Posted by: trevormeers | September 6, 2011

Just Another Day In Husker Nation

Old-school as it is, I still like picking up the local newspaper when I’m in a town. Partly that’s because I haven’t forgotten my college training as a newspaper man. But mostly it’s because there’s still no better taste of a town’s mood than a good old dead-tree newspaper, complete with hard-copy evidence of which stories the editors consider important enough to put under a large headline above an honest-to-goodness fold on a tangible front page.

This weekend, we were back in our collective old stomping ground of Lincoln, Nebraska, so it was with a special rooting interest that I sat down on my parents’ couch to see what the Sunday Lincoln Journal-Star had to share.

The lead story was easy to predict, this being a weekend in September. Topping the page was a color photo of Husker fullback Lance Burkhead hurdling a couple of University of Tennessee-Chattanooga defenders on his way to a big day. The big C on the Moccasins’ helmets might as well stand for catalyst. Last year, the Mocs played Auburn, the eventual national champion. The year before, they faced Alabama, eventual national champion. Before that, they played Oklahoma, eventual national runner-up. The Huskers, of course, are hoping some of that whup-the-Mocs mojo continues this year after they won 40-7. (Or the C could simply stand for cha-ching, since Chattanooga probably funds its entire athletic department each year with the fat payment it receives as compensation for the annual drubbing in the scrimmages, er, games against big-time programs.)

The Saturday paper 24 hours earlier said even more about the heart of Husker nation, which has sold out every game at Memorial Stadium since 1962. The headline: “Couple battles it out over Huskers tickets.” The story told about a man and wife waiting in divorce court to learn who would get the Husker season tickets she brought into the marriage years ago. The judge ultimately ruled that she could keep them since she was the original owner. It was for the best, her attorney said, because splitting the tickets would’ve led to the ex-husband sitting next to his ex-mother-in-law during games. “That would have been awkward,” the lawyer said.

Another story on the same page reported on a decades-long feud between Robert Kully and William Goldman, who once shared a set of season tickets. In the late ‘70s, Goldman suddenly bumped Kully so he could give the tickets to his business cronies. Naturally, this being Husker tickets we’re talking about, Kully sued. A judge ruled that the two should split the seats, saying, “The ultimate justice is that these past friends and present antagonists shall be forced in the future to partake of the holy ritual of Big Red football while seated in proximity to each other.” On appeal, the Nebraska Supreme Court overruled the decision, giving all the tickets to Goldman. The friends haven’t spoken since 1981. “We don’t have a relationship, and I don’t intend to pursue one,” Kully said.

Below the Sunday paper’s front-page story about the Chattanooga game was a lengthy investigative piece about the University of Nebraska’s expulsion from the Association of American Universities after a century of membership. The convoluted situation boils down to the fact that the presidents of Wisconsin and Michigan were instrumental votes in making Nebraska the first university to be booted from this elite academic club. It’s not welcome news as the Huskers start their first season in the Big 10 conference, where they’ve been publicly welcomed with much acclaim—and where every other school belongs to the AAU.

Deep inside the academic story is a sidebar that deflates a bit of Cornhusker fans’ persistent belief that the University of Texas was out to get us (or gig us, as Longhorns fans say). Turns out, the UT president actually had Nebraska’s back in this squabble. This muddies up the beloved Husker mythology about how Texas has been jobbing us since the formation of the Big 12 conference. Without a doubt, the Horns have been gigging the Huskers on the field, with the most painful defeats being back-to-back losses in the last two Big 12 championship games. 2009, in particular, still fuels angst in red-decorated basements across Nebraska since refs granted the Horns one extra second at the end, giving Texas enough time to boot a field goal and win by one point.

As proven by that last paragraph slipping from academics to field goals, it’s easy in Nebraska to forget that there’s a university somewhere attached to the football team. But the academic slight engineered by Wisconsin and Michigan will be perfect bulletin board material when the Huskers first meet the Badgers and Wolverines in conference play in a couple of months. In fact, at a football game for my friend’s son Sunday afternoon in Lincoln, I already heard one unshaven guy in a camouflage cap griping about the academic story. “You know,” he said, “the Huskers were in the paper yesterday. No! Not about the game! We’re the #3 research school in the country, and they kicked us out of a grant thing. Wouldna’ joined the Big 10 in the first place if we’d known that!” I wanted to tell him that he had roughly half the facts wrong, but he was already expanding the discussion. “It’s a terrible football conference anyway. Who do they have? Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State? Those are their best?”

“They’re no Kansas, that’s for sure,” I said. But he was already back to harassing the refs over a blown fumble call a half-hour ago when one team of 12-year-olds was still up by only 20.

In Husker Nation, it doesn’t take us long to sniff out conspiracies, even in a new conference. In time (say, by the time you read this), most fans will surely forget the details of the AAU story, even if they remember that Wisconsin and Michigan were out to get us. Because when you look back at Husker history, you might be able to let the academic jockeying go, but, brother, we’ll never quit wishing we had that last second back against Texas.



  1. You summed up the experience perfectly! We’ll let you know if we come across crazy camo cap guy again this season at the games.

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