The following was sent to us by Brian Joseph, a reporter for the Orange County Register. His bio is below. - Jon Johnston
By Brian Joseph
There's something wrong with Nebraska football. That's what everybody's thinking, right? After Coach Bo Pelini's latest letdown it seems like the entire Husker Nation is searching for answers and pitching theories. It's the coach's complicated defensive schemes. It's the recruiting. It's Pelini's unwillingness to hire more experienced assistants. It's Taylor Martinez. It's Barney Cotton and the offensive line. It's the football gods.
Whatever your explanation - and I know we're going to keeping talking about this for months to come - the subtext of these discussions are undebatable: Failures like our blowout loss in the Big Ten Championship Game or an 0-3 bowl record shouldn't happen at Nebraska.
I certainly have felt that way. Ever since Jan. 2, 1998 when our beloved Tom Osborne rode off into retirement as a three-time national champion, I've been itching for the Huskers to bring another one of them crystal footballs back to Lincoln. And like many of my corn-headed compatriots I'm none too patient for a return to glory.
Nine- or ten-win seasons don't do it for me. Same with conference championships, honestly, although the small part of my brain that can still think logically when contemplating Nebraska football realizes that regional championships usually come before national ones. I get that. But what I really want is a return to dominance, a return to a simpler time when the college football world stood in fear and awe of Husker Power.
But, man, do blowout losses and bowl defeats tarnish that menacing aura.
I heard the calls for the patience, the fans who reminded me time and time again that it took Osborne years to get past Oklahoma. I didn't care. I was tired of the blowouts, tired of watching someone else walk away with the crown, tired of feeling like my team, my beloved team, was just a pale reflection of its 90s glory.
Then my Dad bought me "Unbeatable", Henry J. Cordes' retrospective of those 90s teams, published by the Omaha World-Herald. When my Dad gave it to me during Thanksgiving, I joked with him that reading it would make me depressed. To be reminded of what we once had when the present is so grim would just be cruel. My quip turned prophetic the following week when I watched in horror as the Badgers ran all over the Blackshirts. "Unbeatable" sat for weeks untouched on my table.
But my passion for the Big Red is strong and after several months of getting used to watching the team every week this season, I missed the Huskers. Sure, I was dreading our matchup with Georgia, but I needed a Nebraska football fix nonetheless. So I picked up the book and returned to a better time.
Only the 90s weren't exactly a wonderful time. Oh sure, we look back on it now and all we remember is Tommie Frazier running down the sidelines and the adrenaline rush of all those wins, but those years were full of struggle. Bitter, bitter struggle. And embarrassment. And national contempt.
Cordes' book is a wonderful trip down memory lane, not because it reveals things you didn't know, but because it reminds you of things you had forgotten. Prior to the 1994 season, the Huskers lost seven consecutive bowl games, the final three to Florida schools, all in the Orange Bowl. The game had passed the Huskers by, some said. It took years of losses for our coaches to elevate the value of speed in their recruiting. Nebraska fans openly questioned whether Osborne and Charlie McBride had what it takes.
Then there were the championship years themselves. Frazier's blood clots. Brook Berringer's collapsed lungs. The Turmanator starting. A quarterback controversy. The national circus surrounding Osborne's handling of Lawrence Phillips domestic violence case and other incidents involving Christian Peters and Tyrone Williams. Fans booing Scott Frost.
And of course there were the things that happened after those glorious seasons, too. Berringer's tragic plane crash. The NFL spurning Frazier. Phillips embarrassing himself and Nebraska over and over and over again.
Here's how Cordes sums up that magical night in the Orange Bowl, when Osborne and the Huskers finally exercised all those demons and silenced a yapping Warren Sapp:
"To the people of Nebraska, the 1994 Huskers would transcend sports, becoming more than just a football team. They'd inspired the state and infused it with an unmatched feeling of joy. That it had taken a generation of heartbreak to get here just made it all the sweeter now. While there was much more yet to come for Osborne and the Huskers, no future accomplishment would be savored more than this one."
Ladies and gentleman, I submit to you that these words encapsulate the Husker fan experience: Years of frustration and struggle punctuated by brief but joyous moments of glory. Nebraska isn't a place of quick fixes and flash. We tried that when we fired Frank Solich and hired Bill Callahan. That's not our way.
No, our way is the harder way, the longer way. We struggle. We fight. We fail. We fail spectacularly. We fail repeatedly. But we fight on. We keep trying. Even with no guarantees, we continue, strong in our faith that it will be worth it some day.
Such a life is not for the faint hearted. But the 90s proved it was worth it, if you can take the pain.
Don't get me wrong. I intend to continue dissecting our games and questioning our coaches with the best of them - after all, that too is part of the Husker experience. But I've decided I'm going to stop seriously worrying whether Pelini is right for the job or whether we're getting the right recruits. That's somebody else's problem.
Instead, I'm going to revel in all it means to be a Husker fan, the ups and downs, the wins and losses. Because, perhaps unlike any other program, it's our struggles as much as our successes that define us. I'm upset as the next guy that we lost to Georgia, but I understand now that being a Husker fan is about more than a single year. As cliché as it sounds, it's the journey that matters.
There's glory in our struggles, Husker Nation. Let's embrace it.
A graduate of Omaha Central High School, Brian Joseph is an investigative reporter and the Sacramento Bureau Chief for the Orange County Register newspaper in California. While a student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Brian risked the wrath of his venomous peers to cheer for Nebraska Cornhuskers.