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July 25, 2001

The Desert Husker • Bill Marks

You're a Husker. Be Proud.

I heard a darn funny joke the other day. What does the "N" on the side of the Nebraska helmet stand for? Give up? KNOWLEDGE!

What? You've heard that one before? Eighty-seven times?!?

Well, me too actually. And it isn't one of those jokes that gets funnier after you've heard it over and over again.

It's not that I don't have a sense of humor about the Big Red. I'm a serious fan, but if someone gets off a funny and good-natured shot on the Cornhuskers, I can appreciate and laugh at it. It's just that when opposing fans lob witticisms and criticisms at Nebraska football, their efforts tend to lack some imagination and originality.

So what can be done to combat the barrage of misinformation we encounter on a regular basis? How can you non-violently silence the Big Red critics? If you were ever a Boy Scout, you know the answer - Be Prepared! (If you were a Girl Scout - send me some thin mints!)

Granted, the more mature way to deal with such criticisms would be to simply ignore them. But mature advice would make for a really short column. Instead, let's take a look at the most common critiques in order to dissect and disprove them. In the spirit of being prepared while eating Girl Scout cookies, here is a list of often-heard, jealousy-inspired, anti-husker sentiments:

"Nebraska only wins because they recruit criminals."

This seems to be the most prevalent criticism of the Huskers, and it usually comes from an opposing fan who has just seen his or her team come out on the wrong end of a serious butt kicking. Sure, Coaches Osborne and Solich have had a few troublemakers on the team, but what major college coach hasn't?

While criminal incidents involving Nebraska football players are extremely frustrating to the fans, the coaches and the rest of the team, right now this is an area where our football program is no better and no worse than its peers. Take a look at the college football newswires some time and you'll see player arrests happening all over, and not just at Miami or USC.

The fact is, each year Nebraska has more than 100 young men on the football team. Over the course of their careers, all but a few of those players will go to class, practice and play hard without making headlines off the football field. Sure, the coaching staff would love to have a team full of guys like Mike Brown and Grant Wistrom, who are winners on and off the field, but while that's a good goal, it may not be a realistic one. The bottom line is, young people sometimes do stupid things - in Tallahassee, Austin, Boulder and, yes, in Lincoln. And when a school has had a reputation of being squeaky clean, the headlines get magnified.

"Nebraska is always running up the score."

To me, this is about the stupidest criticism out there. What exactly is running up the score? Have you ever been watching a baseball game where one team is way ahead so they intentionally start swinging at pitches in the dirt? Or a lopsided basketball game where members of the winning team start intentionally throwing bounce-passes into the stands? Of course not.

This isn't to say that there aren't excesses. If a team is up by seven touchdowns with a few minutes left in the game and the coach is still playing his starters, that's not only bush league, it's dumb. Any intelligent coach is going to take such opportunities to rest his starters and keep them healthy, while developing the back-ups.

Still people whine about running up the score. Here's an example that still gets to me. In 1995, Nebraska was clobbering Arizona State in the fourth quarter, when Matt Turman -- a third-string walk-on quarterback who was generously listed as 5-10 in the press guide -- threw a long touchdown pass to fellow Husker walk-on Lance Brown. After the game, then-ASU coach Bruce Snyder gave Coach Osborne an earful, claiming T.O. was running up the score.

Come on! This wasn't the Akron Zips. It was huge school from the PAC-10. If they couldn't stop Nebraska's third and fourth teamers, I say that was Snyder's problem, not Dr. Tom's. In fact, Snyder should have been the one apologizing for not having his squad ready to be competitive.

No doubt, NU will continue to beat bad teams in a serious way, and opposing coaches and fans will occasionally complain about it. I figure this is a good thing. It lets us know things are going well. If you start hearing Husker fans complaining about having the score run up on them, then it's time to worry.

"The Nebraska offense is really boring to watch."

You know what's boring? Watching a team throw 75 three-yard passes each game. (They call it the West Coast offense). Not only is it boring, the games take six hours because the clock stops with every incomplete pass. It's like watching "Titanic" in slow motion after taking a double dose of Nyquil.

Maybe I've been following this team for too long and have lost my perspective, but I think watching the intricacies of the option/power-I offense is as exciting as college football gets. When set up by the power running game and the play action pass, the option can be truly a beautiful thing.

Don't buy it? Watch a tape of the 1996 Fiesta Bowl when the Cornhuskers ran all over a good Florida team. If you don't think Steve Spurrier's pained expressions and visor-throwing fits are fun to watch, you need help.

"Sure the Cornhuskers have good fans. What else is there to do in Nebraska?"

Another classic sour grapes comment. Despite popular lore in other parts of the country, Nebraska fans do have lives on the 350-plus days the Husker football team isn't playing. We work, we raise families, we spend time with friends�true, all that stuff isn't as fun as watching football, but it helps pass the time between games.

After living in Lincoln for 23 years, I moved to the Phoenix area. When I'm not working or spending time with my family, I'm playing golf, riding my bike or watching sports - pretty much the same stuff I did when I lived in Nebraska (I'm just a lot warmer while doing it.)

Yes, Nebraska fans are passionate. Yes, they spend a lot of time, effort and money cheering on the Big Red. So what? This is what makes Cornhusker football so great. I hope that never changes.

You're a Husker. Be proud.

Bill Marks, a.k.a. the Desert Husker, is a professional business writer and consultant living in Chandler, Ariz. He is a long-time Husker fan and can be contacted at [email protected].

Previous column: 07/18/2001