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  • State of the Husker Union - Part III - The Angst

    Angst is not is not an imported ein weissbier from Deutschland, but like beer, when moderation is happily ignored angst will cause a raging buzz that can plummet into a nasty hangover. Husker Nation has all varieties of angsters including angstaholics that will invent reasons to go out angsting after a 72-0 shutout. There are binge angsters that go on benders after losses or tight games that shouldn’t have been close and there are casual angsters that only get a little angsty when things are blatantly wrong. Of course, there are also angstainers that have never been angsted and insist they’re not missing out on anything. Thanks to Al Gore we have a contraption called the internet that invites all levels of angsters and angstainers to the same party and allows the whole world to watch the melee unfold. And this just describes the dynamic of the Husker faithful in a typical year.

    It’s clear the 2011 rave however, has the potential to be remembered for years to come. It got out to a fast start after a shaky, eventually lopsided win over a FCS team (that is now 1-3 in conference) and has been on the loose ever since. Following the Wisconsin slap angst peaked to Ghost Busters levels, where only a miraculous comeback against Ohio State prevented an underground river of percolating supernatural schmegma from cracking through the field-turf on Tom Osborne Field. Even if slime didn’t literally permeate the field, the figurative feeling of back-to-back B1G baptisms by blowout would’ve felt just as gross. Likewise, the critical angst mass would’ve reached volcanic proportions and doubts remain that Dienhart would’ve even made his grudgingly uncomfortable apology for his part in the chaos. Instead, the mob was quelled just before the most timely bye week in Husker history perfectly backed-up by a ready scarecrow waiting to be knocked down in Minneapolis. Eruption averted, for now, and for at least long enough to question what about this year has so many so on the verge of angstaholism? Reasons abound and this last segment in the State of the Husker Union looks at the cause and effect of extreme angst on the program. The goal is to present a representative sample for the major schools of thought among what has become a vastly disparate group of fans, so if I don’t cover your angst of choice, go ahead and share by shooting me an email.

    It’s Year Four
    I wrote awhile back that, regardless of new coaches and offensive systems, the patience meter wasn’t going to reset in the fan base and it was a definite risk promoting an unproven-at-this-level OC. Rookie mistakes have been made everywhere from on the field and sidelines to up in the booth and even with the offense arguably making progress, the D has been inexplicably and consistently porous for the first time ever under Pelini. More on the D to come, but sticking with old movies, NU in year four has looked more like the South Central Louisiana State University Mud Dogs before they recruited Bobby Boucher (Luke Fickell?) which mamma says makes some fans as aggressive as alligators that got all them teeth and no toothbrush.

    Fine B1G How Do Ya’ Do
    Every Husker fan had at least one vision of walking into the B1G and sending a clear message that Nebraska had arrived. Even if the O wasn’t perfected, there was no reason to believe the D couldn’t carry the load the way it had the previous two years against the far more dynamic offenses of the Big XII. The Huskers were back to regularly competing for conference titles and in the very least the Husker faithful could enter the B1G heads held high. The Big Red is more than a football team to so many Nebraskans, but rather an integral component of folks’ personal pride. The last thing people imagined was that the Huskers would embarrass themselves, but as the season began to unfold, it became obvious the Huskers not only didn’t look dominant, they often appeared incompetent.

    Hoping almost against hope, folks headed to Madison looking for a win and, at worst, would spread some goodwill to a seemingly kindred U with a NU alum for an AD. Things went according to plan about as well as Lloyd’s seduction of Mary Swanson in Dumb and Dumber when he professed to her that he wanted to make love to a school boy. After enduring four hours of drunken insults and witnessing a dark comedy on grass, Husker fans with team and pride trampled, were escorted out of the stadium to chants of ‘Big Ten Football.’ The pilot light of Big Red pride that burns eternal left NU fans with an unshakable feeling that their Husker team was at least as bad as the Badgers were formidable. Put simply, pride is a value that many consider among their most valued possessions and when pride gets dinged, people don’t often take it sitting down quietly.

