A Nebraska 30 for 30? Careful What You Wish For

24 Feb

Over the last few years, Nebraska fans have been asking for ESPN to produce a “30 for 30” documentary on the “glory years” Nebraska teams of the mid 1990s.  I lost track of how many times I saw this idea come up on radio shows, message boards, or Twitter.  Finally, those requests have been heard as a film covering the 1994 and 1995 teams is being created.

Just be careful of what you’re wishing for, Husker fans…

On the surface, I understand the appeal.  The majority of 30 for 30 films are excellent.  They provide a great insight into people, places, and moments in time that make up the sporting landscape.  The unprecedented success of Nebraska between 1993 and 1997 (three national championships, with a missed field goal and a team wide flu outbreak standing in the way of five titles in a row) is certainly a memorable time for many college football fans.

What if I told you…

Then there are a personalities from that era:  the consummate winner Tommie Frazier, the beloved backup Brook Berringer, the passionate leadership of Grant Wistrom and Jason Peter, the hard-working in-state walk ons, the list goes on.  And never forget legendary coach Tom Osborne transforming from the guy who couldn’t win the big one to one of the greatest coaches in college football history.

In the eyes of some fans, the documentary would (if not should) be a 90 minute love fest for all things Nebraska.  It would be like those silly hype videos K-State used to produce after they beat Nebraska – just with better production values.

But that assumption is wrong.

There is no drama or national interest in exploring why NU’s walk-on program and a large crop of in-state players were a vital part of that run.  Any discussion of how the 1995 team shut up Steve Spurrier and the ESPN talking heads would probably be left on the digital editing equivalent of the cutting room floor.  Yes, the 1995 team is likely the greatest team of all time, but don’t expect to watch a highlight video.

Instead, a Nebraska 30 for 30 will likely focus on the things that darken that period.  Lawrence Phillips.  Christian Peter.  Tyronne Williams.  Riley Washington.  The tension between Tommie and Brook.  Tom Osborne becoming a “win at all costs” coach.  CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg.  Scott Frost campaigning for a title after Osborne’s retirement.  Where Scott Frost was rumored to be the night Phillips was arrested.  The decline of the program after Osborne left.  Who knows what other skeletons and whispered rumors may come to life that would cast a permanent shadow over an era that Nebraska fans consider sacred?

In 2014, BTN produced “Unbeaten: The Life of Brook Berringer“, a beautiful and moving documentary on the life and playing career of Brook Berringer.  I’m guessing that film inspired a lot of the desire for a 30 for 30 film.

Best case scenario, the documentary is made by a film maker with Nebraska ties or who bleeds Big Red.  The film is a 90 minute highlight reel of the championship teams, with little to no mention on the player arrests during the championship run, and fades to black as Tom and Nancy Osborne walk out of Memorial Stadium the day after the 1998 Orange Bowl.  But do you really think ESPN would make that movie – let alone air it?  I don’t buy into the perception of an ESPN bias against Nebraska, but that film probably goes straight to the Watch ESPN app.

More realistically, expect a 30 for 30 on the 1994 and 1995 Nebraska Cornhusker teams to open with the embarrassing losses to Miami and Georgia Tech, and Osborne’s realization that he needed more speed – especially on defense.  Nebraska gets those players – by taking advantage of Prop 48 rules and taking guys with questionable character.  The film likely spends a chunk of time on Phillips and Osborne’s decision to reinstate him while trotting out the old narrative that Osborne was focused more on winning than helping a troubled kid.  The arrest records of other Husker players are discussed, possibly with more information coming to light on how things were swept under the rug.  Who knows what other skeletons will be found in the closet when people go in with bright lights and high def cameras?

Remember:  a lot has changed in the last 20 years.  The influence of Osborne and the football program – both within the University and in Lincoln – no longer exists in college football.  Crimes by athletes, especially those against women, are handled differently – and usually much harsher – than they used to be.  Things that we accepted as a price of success in 1995 may seem outrageous in today’s climate.  The average viewer is likely to come away from the film thinking “Wow, Nebraska was a great program – but at what cost?”

Will you and I watch it?  Absolutely.  Heck, ESPN will probably never have better ratings in the state of Nebraska then when this thing airs.  Will some fans be upset or disappointed by it?  I’d bet on it.  Will it be a good reflection of Osborne, the program, the University, and an era that fans consider sacred?  Your guess is as good as mine.

Bottom line:  You asked for a 30 for 30, and you’re getting one.  I just hope you know what you asked for.

