→ Moments That Linger
There are moments in sports that linger in your memory. Sometimes it is just the magnitude of the moment. For example, Cory Schlesinger rumbling, tumbling into the end zone to put Nebraska ahead of Miami in the Orange Bowl and Tom Osborne on the verge of his first National Championship. When the game was over, I shed tears of joy, the only time I can remember crying from happiness. It had been so long a road. There was so much that lead up to that moment.
The moment moved me. It was an enormous moment for all of us because of the enormity of the situation. The magnitude made the moment memorable. It still lingers.
I’ve been thinking a great deal since Saturday about memories, and moments, and being moved by them. Movies do it so well. Images, playing out in slow motion, the swelling of inspiring music, the faces of winners and losers. It’s cinematic magic. It feels real.
It’s Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford in “The Natural”) hitting the lights, running the bases as the sparks rain down around him and Roy, somehow magically, he appears to be part of the cosmos. It’s acceptable for grown men to be moved to tears by the moment.
It’s the end of a journey.
How about “Brian’s Song?” The original version please. A journey for both Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo. Grown men can still cry thinking about it. I know.
Jimmy Chitwood’s final shot. Movies do it so well.
I didn’t cry Saturday night, but I could have. It was the end of a journey too. I wonder whose journey it really was, Tommy Armstrong’s or the fans? I won’t replay the scene. We all know the four year plot of this one. Good Tommy and Bad Tommy. Love one and hate the other, and then, in the space of a week, we finally see our moment that lingers.
Will Tommy even play? Yes, he will start. How will he play? Will he run the ball or just hand off and occasionally throw? He goes down. Will he get back up? At least it’s not another concussion. The crowd now chants “Tommy, Tommy, Tommy.” But that’s not the moment. Not yet. He comes back in again, leads the game winning drive, runs the ball in for the game winner, and gets carried off the field by Jerald Foster and Tanner Farmer. That’s the moment.
That’s the end of the journey.
There are games still to be played. Never mind. Bring up the music and roll the credits. Let the grown men shed a tear if they want to, for finally, Tommy Armstrong will be embraced for who he is.
He won’t be remembered as the greatest Nebraska quarterback ever. Or the most talented.
But he should be remembered as the toughest. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. He made the journey, took the punishment and the blaming, and never complained. And now he has his Roy Hobbs, his Jimmy Chitwood moment. Strike up the band. Roll out all the credit that is due to Tommy Armstrong, Jr. He, at the end of a long and troubled journey, has given me a moment that will always linger.
I was lucky enough to be there. I am grateful. I hope we all are.
Those single moments are so rare, and thank God they are.
→ Time to prove it.
This was the first weekend of the 2016 college sports season. Volleyball, and most exciting for me, Nebraska volleyball, had a big weekend, with the Huskers dominating Florida and Texas, both preseason Top 10 teams. The Big 10 as a conference was almost as successful.
College football begins in earnest next week. This should be a time of unbridled optimism for college football fans. That’s the way it’s supposed to be on opening day. I wish Nebraska fans felt that, it’s not the case. It’s a strange experience and not one I want to accept. I went into the Big Red Etc in North Platte yesterday, looking for the new merchandise, hoping there would be an original, clever t-shirt. My thinking was that it was time now to get my game face on. I found nothing.
It seems symbolic. We want to find that enthusiasm, the hope, the belief that we are Husker Nation and that we believe in our team and ourselves. I really want to believe. Yet when I was asked last week if I was ready for a new season, I could say “yes, but . . .” and then I had trouble finding the words. It’s hard to say I believe in the future, when our immediate past seems so disappointing. Why won’t the victories in 2015 over Michigan State and UCLA carry us through an off-season? They should, but they haven’t.
The last three weeks are a big factor. Keith Williams. Derrion Grim. The tragedy of Sam Foltz death. It’s too much, too much on top of a 6 win, 7 loss season. Tommy Armstrong’s interceptions. Purdue. Illinois. Even Bo. Go back further. Callahan. The Solich firing. The debacle in Boulder. I feel beaten down.
Where do I go to find the fire of a new season? I really want to feel it again. I don’t feel like I’ve lost hope. I don’t think I care any less. I really do believe in, and like, Mike Riley. I think he’s put together a quality staff. I think they are recruiting good players, upgrading the talent level (and we do need better players). I look at the schedule and see a minimum of eight wins. Eleven isn’t out of the question. Nine seems a reasonable expectation. This can be a good year, maybe very good.
We have a four year starter at quarterback who will own many passing records at Nebraska when he’s done. There are young potential stars at most positions and more talent visiting as recruits than we have seen for a long time, maybe ever, standing on the sideline. We still have the sellout streak. We are generally recognized as one of the blue-blood programs in college football, even if we haven’t won a championship in so long that the current players have little or no personal memory of one.