    Blowout Flashbacks
    Nebraska’s unique culture of applauding opposing teams, even in defeat, is perhaps the last voluntary, group display of true fan sportsmanship that remains in major sports. It developed as a result of appreciation for effort and excellence on the field. Since 1962 when Devaney changed the culture of Husker football through 1997, there were very few times that Nebraska was kicked around. Losing happened, it wasn’t fun, but character was earned from getting beat by a better team. The new century ushered in a new era in Husker football with new coaches and new results on the field of play. For the first time in a generation NU had bouts of being non-competitive against its biggest opponents and it didn’t sit well. It never will. Looking in the rearview at the trail of coaching casualties eight years later is prologue to the current staff about the fan base and boosters’ tolerance for blowouts. The whole season thus far has felt like getting into a mad scientist’s suped-up Delorean and travelling back to 2003 which isn’t comfortable for any fan regardless of which side of the Husker coaching civil war they fought. Back to the Future of squeaking by average teams and getting blown out by good ones is a known recipe for angst that ultimately results in the staff responsible being asked to make like a tree and get outta here.

    Angst is as Angst Does
    Bo Pelini was brought in on the promise of fixing the Blackshirts and winning championships. The combination of being a Solich hire and a no-nonsense competitor galvanized a decent portion of a still fractured fan base. Bo had rough edges and a curt demeanor with the press, but the Blackshirt resurrection was like a revelation so Bo got a free pass. Team issues would now be addressed “inside our family” and for the first time fans were literally told they weren’t part of that brood. A rude awakening that sent ripples, but the faithful hit the snooze bar because the players loved Bo, annual nails defenses seemed a foregone conclusion, and championships would surely follow. Practices were closed, injuries and game plans were concealed, and fans grudgingly dealt with those things too. Negative national attention was drawn with tirades in the 2009 Big XII Championship and 2010 Texas A&M games and fans awkwardly justified them. The insight provided into the Husker’s new offense or any part of the program during the off-season could’ve fit onto a postcard, so fans held their breaths in anticipation. Then the 2011 adventure began with the aforementioned unexpected shocks.

    None of the above is a dig on Pelini, it’s just what happened. Bo knew from the get-go that shutting the door on the media and in turn the public risked backlash, but for him, operating with minimal distractions was worth some flack. Nothing personal, it’s just what Bo felt gave him the best operating environment to build a winner and he’s convinced winning championships is the only way to truly ever sate all the fans (and he’s right). What I don’t think Bo fully realizes is that no one can win all the time, but placing the cone of silence around the program demands he do exactly that. Sequestering himself and the team means fans feel little kinship with coaches and only truly know what they see on the field. Without a stifling D and a peak level of competitiveness, people begin to realize Bo has given them little else to cling to other than perhaps a bellyful of regressed angst about his wildcard demeanor and his distancing them from the program they love.

    Field a team that looks porous and confused in a four quarter battle royale with Fresno State, a team that was flicked away like a pesky gnat by Boise State, and the held angst starts to flow. Get destroyed by Wisconsin and you get a boiling river. More than any other single reason, this is why fan unrest has reached such a fevered pitch this year. Intended or not, a large contingent of the Husker faithful feels unappreciated and dumped by Pelini. In turn, if Bo ever finds himself after a rough season looking for a soft place to land, there’s likely not many in that growing group waiting patiently to say “you had me at hello.”

    Final Verdict
    After all’s said and done the State of the Husker Union finds the glass of angst more than half full and a mere 348 yard Dennard Robinson performance from frothing over, which isn’t a good thing. Chronic fan angsting is a dangerous thing for a coach, because deep pocket fans, a.k.a boosters, dictate coaches’ futures and Pelini's already had a bigger near miss than people realize after the 2010 A&M game, with boosters playing a role in his being publicly warned not to ever let it happen again. The rest of the season is in a dicey state which tips the scales of the overall State of the Husker Union to being half-empty, but asterisks insist that NU can remain in the driver’s seat of its division if it can make a U-turn and even remotely point itself in the direction of Indianapolis. Great resurrections and eternal wisdom could always be found in Rocky sequels and when severe angst about Rocky having a rematch with Apollo drove Adrian into a coma in Rocky II, she regained consciousness just in time to deliver an Oscar worthy wing-dinger of a line that Bo in the face of heavy angst might take to heart.

    “There's one thing I want you to do for!”

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