Emotions running high in Lincoln
LINCOLN, Neb. -- It is just another game, Bo Pelini said, conveniently going amnesiac since those few seconds in December when Nebraska had defeated Texas 12-10 to win the Big 12 championship. Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy's pass sailed out of bounds, and the clock ran to :00. One of the game officials turned to Pelini and said the game was over.
There are great advantages to amnesia. It avoids heartache and other human qualities that coaches consider anathema to winning football, such as revenge and retribution.
Official Nebraska has made its peace with what happened after those happy few seconds before the striped shirts huddled and returned :01 to the Cowboys Stadium clock. Texas kicker Hunter Lawrence, needing every one of the 18 feet, 6 inches between the goalposts, made a 46-yard field goal and the Longhorns won 13-12.
"Disappointing," Cornhuskers athletic director and resident legend Tom Osborne said Thursday, "but at the same time, we don't feel we were badly treated there, either. We just didn't win the game."
"I don't think they are any different this week than they have been every other week," Pelini said after practice Thursday, referring to his players.
The stance of Official Nebraska is not shared by Unofficial Nebraska. The world has shifted on its axis in the 10 months since the loss to Texas. Nebraska accepted an invitation to join the Big Ten Conference next year, removing a hefty political counterweight to the Longhorns in the Big 12.
Texas' visit to Memorial Stadium on Saturday will be the Last Visit. The history between Texas and Nebraska is not a long one. But the wounds the Longhorns have inflicted upon the Huskers are deep. There is scar tissue. In the 14-year life of the Big 12 Conference, Texas has beaten Nebraska eight times. The combined victory margin in six of those victories is 17 points. The Longhorns have won the past three games by a total of six points.
The marketing arm of the athletic department stoked the fire in July. It unveiled Red Out Around the World, encouraging the wearing of Husker Red by one and all this Saturday. The promotional video ended with: Wear Red, Be Loud, Beat Texas.
Pelini quickly quashed the last two words of that pep talk. At some level, though, Official Nebraska understands what Saturday means to the faithful who have filled every seat of Memorial Stadium for the past 307 games over 48 years.
Osborne felt the need to issue a reminder to Nebraska season-ticket holders this week in an effort to maintain the comity.
"We hope you will blanket the stadium in red, be loud and support your Huskers," Osborne wrote. "Equally important, however, is providing evidence to support Nebraskans' reputation for treating our opponents well. Please be courteous, responsible and respectful of your neighbors and all players, coaches and fans."
The whole idea of Nebraska fans desiring a pound of Longhorns flesh is just so, well, un-Nebraskan. After all, etiquette teachers come to Nebraska to learn how to act. Huskers fans give standing ovations to their team -- and to the other team. For instance, Texas tailback Ricky Williams ripped through the Nebraska defense for 150 yards in 1998. When the small contingent of Longhorns fans in Memorial Stadium began chanting "Heisman! Heisman!" the Huskers fans joined in.
"I was just a little bit concerned because of the Big 12 championship game last year there might be some carryover," Osborne said. "I expect, whether we said anything or not, that Texas fans and the Texas team will be relatively well-treated. You're always concerned about signs in the student section, some things that are a little bit outlandish, or isolated incidents where somebody says something they shouldn't say."
Perhaps Osborne ignored the woman of a certain age who left the practice facility a few minutes after he did Thursday afternoon.
On the front of her red T-shirt were the numbers 10 16 10. On the back was "Judgment Day for the Children of the Horn."
By lunch Thursday, the bookstore in the Nebraska Union had nearly sold out of T-shirts that read:
Downtown, the Nebraska Bookstore has been selling a T-shirt that says, "All My Ex's Live in Texas." Underneath, in smaller type, is added, "Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado & Iowa."
This is not humor that Pelini enjoys. The only gray in the Huskers coach's world exists on the gear he wears to practice.
"You know what?" Pelini said about the Huskers fans. "I just believe this. You're gonna have respect for the traditions, their beliefs, all the things they're going through, but you can't let it influence you and how you do your job. You gotta have respect for that. You have to deal with that. But you don't want it to affect your football team."
His football team is well-trained. The emotions of a farewell tour through the Big 12, of leaving behind more than a century's worth of history with the Jayhawks and Cyclones, et al, are lost on the Huskers.
"Our mindset stays the same," senior defensive tackle Jared Crick said. "We don't think, 'This is the last time ' For me and a lot of the guys, it's the last time we're playing anyway."
The players would have to be blind and deaf not to feel the emotions teeming on campus. On the Greenspace, the large lawn in the middle of campus, the student-run University Program Council staged a hip-hop concert Thursday night featuring Big Boi.
A life-size cutout of Big Boi stood outside the Union on Thursday. It said, in part, "Big Boi. Big Red. Big Win." After the "Red Out" controversy over the summer, the UPC couldn't mention Texas. It is no accident that the UPC staged the concert before this game, though.
"Texas is a really big game for us," said UPC president Jodie Meis, a senior from Grand Island, Neb.
"After the Big 12 championship game, you can't say Nebraska fans were pleased with what happened. We want revenge, obviously."
The concert began with a pep rally, including the cheerleaders and six players. The opening act, Macklemore, got a lukewarm reception from the crowd until he said, "Scream if you hate Texas."
"Damn," Macklemore said after the response, "I should have just said that from the very beginning."
When Big Boi and his fellow hip-hoppers took the stage, they interspersed their songs with, "If we gon' whip Texas' asses, make some [expletive] noise!"
The players heard it. With the speakers dialed up to 11, everyone in Lancaster County heard it. That sentiment is there, no matter how Osborne and Pelini pretend otherwise. Nebraska fans will be nice Saturday because that's who they are. But beneath those smiles, there is a lot of emotion.
You can read those emotions, if not on their sleeves, then on their shirts.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.
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