We are special. This is a special place. I could go into a detailed analysis of positions and scheduling, the conference, and match ups, but there are others who do that much better than I ever could. I could write about Tommy Armstrong penchant for locking on to one receiver and trying to force something that isn’t there. I could write about luck and confidence and momentum. I could wonder why Lee Barfknecht needs to write about toughness and somehow include Connie Yori in the discussion. Sometimes I just don’t understand what’s happening.
But it’s that time of year. Strike up “Hail Varsity.” Say “Hello, how are you?” to the people in the stadium that I haven’t seen for nine months. It’s a great time of year.
So next Saturday, when I smell runzas and hot dogs, when I hear the band, when I see the Sea of Red and stand and sing and clap and watch the tunnel walk, all those traditions that have built a lifetime of memories for me, I hope I’ll find that belief in myself, because that’s where it must first be. The coaches will have it. The players will have it; of that, I am totally confident. I hope I’ll believe also.
→ A Sense of Impending Doom
An interesting fact was posted on Reddit in the Nebraska-Wisconsin post game thread. Nebraska has been tied or better with 14 seconds to play in every ballgame. I knew that fact in my head, but reading it is somehow different. Ahead or tied in every ballgame with less than a quarter of a minute to play.
It would be easy to write about how Nebraska is crumbling in the clutch. It would be easy to write about coaches who don’t know how to close out a game. It would be easy to be negative. It wouldn’t be honest. Continue Reading »
→ So Where Are We Now
The start of the Big Ten season is upon us, but I want to start with a look back at what we’ve done so far this season. I’m going to look at all of the Nebraska teams that I’ve watched so far.
So where do we start?
This is Nebraska. We always start with football.
Umm . . .
Yeah, that’s my prevailing feeling. I’m not real excited about writing this particular wrap up. Both wins are fairly uninspiring, but a win is a win. Both losses were gut punches, but neither was an embarrassing loss.
Continue Reading »
→ The Long Drive to Lincoln
The only time I’ve lived east of North Platte was during college and as such most of my memories of Husker football begin either in front of a television or in car. I suppose it is fitting then that the first article I write for a Husker game is written in the passenger seat as I travel from my home in the panhandle with two friends to the opening game of the 2015 football season. We won’t make the full journey tonight, but will complete the last leg tomorrow morning before the game.
As many can probably imagine; in a state as sparsely populated as Nebraska, the can often feel a little long. At night distant farm house lights dot the north and south while a steady stream of white and red passes by me. Passing through an occasional town mostly indistinct to one another for most, are unmistakable for those that have made this journey to Lincoln so many times.
Sidney the home of Cabela’s is expanding beyond what I remember, but each time I pass by, I cannot stop myself from looking at the imposing store north of I-80.
Ogallala, one of my high schools rivals. A class B school in my time, and always a game we circled during basketball season.
Sutherland, home of the Sailors. The school that denied ever hosting a high school invitational golf tournament. An impressive feat considering that the traveling trophy, a large anchor, was sitting in our living room at the time.
North Platte, the equivalent of the big city in a vast sea of small farming towns. Known to many as the hometown of Danny Woodhead, known to many from my home and others as the home of hated rival North Platte St. Pats.
And on to Lexington, and Gothenburg, and Kearney, and Grand Island, and York, and over the last hill into Lincoln.
Those who’ve never driven down I-80 eastbound into Lincoln won’t know this and many who have may not appreciate it, but as you get closer to Lincoln the hills grow tall shrinking your view of the world to a small swale of the Earth until you hit the crest of the next. And as I pass over them each time my eyes strain in front of me. I know that we’ll hit that hill. We’ll crest over it into the morning sun and I’ll see the state capitol, standing against the sky. And I will have arrived back in Lincoln, and it will be football season once again.
→ Husker Football Preview
Another season is upon us and with it brings the eternal hope of our triumphant team grasping the Crystal Football. Yes, I will be deluding myself for at least one more year because the CFP trophy pales in comparison to the Crystal Football.
This year is a transitional year for the Huskers, and as such expectations will be measured. The simple fact is changing coaches rarely works out for the best immediately. Things can be better and things can be worse, but very rarely can they be the best. Continue Reading »
→ New Year. New Team. Still Nebraska.
It was October 31, 1998. Nebraska against Texas in Lincoln. Nebraska had a 47 game home winning streak. This was the Ricky Williams game. Williams had 150 yards rushing and Texas won. I’ve heard that there were Nebraska fans who chanted “Heisman, Heisman.” I didn’t hear them. I’m glad I didn’t hear them. What I did hear were a couple of Texas cheerleaders talking as we left the stadium. One of them said, “Nebraskans must be the nicest people in the world.”
Continue Reading »