I thought about jumping from non-AQ week right to Nebraska week, however after this exchange with Big Red Network it’s clear we’re not dealing with your typical Big Ten Blogger. No, it’s time to really dig in deep and that will take another week, so let’s put it out there that NEXT week will be Nebraska week as they are indeed the logical first Big Ten team to spend a theme-weeked with as they are the newest member and we need more time to acclimate between now and November 5 when we sprinkle some purple in to Memorial Stadium III. Let’s get in to it…
LTP: OK, let’s get the pleasantries out of the way. Welcome. Pause. Now, this whole “NU” thing. You see, we’re a charter member of the Big Ten Conference and are the only NU in town. We get a little testy about the fact ESPN has butchered the abbreviation on lower thirds (ie “NW”, “NWU”, “N’WSTRN”, etc..) fanned the flame of inconsistency, but in Wildcat Country, we are NU. What gives on the fact that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) goes by NU?
BRN: Hello. We’re happy to be here, thanks. [Even longer pause] Oh, here we go again with the NU stuff. My friend and colleague Steve covered this way back last July. He was being overly polite (a Nebraska habit) since the Big Ten transition was still very new. 107 comments later, it was pretty clear that Nebraska fans are not the slightest bit willing to part with NU as shorthand for our team. So, it appears we’re at a bit of an impasse. Thankfully you aren’t being overly sensitive or territorial about it. Yeesh.
Here’s the deal – this NU goes back a lot farther and is a lot more important than you might imagine. The Husker fight song has the lyrics – “there is no place like Nebraska, dear old Nebraska U.” See what that says – Nebraska U – NU.
Yes, the academic institution goes by UNL as its shorthand now. But that didn’t come until the 1960’s when they had to distinguish between the school in Lincoln and the newly acquired school in Omaha (now known as University of Nebraska-Omaha, or UNO). Eventually they would create the same relationship with University of Nebraska-Kearney, or UNK. You bored yet? Because I sure am.
The point – that UNL moniker has little historical relevance. NU = Nebraska. As you point out, even ESPN knows that since they choose to call you folks NW. If you want to claim NU, then come beat us. Don’t get bitter, get better.
LTP: Wow. First day, first post, first paragraph and the gloves are off! OK, speaking of bitter, Northwestern fans are still reeling for the ass-whooping the Huskers put on us at the 2000 Alamo Bowl, which was a co-champion year for us. Legend has it that Frank Solich took none too kindly to some alleged trash talking by Northwestern and admitted to running it up a bit with Eric Crouch and company. Is it fair to say that landslide win has Nebraska fans thinking we’re an easy mark?
BRN: Thanks for bringing up that 2000 Alamo Bowl. That’s like catnip for Husker fans. I remember saying to my dad – “Wow, this is like watching a grown man beat up a 12 year old boy”. I think Crouch just scored again, by the way. Yes, I’ve heard the legend of the smack talk too. It’s probably the case. Clearly, a trick play when they were up 52-17 is out of line. There was another factor too. Nebraska was pissed they even had to be in that bowl. They were out to prove something. It’s also now proof that the words “champion” and “Alamo Bowl” should never appear in the same sentence. Your Wildcats were just overmatched.
Getting back to current times, does that experience make NU fans think NW (ha!) is an easy mark? No, not really. I think most fans on both sides understand that was a lopsided contest at that particular point in time. It’s impossible to ignore the strides the Wildcats have made under Fitzgerald. A game played 11 years ago has little or no impact on the present. Both teams are very different than they were then. Husker fans are generally smart enough not to allow that kind of bias from past results, though it is obviously fun to razz you about it.
LTP: Wow again. Rational, cogent thought mixed with some fun. Gotta say, we’re not used to that from teams several hours to the west of us. OK, next up – traditions. You’ve got oodles of them and well, we essentially have a 16-year history that began when Fitz stepped on campus in uniform(yes, with some love to the era of Ara as well). Give us the “Top Five” things we need to know about the legends of Nebraska football. Break it down from Blackshirts to the sellout streak to Rozier, Frazier and Rodgers.
BRN: 1) In understanding Husker history, do not miss the importance of Bob Devaney. The “Bob father” started it all. He delivered Nebraska it’s first two national titles and its first Heisman winner (Rodgers). He was the AD during much of Tom Osborne’s tenure as the football coach. Respect.
2) Tom Osborne – native son of NE (shout out to Hastings!) – is quite literally a living legend. Questioning him at this point borders on blasphemy. The majority of the Husker greats and accomplishments were born from his teams.
3) The fans. The record consecutive sellout streak is well documented (even celebrated by a slightly obnoxious signs ordered by a now rather unpopular former AD). Husker fans always (!) show up. But it goes beyond that. Nebraska football is at the heart of most every Nebraskan. It’s almost hard wired as part of our cultural identity and way of life. This can create a confusing culture clash for fans of teams where there is more going on (like, for instance, Chicago). But don’t underestimate how much being a loyal and unwavering fan is ingrained in to the Husker tradition.