Husker Hot Takes – 11/6/2015

6 Nov

Head into the weekend with a big portion of Hot Takes:

Is Nebraska in a “rebuild” mode?  In Shawn Eichorst’s letter to fans, he asked for patience and support as Mike Riley “rebuilds our storied program one brick at a time”.  That comment caught many fans off guard as Riley’s role at Nebraska has not been previously described in that manner. Many fans took offense at characterizing Nebraska as a rebuilding project.

First and foremost, we should acknowledge that parsing a single word from a quote, interview, or press release is a risky proposition at best.  That said, “rebuild” is a poor choice of words.*  For many people, “rebuild” brings visions of losing teams with absolutely no chance of winning championships.  When I hear “rebuild” in reference to a sports team, I think of how my Kansas City Royals were in a rebuilding mode for the better part of 15 years, Kansas football since Mangino left, or other perennial doormats.

*Personally, I would have gone with improves, aligns, corrects, or strengthens our storied program one brick at a time.  Given that this was a publicly released letter and not an off-the-cuff interview remark, I assume the use of “rebuild” was intentional, not accidental.

So is Nebraska rebuilding?  Mostly no, but a little yes.

I believe the psyche of this team needs to be rebuilt.  I continuously see the word “toxic” used to describe the program under Pelini.  I think it is rather easy to see that not all of the players have bought in to Riley’s culture (or, they initially bought in but voided their purchase after a few losses).  Between the “us against the world” bunker mentality and coaches who were critical of administrators and fans that was widely acknowledged under Pelini, this shouldn’t be a surprise.

Cleaning this up will take time.  And effort.  And likely, “encouraging” some players to continue their career at a different institution.  The culture, my friends, is something that needs to be rebuilt.

Those who dislike the current A.D. probably already know that when Pelini was fired Eichorst said:  “At the end of the day, I think we have kids in our program that are capable of winning championships.”  I agree.  In my opinion, Nebraska is not devoid of talent.  There are high level athletes at Nebraska.  There are separate discussions to be had on if that high-end talent is a) healthy enough to play, b) being coached and/or utilized correctly, or c) playing to their potential, but NU has some talent.

A key issue in this season has been the depth of talent.  Without singling out a specific player or position group, I can think of some examples where the front-line starter is out (due to injury, suspension, or performance) and there is a noticeable drop-off when the backup is in the game.  In short, I think Nebraska’s first string is as talented (if not more so) than any team in the division.  The second team is not more talented than the rest of the division.  The talent on this team does not need to be rebuilt, rather the depth needs to be restocked.

Adopt Mike Riley?  Fans, are you frustrated with the performance of MIke Riley?  How can you get the message across that you are unhappy?

“For Sale” signs in his yard?  That’s a little outdated – plus, I’m not sure a For Sale sign in the lobby of the Embassy Suites would get your point across.  Register firemikeriley.com?  Sorry – somebody already beat you to that.*

*and if I’m reading the registration from whois.net correctly, firemikeriley.com was created the day Riley was announced at NU.  Sheesh.  You’re either very opportunistic or you have zero faith.

Sure you can voice your opinion on message boards and radio shows, but that won’t get any attention.  You need something fairly original and flashy – like posting an ad on Craigslist.  The ad (which has since been removed) refers to Riley as a pet.  It is a healthy mix of satire and passive aggression:  “He would be better off with a gentler home where less is expected of him.”  Hilarious, right?

Wrong.

Firing a coach in his first year is such an absurd notion that it’s not worth wasting the keystrokes.  It is just not going to happen.  Feel free to re-read the first two sentences as necessary.  Therefore, the only thing this ad accomplishes is making Riley’s tenure look even more precarious than it truly is.  This story got some run nationally, and I guarantee it will come up in the living rooms of potential recruits as they tell kids to avoid a situation where the “greatest fans in college football” think their coach is a joke.

Nebraska’s greatest asset is the passion of its fans.  All of the things that keep Nebraska what it was – and can be again – are directly tied to the fan base.  So when one fan thinks he’s a funny guy, it hurts the reputation of those of us who stand by the program, regardless of who is in charge.  If you really feel that strongly about Riley, there are ways to make your point to the decision-makers (i.e. financially) without causing damage to the program’s reputation.

Do we hear boos this year?  Between the tradition of winning, and the collective class of the best fans in college football, Nebraska coaches and players rarely hear boos at home.  Refs get booed.  Sometimes NU’s opponent gets booed.  But it’s pretty rare to hear boos directed at the guys wearing the “N”.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but the last time there was booing directed at the Huskers was in 2011 against Ohio State.*

*And we remember how well that was received….

