its toughest opponent. Barring Ohio State, there’s not another B1G team that looks as though it could hold a candle to the Bruins; so given that a handful of blown tackles could’ve changed NU’s SoCal fortunes, winning the B1G isn’t ruled out by any stretch. Although a trophy by default wouldn’t inspire a whole lot of chest puffing, it would be a far cry better than the message and pressure that would come from not competing in this league this year.

    And so getting back to Pelini, almost everything he does and how he’s viewed from the outside comes back to the pressure to compete. Something that's beyond fierce in guys like Bo, to the point it can also deliver a blow from the inside. Although I won’t go through the, as-if he’s reading, absurd bit of saying “Get Well Soon”; in all honesty I do hope he is A-OK.

    We do live in a very, very cynical world and this is a business of extremely tough competitors, but when you see go down, a guy who at his core is a decent and honorable man, it’s one of the few times in Nebraska you realize football is just a game.

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