4) In terms of actual football – we’re known for making great linemen, having great running backs and playing great defense. As you mentioned, the “Blackshirt” defense is a tradition we hold dear. That one dates back to Devaney. He had an assistant buy different colored practice jerseys so he could tell his defensive units apart from each other. The assistant came back with black ones. It wasn’t some kind of deliberate intimidation attempt. It is what the sporting goods store had. It became known that the top defensive unit wore black shirts in practice. It became a status, a mark of pride and accomplishment. Fans caught on to it, and it jumped to a level of public celebration. Also, the blackshirts (and the defense in general) “throw the bones” after a great play. They cross their arms under their chin, simulating the skull and crossbones. You will see fans do that a lot, too. Of course now, with a defensive minded zealot like Bo Pelini running the show, physical and intimidating defense has become particularly popular.
5) To know a culture is to view their art and sample their food. Football isn’t art so let’s talk about food. First, steak is important. When you are in Lincoln, go to Misty’s. You’ll be glad you did. Next, runzas. What’s a runza? It’s a German loaf-style sandwich made with beef, pork, cabbage and onions. We Nebraskans adore them. They are the kind of regional food that every school served at lunch and everyone’s mom knew how to make. A very popular fast food franchise has built a business around the runza. So, they are readily available to visiting fans. Get one when you are in Lincoln.
LTP: Northwestern’s recent success has surprisingly led us to competing with Nebraska for recruits and even occasionally beating the Huskers out for a recruit or two (see DE Chance Carter). While most Northwestern fans, very cognizant of academics, would likely be shocked to learn of the NCAA record 98 academic All-Americans hailing from Nebraska, I’m guessing Nebraska fans would be equally shocked to learn NU (our NU) has more Big Ten titles since 1995 then all other schools not named Ohio State or Michigan. Support or reject.
BRN: If you are attempting to put NU’s academic success on par with Northwestern’s athletic success, please don’t. The Academic All-American record is as important to Nebraskans as it is surprisingly impressive to outsiders. Am I shocked that Northwestern has won Big Ten titles? No, not a bit. I clearly remember being happy to see them playing in that 1995 Rose Bowl. And, I’m not about to hate on what Fitz has accomplished thus far. I honestly think of the Wildcats as a salty football team as long as he’s the coach. Nebraskans respect that.
But, you’re being really, really selective (even deceptive) in your portrayal of Big Ten title facts by somehow implying that NW is in the ranks with M and OSU. First, the date range – football didn’t start in 1995. You’ll have to do better for longer than that. Next, you are in third since 1995. (Yay for third! You never hear people shout “we’re #3!”) Next, qualify the word title. You were three-way (and not the good three-way) co-champs in 2000. Fail. Finally, it’s a distant third place. When you look at the whole picture, Michigan dominated in the 1990s and Ohio State has dominated the 2000s. I’m not saying that Northwestern is bad or that they haven’t gotten better. They have. But, I flatly reject the notion that they are to be mentioned in the same breath as the Wolverines and Buckeyes.
LTP: There you go again. What’s up with the logical disection of my Wildcataganda that I’ve been spreading since….wait…wait (!)..did you just say that football didn’t start in 1995? Blasphemy! OK, you passed the test. Congrats. Northwestern and Nebraska appear to be offensive mirror images of one another heading in to 2011. Both invoke a spread offense and both now have a Pistol formation wrinkle woven in to the mix. Taylor Martinez is the most deceptive fake handoff QB in the nation and Dan Persa, until his injury, may have been the most complete QB. What intrigues you most about this Legends Division match-up in Lincoln in November?
BRN: That is a really great summary of the offenses in the big picture. Yes there will be some similarities (spread, pistol, etc) that will make the game interesting. I also agree with your summary of the quarterbacks. IF (big if) both can stay healthy, they could very easily be dueling for offensive player of the year honors. Both are that talented. I was impressed by Persa during the games I saw last year.
I honestly haven’t done enough advanced scouting of Northwestern to give you a detailed list of what else intrigues me. (It’s JUNE). But, I can tell you there will be many more evolutions of the Husker offense before the teams play in November. Expect to see more fullback runs as well as more slip screens and bubble screens from the Huskers. Generally, fans are hoping for more offensive variety than the very zone-read heavy attack of 2010.
LTP: Learning curve time. What element of joining the Big Ten is most intriguing to you? Which is most annoying?
BRN: Simple as it may seem, the schools/destinations are the most intriguing right now. It is, quite literally a welcome change of scenery for Husker fans. There will be matchups with some truly iconic programs (Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State), some already budding rivalries (the hate is already starting to flow between NU and Iowa) (ed note: uhhh, this is where that NU thing is going to get Abbott & Costello-like), and some great teams and new folks to get to know. Places like Chicago and Minneapolis are also very good/easy/enjoyable venues for Nebraskans. Those are easy flights, good cities the places that many Nebraskans frequently travel or relocate to.
I haven’t been affiliated with the conference long enough to come up with a serious hate list of annoyances. That will come as we develop some rivalries. I will say that I’m occasionally off put by the way the conference (meaning the league office/brand, not the league members) acts like the Big Ten’s farts don’t stink or something. It’s all very regimented and professional with the corporate branded logos (thanks a lot Pentagram, nice consulting) and the haughty names — Legends and Leaders, really? But, if my biggest complaint thus far is that the league and product is managed TOO well, then there isn’t much to find annoying yet.
