Cornhuskers ratchet up the heat
For decades, the Nebraska Cornhuskers have been the self-proclaimed kings of institutional class in college football.
Their fans lead the free world in civility and decorum toward opponents -- just ask them. To hear the Big Red faithful tell it, Gandhi could have learned a few things about dignity on a football Saturday in Lincoln.
That context makes this recently released, university-produced video all the more interesting and entertaining. Suddenly, the kings of class have gone Dan Gilbert on the Texas Longhorns -- and turned Oct. 16 into the Bad Blood Game of the Year in the process.
Oh, the Huskers are more subtle than the shrill-shrieking letter writer from Cleveland. But they've rather shockingly eschewed the pretend politeness that dominates intercollegiate interaction in favor of sharp shots at a league rival. In a span of one minute and five seconds, they hung a bull's-eye on Bevo and transformed a midseason game into a midsummer crusade.
When the polished, blood-pumping video ends by flashing the date of Texas' mid-October trip to Lincoln and showing the apparent rallying cry for the season -- "Wear red. Be loud. Beat Texas." -- this rivalry officially reached a full boil. Nebraska got its provocative point across, even copying Mack Brown's slogan for Longhorns fans: "Come early, be loud, stay late, wear orange."
It's a risky move, tacitly declaring that the first five games of the year are mere prelude. But Nebraska, much more accustomed to being the hunted than the hunter and having other programs circle its name on the schedule, clearly is ready to assume the risk.
Still, the video's launch last week as part of a new promotional website, RedOutAroundtheWorld.com, was followed by an inevitable but ineffective backpedal toward pretend politeness. In response to requests for comment, Huskers assistant athletic director Michael Stephens wrote the following to ESPN.com Big 12 blogger David Ubben and myself:
"RedOutAroundtheWorld.com is an athletic department website produced in partnership with the Omaha World-Herald and UNL Communications. I think it is important to note that it is not a 'Beat Texas' site but rather a website that will be used to celebrate, thank and connect Husker fans across the world. In doing this we do hope to create some energy to help our team beat Texas but that certainly is not the sole focus. This will become much clearer when the full site goes live on August 7th."
Until Aug. 7, we can go only with what we've got -- a rare declaration of disdain from one historic football superpower toward another.
Start with the first spoken words on the video: "Nebraska -- a place of integrity, family, commitment." Straight to the value judgments -- and we all know who Big Red believes is lacking in those areas. Think any Cornhusker from athletic director Tom Osborne on down doesn't find Texas deficient in integrity after the nasty finger-pointing between the two schools during realignment mania last month?
In the heat of that crazy time, Longhorns officials circulated the viewpoint that Nebraska's flight to the Big Ten was responsible for jeopardizing the future of the Big 12. The message was constant and consistent: The entire league could crumble if the Huskers fled for the Big Ten.
That was the trigger for Texas and a whopping five other schools to enter into negotiations with the Pac-10. After using Nebraska as the catalyst for a full-on Pac-10 flirtation, the Horns reversed course and led its five potential breakaway partners back into the conference fold.
And that left the short-timer Huskers as the Big 12 bad guys. But that was only the latest skirmish between the two schools.
Last December they met in the Big 12 title game, Texas playing for a spot in the BCS National Championship Game and Nebraska playing to shock the world and win the league's BCS bid. The game stunningly went down to the final play, when a desperation Longhorns drive led to a game-winning field goal after one second was put back on the clock by game officials.
If you want to know how much that 13-12 loss stung the Huskers, all you had to do was read HuskersIllustrated.com on Sunday. At 2:06 p.m., a mere 217 days after the game was played, a thread decrying an interference penalty on the final drive was started. Among the printable sentences:
"First off, [Colt] McCoy threw it away, 2nd the receiver gave up on his route!! Scum sucking refs did not even give Nebraska the decency to get together and talk about picking up the flag."
(As someone replied to the original poster, "You should probably learn to chill.")
That game continued a remarkable run of futility against Texas for the Huskers. They're 4-9 against the Horns, just 1-8 since the two became conference mates in 1996. That includes a current five-game losing streak, the last three decided by a total of six points.
For a school long accustomed to crushing its peers, that's tough to take. So, too, has been the migration of conference clout from Lincoln to Austin.
Nebraska was one of the kingpins of the Big Eight when the league took in a life raft of four schools from the crumbling, corrupt Southwest Conference. But it didn't take long for the Longhorns to flex their muscles, helping block schools from signing partial academic qualifiers and helping usher in a league playoff game. In recent years the disproportionate conference revenue-sharing plan has tilted even more in favor of Texas and Oklahoma in the Big 12 South, and away from Nebraska and its overmatched brethren in the North.
So, yeah, there are a few reasons why Nebraska didn't mind hitting the eject button on any conference that included Texas. And a few reasons why the Corn People dearly want to beat Bevo on their way out the door to the Big Ten.
Tickets to that game were going on StubHub on Sunday for a minimum asking price of $205 and a max of $1,395. None of Nebraska's other six home games was generating minimums of more than $103 or maximums of more than $1,176.
So circle the date. Tune in Oct. 16. See what kind of greeting the self-proclaimed kings of class bestow upon their freshly hated rival. My guess is that Gandhi might not approve.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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