Don’t be surprised if we hear some boos against Michigan State or when Iowa comes to town.  If the Huskers get down early, struggle on offense and/or defense, or look similar to how they played against Purdue, expect the boos to rain down from a frustrated fan base not used to losing.

I do not believe in, nor condone, booing college kids.  Period.  If you want to argue that a coach making six figures should be booed for poor performance…well, that’s your prerogative.  I’ll won’t stop you from booing, but I definitely won’t join in.

Will the goalposts survive the season?  To the best of my memory (and Google abilities), the goalposts in Memorial Stadium have not come down since #3 Nebraska beat #2 Colorado in 1994.  Over those 21 years, the goalposts have survived due to a combination of hubris (“we’re Nebraska, we don’t do that”) and lack of opportunities (only six wins over ranked teams at home since the 2001 OU game, and only one against a Top 10 team – #9 Michigan State in 2011).

But could that change?  Michigan State comes into Lincoln ranked #6.  Iowa is currently #10, and should continue to climb as the teams in front of them lose.  Given the poor season NU has had, the thrill of upsetting an undefeated conference team (I initially typed “rival”, but deleted it), and the passion of Husker fans, I could see it happening.  Obviously, there is the sizable hurdle of 3-6 Nebraska finding a way to knock off a Top 10 team, but should that happen, well, don’t be surprised if they come down.

The good news is, even though NU might be out of practice, the goalposts should come down fairly easily.  During the BYU game they showed a shot of the North Stadium posts on HuskerVision.  You could see some rust forming where the upright meets the crossbar.  Twenty-one years is a long time.

 

 

 

 

The Greatest of All Time and the (North)worst of the Year

27 Oct

Thanks for stopping by!  While I am very grateful for those who take the time to read my work, I would greatly it if you read this one on HuskerMax.com.  

Why?  As a writer for the site, I earn a fraction of a penny per page view.  And with three mouths to feed, and a poor wife who becomes a football widow 12 Saturdays a year, I need those penny parts to keep everybody happy.  

Thank you,

Feit Can Write

Continue reading

B1G Power Rankings – Week of 10/5/2015

24 Oct

All season, I’ll be ranking the teams in the Big Ten from one to Maryland.  To see my predictions for how the season will play out, click here.

As always, if you think I’m right, wrong, or clinically insane, let me know in the comments.

Prepare to disagree…

  1. Ohio State.  The Buckeyes can continue to muddle and struggle along for another month as they should be heavy favorites over Rutgers, Minnesota, and Illinois.  But eventually, they’ll have to play championship level football.
  2. Michigan State.  Yes, Sparty’s win was an absolute fluke, but a win is a win.
  3. Michigan.  “Golly gee, what an unfortunate way to lose a game in the final seconds” – Mike Riley, probably.  The Wolverines are the first of four teams taking this week off, which means a lot of time to potentially dwell on that epic loss.
  4. Iowa.  The Hawkeyes continue to take care of business and get a week off to rest and prepare for a stretch run at an undefeated regular season.
  5. Wisconsin.  There is a pretty steep drop off between # 4 and #5 in the league, and one could make an argument for a handful of teams in this spot.  Wisconsin gets the nod for now, but I’m willing to drop them down if another team gets hot.
  6. Penn State.  I’ll be honest, this is probably way too high for the Nitany Lions, but their lone conference loss is to the league’s best team.  Nobody below them can make that claim.
  7. Illinois.  Speaking of being ranked too high, here are the Fighting Illini.  They were idle last week after beating Nebraska and narrowly lowing to Iowa.  Are they a legitimate middle tier team?  This week’s game against Wisconsin will go a long way to deciding that.
  8. Northwestern.  After starting out at a blazing 5-0, the Wildcats are falling apart losing to Michigan and Iowa by a combined score of 78-10.  Pat Fitzgerald’s team usually plays Nebraska tough, so they could get back on track with a win in Lincoln.
  9. Nebraska.  It’s tough to overstate just how important the 48-25 win over Minnesota was for this team.  Not only does it give them possession of the $5 Bits of Broken Chair trophy for the first time, it also takes a lot of heat off of Mike Riley and his team.  Let’s see if they can continue their momentum against Northwestern.
  10. Minnesota.  Good news:  after getting thumped at home by Nebraska, the Gophers have a week off to get things back on track.  Bad news:  their next three games are Michigan, at Ohio State, and at Iowa.  Yikes.
  11. Indiana.  The bottom tier starts out with the confusing Hoosiers.  They go into the Horseshoe and hold Ohio State to 34 points.  Then two weeks later, they allow Rutgers to score 55.  The Hoosiers have an upset opportunity if they can catch Sparty in a Wolverine hangover.
  12. Rutgers.  I missed last week, so I did not get a chance to properly mock Rutgers for losing an upset chance against Michigan State by spiking the ball on fourth down.  It’s a good thing they beat Indiana, as the Scarlet Knights may not win again for another month.
  13. Purdue.  Losers of five straight, the Boilermakers limp into their bye week dangerously close to being the first conference team eliminated from a bowl game.
  14. Maryland.  The Terrapins allowed 42 points to Idle last week.