LTP: Give us the top three reasons Northwestern fans must put a game at Lincoln on the bucket list? By the way, while we have NU rights issues with you, what are your suggestions on differentiating the Memorial Stadiums from one another considering 25% of Big Ten stadiums now share the same name?
BRN: I already talked about runzas and steak. So…I’ll have to cover the non-tailgate ones.
1) To see the “Sea of Red”. Memorial Stadium on Saturday is one of the great monochromatic sights in all of sports.
2) To experience the fan hospitality. Nebraska fans are the most welcoming and polite you’ll ever meet. That legend about Husker fans applauding the opponents isn’t made up. That really happens. I’m a bit of a loudmouth and occasional jackass, but that’s all in fun. The reality is that Nebraskans love to have visitors.
3) Our team is consistently good, and occasionally great. I know that sounds weird as a reason to come visit. But, I’ve been all over the country to see games. Almost without exception, I’d rather watch my team play a good (even great) foe rather than a weakling. Isn’t that the whole point? Even if my team losses, I get to see something potentially great.
To your other question – Memorial Stadium in Lincoln has been compared to the Fenway Park of football stadiums. It’s a good comparison, I think. She’s a grand old lady who has gotten some very good and appropriate modern face lifts. Take the tour of the trophy area and tour the Husker experience when you visit. While Lincoln isn’t what most people would consider “urban”, the Stadium is located in the city’s downtown area. So, by Big Ten standards, it is one of the more urban settings you’ll see, with easy walking distance to downtown bars and restaurants.
There is also a poetry to every truly great football venue, team and their culture. At Nebraska, it’s actually pretty easy to identify, since it is carved in to the wall.
“Not the victory but the action;
Not the goal but the game;
In the deed the glory”
LTP: What are expectations for Bo Pelini and the Huskers in the inaugural Big Ten year?
BRN: I expect them to win their division and play for the conference title. Those are my expectations every year. I’m not trying to be cocky. Please allow me to explain.
It is very easy to look at the Huskers daunting schedule and ratchet down expectations accordingly. Seriously, there are as many as seven teams on the slate that have a shot to beat Nebraska. I’ve heard several people talk about going 8-4 as a measure of success. But I don’t buy in to any of that stuff about counting wins and losses. Expectations revolve around what at team wins and what they accomplish. It starts by capturing the division.
I know this whole two-divisions-and-a-title-game situation is new to you Big Ten folks. But, Nebraskans are accustomed to it. We’ve won some and lost some. The key to everything is winning the division. Getting your team on to that title-game field is the only way to win a conference championship and a shot at the BCS. Nearly a third of title games end in an upset. So, there are sure to be years when a team will lose as a favorite or win as an underdog. The record when the teams enter matters less to me. The whole point is to get there and take your chances in a one-game situation to be the champion.
Also, winning your division means the team won something that can’t be taken away. Winning it multiple times demonstrates consistency. I expect the Huskers to win their division, and then win it again, and again, and again. I want them to win division so often I get tired of talking and writing about it. Only then will they have put together a sustained high level of play. And, based on the law of averages, may have achieved a conference title.
LTP: The top three things Northwestern fans will be surprised about by Nebraska this season are….?
1) How ridiculously good the Husker defense will be. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the Big 12 was just an “offensive league” so NU won’t have a good defense.
2) How effective the offense can be at times. Because of the way 2009 and 2010 ended, it’s easy to think of the Huskers as almost offensively inept. The 2011 offense will be a work in progress, but it will undoubtedly be better than the last to versions.
3) The investment Husker fans will make. I know this might sound ridiculous in a league with Ohio State and others. But, Big Ten folks need to be ready to expect Husker fans to stream in to their towns and stadiums. If a school isn’t careful about “protecting” their house, they can be subjected to an embarrassing Big Red takeover. Just ask Notre Dame.
Bonus – totally unsolicited comment –
Our shared history overlaps some with Gary Barnett. He “made” your program by taking it back to the Rose Bowl. Nebraskans were then thoroughly disgusted by his tenure at Colorado. First, he put the whooping stick to Solich’s teams. Then, he drove the CU program in to the ground. Is there any way we can just agree to dislike Barnett? I mean, he makes it so easy.
Bonus – unsolicited reply –
Actually no. Ed note – the “makes it so easy” was originally a link by BRN to Barnett’s infamous you-know-what press conference. We believe that what happened at Colorado was really unfortunate and bad. However, his tenure at NU was the stuff of silver screen legend and we continue to celebrate it. Yes, the way he left was less than ideal, however over time Northwestern fans are very thankful for GB and protective of his time in Evanston.
LTP: I’m exhausted. Well, if this Q&A exchange is any indication of what it will be like having Nebraska in the league then it is time to buckle up. You can see they know their football and know their Huskers. I’m really excited to get BRN back on to LTP and can’t wait until November 5 in Lincoln. Stay tuned for more as we’ll go all-out Nebraksa starting next Monday.