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Khus the Red

Luckless

My apologies for being away so long since our last conversation. My non-seafaring schedule is seasonal, and there was a recent blitzkrieg of events that required my full attention.

At last we are only hours away. What we should expect after the first ’04 Tunnel Walk has been plumbed, probed, vivisected and glossed-over many times elsewhere, so we won’t take much time here. But if you want to play the Guess Those Scripted First Fifteen Plays game, a good bet is on short drops and quick, high-percentage passes to the Good Hands people; namely, Matt Herian (still) and Terrence Nunn (suddenly). Settle the QB, provide opportunities for the pitch-and-catch to find a rhythm, and praise-be-to-all-that-is-good-and-holy, at long last truly force an opponent to not place 37 men in the box for the first four consecutive series.

It has been interesting watching the question “Will it work?” drift away from an undercurrent of doubt and slowly morph into a rephrasing of “How well will it work and how soon?” It will be interesting to see what Callahan and Norvell show in this first game. Opponents used to be unprepared for all the different run formations and the variety of option plays run out of them, but now they are intended to be unprepared for the different passing formations and the variety of receivers that run out of them. In the NFL, you peg the redline from game one, quarter one, minute one. I would suspect that holding back is not in Callahan’s game plan once the first-game nerves are settled and the first-down markers are moved.

We know what Callahan intends to do on offense, and we have a pretty good idea of how he will use and protect Dailey. What will be interesting to watch is how aggressively he rotates the backup players in; at this point, nothing is more critical for this team than building depth. Furthermore, the starters cannot afford to get overly fatigued, because that’s when poor technique shows up and injuries occur. Should this game get out of hand for the Leathernecks, I will be very curious to see when Callahan pulls the starters and sends the youngsters into the fray. Mass substitutions late in the third quarter are so dearly missed that the sight of such future-building may well bring a tear to these Red eyes.

Yet there is something greatly disappointing in a remark Callahan made in recent. weeks. I have been very pleased to read about his voluminous note taking and planning, the sheer intensity of his meticulousness. And then he said it. A four-letter word. The “L” word.

Friends, if you only take one piece of advice from me, let it be this: Never put your faith in or give a moment’s credence to this empty concept we call “luck.” No such thing exits. It’s an empty term. It’s a hollow word that humans devised to explain things they could not control or understand. There is no mystical force that smiles on rabbits’ feet, frowns on broken mirrors and collects in the hollow of horseshoes. There is no entity that can be quantified and accumulated by pinches of salt, knocks on wood or the avoidance of dark felines. There is only drive and motivation. There is only choice and responsibility. There is only performance and execution.

I fully expected a man like Callahan to know this, even when giving the standard coach-speak spiel about what it takes to win a championship.

The problem is when “luck” becomes a crutch. Quarterback getting beat up? Bad luck on that blindside hit (No, protection broke down). Running back fumbled? Bad luck on that other player’s knee hitting the ball (No, he should have held on tighter). The opponent kicks the ball to send the game into overtime? Bad luck on a galactic scale (No, the founding fathers of your university should not have signed a deal with the devil or whatever they did that keeps causing these unholy things to happen on your cursed field).

Certainly we must have a word for that nothing we call “luck,” and that word has to be easy to say, as evidenced by the fact that I simply cannot convince Mrs. The Red to replace “lucky” with “fortunate and beneficial happenstance” or even “pleasant coincidence” in our household, try as I might.

Though it looked nightmarish early in fall camp, it is very good—and unexpected—that injuries have not been devastating. But don’t credit the fact that you wore your lucky jersey every day to work to do your part for the team. Don’t think for a second that no torn ACLs was simply due to the capriciousness of fate. If Dailey goes down, don’t blame bad luck. Blaming luck—or any other uncontrollable intangible—is weakness. A team that finds a solution despite injuries, despite bad officiating, despite weather, and especially despite things that do qualify as unforeseeable misfortunes, that is a team that earns its success.

However, the coaches can’t hold the players’ hands all day. If a freak training-parachute accident can cause a (thankfully temporary) ankle injury for Lydon Murtha, one would have to think that it’s at least as possible for a socket wrench to fall from the new stadium addition frame, bounce off of scaffolding four times, carom off the foreman’s hardhat once, deflect off a passing skid loader’s bucket, bounce twice on the sidewalk and wedge itself into the front bicycle spokes of a passing biker, lodge into the front fork, flipping the rider, Joe Dailey, face-first into an elm. Therefore, the obvious logical precaution to take is to cut down all the trees on campus to protect our chances at Kansas State. Given the QB situation, certainly it is no small comfort that Beau Davis has occasionally found a rhythm with the receivers, but he’s still so slight of build that he makes Wil Wheaton look like Hellboy. All in all, many of the number ones aren’t established yet, and the two-deep listing is a roster version of Whack-a-Mole.

But this staff should know a little about protecting a QB; after all, that’s the name of the game in the NFL. Pro teams can only afford to bankroll one starter-caliber signal caller, and we’ve seen what usually happens to the team when that guy goes down. So NU fans should at least rest a little easier knowing that Joe Dailey has a head coach who has spent the last few years protecting an aging, decrepit, fragile, quarterback on his previous team. An aging, decrepit, fragile, formerly curly-haired quarterback. Who wears number 12. And was the league leader in passing under Callahan.

But luck won’t help the Huskers any more than it will save the Leathernecks. Lucklessness is a very good thing. No pretenses, no crutches, no excuses. Time to earn it.