photo courtesy espn.go.com
A special thing happens at Memorial Stadium every home game, whether we win or whether we lose.
Fans fall silent and turn their attention to the giant HuskerVision screen in the North stadium. Players address the fans directly: “What’s up HuskerNation.” The Tunnel Walk begins, and an electric current creates a ripple in the sea of red as head coach Bo Pelini and his team take the field. For that moment, it seems, all doubt, criticism, speculation and uncertainty about this team is gone.
Then, at the first mistake, mess-up, misstep, interception, penalty, fumble, whatever you want to call it, it comes roaring back.
Last night it came roaring back louder than ever. I’m not going to talk about last night. Instead, I’m going to talk about something called toxicity and its effect on the University of Nebraska’s football program.
I’ve been at UNL four years. Before that, I was here for the Callahan era and witnessed the start of a new head coach whose name was on the lips of every Nebraskan man, woman and child. Bo Pelini. He was going to save our beloved football program.
I’m going to argue that he did just that. In 2008, Pelini lead the Huskers to a 9-4 season and beat Clemson in the 2009 Gator Bowl. The next year we played Texas in the 2009 Big 12 Championship game, although we lost, Pelini coached us in the 2009 Holiday Bowl and we beat the Arizona Wildcats 33-0.
Something strange happened in 2010, my first year as an undergrad. We raised our expectations…perhaps unrealistically. The AP poll had us ranked No. 8, a cruel joke it would seem, on Husker fans looking back on that season. The critics emerged. The toxicity began.
The bulk of it was directed towards head coach Bo Pelini and freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez. Both of whom have dedicated their lives to Husker football, yet were unable to live up to the fans expectations that season.
When 2011 rolled around, there was a difference in the faith of our football team. Fans were no longer saying “We’re going to win a championship game.” Instead, small voices began calling for a new head coach and a new quarterback.
Imagine how that must feel as a young QB, putting on protective gear every Saturday to go fight for your team and for your fans, many of whom doubt your success, and your future at Nebraska on the first interception you throw.
Now imagine being a young head coach beloved by fans that turn cynical towards your program and having to defend your team and your players despite maintaining a winning record.
Now imagine having to do it for two more years. The small voices spouting criticism have only grown louder. It has become toxic.
Here is something that I don’t doubt: Bo Pelini loves his players like a family and has gone great lengths to defend them. He has stuck with this program and never had a losing season.
Here is something I will say, because it needs to be said: the Huskers will prove us all wrong this season. When this season is over, the doubters will disappear and HuskerNation will once again have faith in their football team.
I’m not asking you to Bo-lieve me. But the fact is we’ve only lost 1 game this season.
I’m just wondering what it would be like if our fans turned their cynicism into support.
I wonder how it would it feel to the coaching staff, and to the players if, for the rest of the season, we gave them our undivided support for once as they take the field.
Every Saturday they fight for us. Why not start fighting for them? Maybe we’ll win a championship.