Khus the Red
This season has found my Red self in a variety of places to take in a Husker game. I’ve been in the open air of Memorial, unsheltered from the Fatherland sky, in the stands in the thick of the screaming faithful. I’ve been deep under the overhang, in that strange little community where your own yells bounce back to you, between an unmoving and very well-heeled lady who silently amassed a pile of sunflower seeds that would make any major-leaguer proud and a kindly old gent who strangely presumed I was there because I worked for the power company. Then it was atop the balcony giving frantic high-fives to random people whom I very well may not even actually like given the chance to know them, and then physically feeling a stadium deflate as the news that “…What? He fumbled after he intercepted it?” swept southward and then barely resisting the urge to leap over the Red rail to the visitors’ section below to shove those tortillas back down their pants, throats, nasal passages or whatever other orifice seemed most instructive. Then it was in a bar full of Hawkeyes and Wolverines, screaming in anguish, ecstasy, then anguish again at what must have seemed like entirely Iowa-inappropriate times. And now, last Saturday, sometime after the ninetieth Fontanelle Hybrids commercial, I slipped into another dimension in which Kansas beats Nebraska. While it’s nice that in this alternate reality I can become crystalline at will and the thumbtacks I ate to distract from the pain of Kansas scoring on a 72-yard touchdown run tasted like bran muffins, I’m still waiting for the portal to open again so I can cross back over to a universe that makes sense.
Ah Kansas, the epicenter of cultural diversity, as long as you’re a white Republican. Now, unbelievably, these little feathered ones which are usually perennial fodder for a routine neck-wringing own scoreboard. This wasn’t how the script to the season was supposed to read. True enough that we played well enough in half of the losses this year that 5-4 coulda been 7-2, but the fact that we nearly bested the best we’ve played is hard to recall in the aftermath of a Hindenburg-quality flameout in Lawrence. The humanity indeed. What kind of team is this? Perhaps we have embraced existentialism too much—we will be what we will be in that slice of time, a present-tense definition and undefined otherwise. But we are playing up for the big guys and down for the middling men, and the mediocre teams are putting it to us. Saturday, we were bested in the worst way and not even the Kansas Board of Education could convince themselves that this three-game tailspin was intelligently designed.
For the pure mirth of it, let’s just be clear that getting rid of Steve Pederson is a laughable cure-all suggestion. You don’t have to love him or hate him or be ambivalent. It’s not Steve Pederson who couldn’t gain a first down on consecutive rushes on second and one and third and oh-my-sweet-and-shiny-deity-it’s-still-only-ONE-YARD. Rumor has it that Steve Pederson is not a very good tackler either. He has gap responsibility issues. But then again, who among us doesn’t after a long night of getting blasted and deciding it’s a good idea to break into the mall for a smash-and-grab for a pair of Relaxed Fit jeans. Just remember folks, there is an evil to be resisted, and yes it goes by the name of Steve. But it’s not Pederson. Usechek, people. Focus. Fight the true enemy.
This was not a heartening thump-down like last year’s OU, nor are there many answers to stop the head-scratching. The positives we did see, or rather hear, were few. Lucky did at last make good on those shifty and speedy promises he’s been making and then breaking with every slip of the turf and impatient bolt into a blocker. He also happened to play a starring role in a series emblematic in how the afternoon went. A brilliant runback for a score gets usecheked and wiped off the board by a ref on the opposite side of the field, so far away from the play that even the Kansans present thought the unidentified player may have been close to the edge of this flat Earth we live on. Then our first offensive play is a tackle for a loss, and from then on we stagger backwards in the possession.
These are the things that get killer. I’ve mentioned the laser-thin line before, and this team cannot afford an entire possession to be wasted, especially one that solidly hands momentum to an opponent on whom you almost put a cleat print on their throat with a special-teams score. The little blue roundballers were still in danger of getting in a scuffle they may not win, but a turn of events such as these goes far beyond the normal damage done. The horsepower of this NU team is just not there. Not yet.
In the aftermath, much has been questioned about player development this year, especially the youngsters. You can look at different teams around the country and see youthful explosiveness streaking into the end zone at seemingly every click of the TV. Quite pretty. Now tell me, these highlight-generating players, which position do they play? Running back, receiver, maybe a soph at QB. No dominant Division I team uses freshmen on the offensive line. That’s a great way to get your QB killed and keep your young studs at RB and WR from doing anything nifty. Where are the young highlight-generating players on the Red? I’ll tell you. On the defensive line, at linebacker, and on the sidelines with a broken leg and a knee full of so many torn cables that it looks like a scene in which a chainsaw attacked a telephone company. This was the area that needed the right-NOW recruiting attention last year and it got it. It has paid off most of the season, even making our shaky secondary look better, as all good front sevens can do. Two of the highest-ranked recruits for next year are…can you guess? Offensive linemen. It has become too familiar to hear the two phrases “Taylor back to pass” and “Taylor with pressure” coming out of an announcer’s mouth so quickly that you could swear they’re being spoken simultaneously. With two freshmen—TWO!—starting on the OL Saturday in Murtha and Slauson, it is quite likely that we’ll hear it again. Porkchop and Lucky need holes. Zac and Beck need time to find the receivers who need the same time to run their routes. Callahan needs a Herian. Steve Usechek needs a clue. The young linemen need to get battle-ready sooner rather than later in ’06, or the Red faithful will need recreational narcotics to get through a schedule that includes USC and Texas.
So in this strange negative-reality, Kansas defeats Nebraska. How odd. But as Jim Rose said during the broadcast, everything happens eventually. So true. Likewise, nothing eventuates occasionally unless something begets another, and often the frequent occurrence rarely continues where it concluded. Porcupine rhubarb. It’s just that simple.
Meanwhile, the lavender kittens head into the Star City after getting pasted by the Clones, 45-17. Both teams will be heading into this game Saturday with a taste of desperation in their mouths, but in KSU’s case, the taste is mingled with the usual hairballs. The two teams statistically are very evenly matched up, but you know what they say: The games aren’t played on monitor screens projecting at a refresh rate of 60 Hertz and a resolution of 1280 x 720. I am concerned that the Red team’s confidence is shaken, so again it will be critical for the crowd to show up painfully loud as early as they can this Saturday. Don’t wait for a reason to let Bill the Snide know you’re there. The moment KSU hops off the boxcar, Red friends…get hostile. I may well be there, swinging the gameday battleaxe with you all and with extra belligerence.
And now, as I look around my Red-carpeted study and its Red-splattered walls, it appears Red reality has returned. Ah, it’s nice to be back. Now then. Where are my thumbtacks?
The mildest purple cat will turn, being trodden on.