Playing For Bits of a Broken Season

19 Oct

Thanks for stopping by!  While I am very grateful for those who take the time to read my work, I would greatly it if you read this one on HuskerMax.com.  

Why?  As a writer for the site, I earn a fraction of a penny per page view.  And with three mouths to feed, and a poor wife who becomes a football widow 12 Saturdays a year, I need those penny parts to keep everybody happy.  

Thank you,

Feit Can Write

Continue reading

Another Bad(ger) Break

12 Oct

Thanks for stopping by!  While I am very grateful for those who take the time to read my work, I would greatly it if you read this one on HuskerMax.com.  

Why?  As a writer for the site, I earn a fraction of a penny per page view.  And with three mouths to feed, and a poor wife who becomes a football widow 12 Saturdays a year, I need those penny parts to keep everybody happy.  

Thank you,

Feit Can Write

Continue reading

B1G Power Rankings – Week of 10/5/2015

8 Oct

All season, I’ll be ranking the teams in the Big Ten from one to Maryland.  To see my predictions for how the season will play out, click here.

As always, if you think I’m right, wrong, or clinically insane, let me know in the comments.

Prepare to disagree…

  1. Ohio State – Yeah, I know the Buckeyes are still not clicking on all cylinders.  But a game with Maryland should be a good way to work out some of the kinks.
  2. Michigan State – What do the Spartans have to do to jump Ohio State?  For starters, they can avoid falling asleep at the wheel like they did with Purdue.  They were probably looking ahead to Rutgers.  Put away the lesser teams and move on.
  3. Northwestern.  Northwestern is off to an amazing start, and a shutout over Minnesota makes them the current best of the West.  Now the challenge is to keep that title over their next three games (at Michigan, Iowa, at Nebraska).
  4. Michigan.  I thought about having the Wolverines at #3, but gave the nod to Northwestern for their overall body of work.  Besides, blowing out Maryland isn’t exactly newsworthy.  Beat the Wildcats and we’ll talk.
  5. Iowa.  Who is this team, and what have they done with Ferentz’s Follies?  I’m not sold on Iowa in the long-term, but give them credit for what they’ve done so far.
  6. Indiana.  Was taking Ohio State deep into the fourth a sign of progress or a fluke?  For progress, the Hoosiers will need to beat Penn State this week, not just play them close.
  7. Wisconsin.  The injury bug has hit the Badgers hard.  Fortunately, their next four opponents (NU, Purdue, Illinois, Rutgers) are a combined 9-7, with Illinois having the best record of the bunch.
  8. Illinois.  Give credit to the Illini for hanging around and finding a way to beat Nebraska.  But they’ll need to play better for the other 59 minutes to beat Iowa.
  9. Minnesota.  Minnesota’s total points in 2015 (77) will likely be matched by Baylor when they play Kansas this weekend.  The lack of offense at Minnesota is startling – even by Big Ten standards.
  10. Penn State.  I continue to be underwhelmed by what I see out of Penn State.  I’m not sure if that will change this year.
  11. Nebraska.  You have to go back a long ways to find a more surprising and painful conference loss than Illinois.  The Huskers must bounce back, and quick.
  12. Purdue.  Credit to the Boilers for not quitting against Michigan State.  If they can score 21 point this week, they’ll have a great chance against Minnesota.
  13. Rutgers.  Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald had a great line on Saturday:  “Rutgers is idle, and should remain that way.”  No arguments here.
  14. Maryland.  The Terps should be thankful that Hurricane Joaquin knocked them out of prime time.  Maryland’s three losses have been by 21, 39, and 28 points.  On a related note, South Florida (who Maryland beat by 18) must be a horrible team.
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