Everyone gets that 1994, 1995, and 1997 are gone and even the most adamant hanger-on has triggered some kind of coping mechanism by now. Husker fans that witnessed those legendary teams were lucky, those that didnít are luckier; but not because they canít truly grasp just how steep NUís decline has become, but just because those lucky SOBs are young.
After listening to the Big Red Reaction after the Northwestern game, itís clear the re-growing divide between Husker Nation stems between the happiest-go-luckiest fans angrily perceiving that scores of unhappy curmudgeons are somehow holding on to Grant Wistrom for dear life. Reality is, the problem for most with deep consternation about the 21st
century Huskers isnít that the five year, 60 - 3 swan song of T.O. is gone, but that the mid 70ís, 80ís and 90ís, actually minus Nebraskaís three 90s NC years are gone too and theyíre saying thatís not OK.
For the 20+ years between NUís 70ís NC teams and the í94 breakthrough, Nebraska football was just as much an immense source of pride as it was an almost annual heartbreak. So many times, so close to pay dirt, even if it was just for a token trip to Miami or a shot at it all. The heartbreak always reverted back to pride however, because near misses built character, near misses said you competed with the best.
Those teams werenít always the most talented and the coaches werenít always putting players in the perfect schemes to fit their opponents. It took McBride 8 years before following OUís lead to dump the 5 - 2 read/react in favor of an attacking 4 - 3 which had proven to cure the Soonersí issues with speedy Florida teams. Those NU teams however were disciplined, conditioned, and they fought to the end. As a whole, those teams took on the demeanor of their coaches; steady, calm, precise, confident, and members of a family that included the whole State of Nebraska.
Even with numerous people lobbing claims that Dr. Tom called a bad game after a loss, reality usually sank in that NU had lost to a better team. It was the consistency of those teams that gave confidence NU getting beat was OK even when the score wasnít close. NU had to grow, change, and adapt over the years, but the team almost always played at the highest level that it was capable of playing. That is the definition of what Nebraska Football should be per many fans. The ĎDeed the Gloryí types and what it means to them to say they root for NU.
Getting to the Nothwestern game, itís true, wins are wins just as sloppy is sloppy. All Husker fans like wins and many long for seeing excellence in the achievement of a win. The Northwestern game was an excellent win, with little excellence on display. There were 4 turnovers, 8 penalties, 3 sacks, over a dozen missed blocks and other notable gaffes in a one point, comeback win against an OK, but under-talented Northwestern team that likely finishes in the 8-4, 7-5 range.
Noteworthy about the NU game (theyíre called NU too) is that Northwestern is a team that annually struggles to recruit top talent, their admission standards are exceptionally high, and they field players that are 4 times more likely to get a doctorate than play in the NFL. Pat Fitzgerald, an alum, is a champion in the community and nationally with his philanthropic efforts. He exudes passion and looks for opportunities to talk publically about the program, ending every engagement with a big ĎGo Cats!í Fitz talks about his players exclusively in terms of personal development and teamwork. Maybe Northwestern catches lightning in a bottle and sees the Rose Bowl once every 15 years, but even in the almost inevitable 4 - 5 loss years he exudes pride with a commitment to work harder next year.
Amazing is that his teams win 8 games. They do because they play disciplined (0 turnovers and took 1 sack against NU), consistent, and confident. You NEVER hear of an NU (Northwestern) player in trouble off the field and their GSR (NCAA Graduation Success Rate) was 92% in 2010 (Nebraska 72%)
and 94% in 2011 (Nebraska 68%, which is 7th in the B1G)
. In short NU, the purple variety, does it about as right as it can be done.
What was very intriguing about the NU / NU game was the swelling of Husker hope that somehow a switch got flipped on those two final drives against an overmatched Cats team and NU will now stop being sloppy and inconsistent. Somehow this will all translate into a win over a UM team that comes to Lincoln with more talent 1 through 22 on their roster, a significant upgrade at mobile QB, and a team that pummeled NU last year from the opening bell. It could happen, then again similar hopes surged after a one point loss to UT in Dallas in 2009, a win at Okie State in 2010, and again after a MSU win last year that turned out to be NUís only truly consistent game.
Simply put, two-plus years of inconsistency and lost composure in pressure situations doesnít just heal in two drives and history hints more to a rough night in Lincoln this Saturday in a must-win game against a Michigan team with zero conference losses, but who knows, football is a weird game. Telling though, was that Bo himself admitted the team stayed more composed against NU than the staff, which begs questioning just how much teams really do take on the personas of their coaches?
You really donít have to wonder long when looking at games like Texas and Washington in 2010, South Carolina last year, and OSU this year where the wheels came off the team at almost the precise moments the coaches began to come unhinged. For the last two years at least, NU teams have played everything from tight to over-amped to completely lost; seemingly out of fear of achieving imperfection. Two pressured weeks of practice after a bad OSU loss and they played nothing less than ugly sloppy.
Certainly football is about wins and losses and a win is a win, just as sloppy is sloppy and excellence is excellence. For much of Husker Nation, NU football means excellence in the effort, win or lose, which hopefully translates into lightening in a bottle once in a while. Getting the most out of what you have and playing with the class of a champion, even if youíre not one. A football program that feels like a home in which the casual fan feels welcomed and invited.
When you think about it, that does sound a lot like an NU in the Big Ten Conference except they wear purple. Curious to know would be how many Big Red fans that are accused curmudgeons would actually be OK losing 4 games every year if the circumstances surrounding those losses mirrored those in North Chicago? Just guessing, but I would say that would probably be a big number.
Regardless, many Husker fans feel like theyíre still seeking the real NU in Lincoln and a solidly-played win over a Michigan team that was obliterated by Alabama wonít end the search nearly as much as a sloppy loss would seal more opinions that this staff will never learn to spell NU. Since satisfying everyone in Nebraska may take until the end of time, Iíll end this by simply saying I think thereís at least one NU in the B1G everyone can afford to root for a little bit, so hereís to you, Northwestern, thanks for the great game.
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