I've been sick to my stomach for about three days now and you can be assured that it isn't from the alcohol I had last weekend. It isn't from Minnesotan fans either, as most of them have been pretty gracious and the ribbing they've given me has been largely in fun.
No, that lousy feeling in the bottom of my stomach comes from losing. Internally we trot out the same old stuff when Nebraska loses, especially to a team they shouldn't. You're familiar with the same old stuff - "Why do I bother caring about this?", "I'm not watching the rest of the season", "Maybe I should get a dog", "Why can't I win the lottery, buy my own island and start my own country with my own damned football teams" - you know, the same old arguments.
Many of you know I live in Minnesota and work as an IT consultant. Had a conversation earlier today with a Minnesota native colleague and it ended with her saying "It's just football", a phrase which normally irritates the holy hell out of me. I typically go into tirades about lack of passion. The answer I gave this time was more rational explanation than emotion.
"Not to Nebraska", I said. "Football defines the state. This isn't a good thing, especially if football ceases to exist in 20 years."
Is that the right answer?
The weekend started with a celebration of sorts about how football defines the state. Friday night I headed to the Mall of America for the Minnesotans for Nebraska (MN4NE) gathering. I met Through These Gates' director Ryan Tweedy and his wife Irina, and spent a fair amount of time talking to them, David Max from Huskermax.com (have to get the name drops in here) and many other Husker fans. There were hundreds in attendance, many of whom attended the movie. There were enough that the early session sold out and they had a second one.
Saturday started decently, Mrs CN and I heading off to the game. We haven't attended a college game together for a while. The game started well, too, with the Huskers jumping out to the 10-0 lead. You could tell from the mixture of Minnesota and Nebraska fans in our section that everyone thought it would be business as usual.
Minnesota does that first down cheer that average programs do. You know the one, after every first down the announcer goes "It's another Minnesota..." and the crowd responds "FIRST DOWN!". A couple of Husker fans behind me made fun of that cheer in the first half, largely because the crowd response was only marginal and partially because they complained about everything throughout the game.
At the start of the second half, everyone expected more of the same that's happened since 1960 - Minnesota would collapse and Nebraska would destroy them.
In the middle of the third quarter, after watching yet another Minnesota seven or eight yard gain up the middle, I turned to the Gopher fans next to me and bluntly stated "This game is over". The Minnesota fans responded, "You haven't see the ways we can lose!". (They all said the same thing, really, it was almost in unison.)
At the beginning of the fourth quarter I stood up and screamed "YOU CAN COLLAPSE NOW MINNESOTA!", mostly because I knew it would make the Gophers around me cringe. It did not, unfortunately, make them collapse. The crowd response to "FIRST DOWN" grew more excited as the fourth quarter wore on.
When Minnesota scored their final touchdown, an older Gopher fan (older than me, okay?) turned to us with an apologetic, shocked look on his face and stated, "I never thought I'd live to see Minnesota beat Nebraska." Most of the Husker fans around us had left well before that.
I smiled and said, "Now the Vikings need to win a Super Bowl", because I'm kind of a bastard like that. We both laughed about it, then Mrs. CN and I watched as the Minnesota students, fans, mascots, everyone stormed the field. There were so many of them, and they just kept coming. I have photos. I'll post some later.
I congratulated the Minnesota fans as I left. Honestly, I didn't know what else to do. Mostly I just said "Merry Christmas!". Since 1960, Nebraska had been kicking their asses. After 53 years, it had to seem like Christmas for them.
Monday I went to a customer site. One of the guys there is a Minnesota season ticket holder. Friday he had walked up to me with a little white flag, given it to me and said he'd already surrendered. The first thing I did Monday was take that flag and walk into his office. He was sitting there smiling, turned toward the door waiting for me. He was wearing his University of Minnesota Gophers tie. He told me he wears that tie the day after every win. After Minnesota beat Northwestern he said "I don't know if I'll be able to wear it again this year".
This Nebraska team has a lot of problems. They were evident on the field Saturday and they've been covered on other sites already, so I won't go into them here.
Yesterday and today I've been asked about this loss. Minnesotans want to know if Bo Pelini will be fired. What will happen to your program, they ask?
I tell them Pelini has the rest of the season to figure it out, but that firing isn't enough. Someone has to be punished. Someone has to be burned alive. Someone has to be "THAT GUY". Right now THAT GUY looks like Taylor Martinez. The fan base is disemboweling players, coaches and then itself as things come full circle. THAT GUY has to pay for our unanswered prayers, even if he's not the one directly responsible. This concept of wanting someone burned alive isn't unique to Nebraska (Andrew Bagget) or football (Steve Bartman), nor it is unique to sports (I really don't need to put a reference here, do I?).
This afternoon another colleague walked into where I was working.
"What was the score...", he started, then paused and briefly looked at his shoes.
"I can't even gloat properly. We're so not used to this."
We discussed the fact that Gophers could have a shot at the division, although he said "It'll probably come all crashing down against Indiana this week."
I shot back with, "Hey, keep the faith!", and then wondered why I said that. Keep the faith, man. Hope your team builds a successful program until they set expectations so high they're not capable of being met by mortal men and when they aren't you too will want someone burned alive and then you can feel guilty about that.
The weekend started so well.