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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.”
Visit Nebraska. Visit Nice.
I’ve been trying to come up with something original, something clever or enlightening or at least new to say now that game week has arrived. I’ve been following Nebraska football since 1962. That’s a lot of opening days. We’ve seen first games by Bob Devaney (actually I only read the World-Herald story about it), Tom Osborne, Frank Solich, Bill Callahan, and Bo Pelini. We’ve seen wins and losses. We’ve celebrated and cheered and debated and lamented.
And now I have just one dominating thought about where we are.
Mike Riley fits in well here because he gets it. Mike Riley is nice. He’s a really nice man.
He’s done all sorts of things, most of them right, since he arrived. We are comfortable with him. We trust him.
We want to believe in him. He’s nice.
But scratch this fan right now and lurking just below the surface you’ll find someone who wants to believe, who knows it will take time, but who has some doubts too. I always knew the juggernaut that I knew as Nebraska football was fragile. At least, I knew it could change, that we weren’t always going to win (easily) and then cheer for the opponent as they left the field. That was a lot easier then, wasn’t it?
So where do we go now?
What should we expect on Saturday?
I expect excitement. I expect optimism. I expect everyone to cheer lustily for the Tunnel Walk, one that will emphasize tradition. I expect that we will eat runzas and Val’s pizza and I expect to say, at some point, just like I have for several opening days, “I love the smell of Fairbury hot dogs in the morning. It smells like . . .victory.”
That’s what I do. That’s what we want to do. It’s opening day.
It’s about time. It’s been too long since December. We care.
We still care.