clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Is the Nebraska Blackshirt Tradition Dead?

New, 60 comments

Does one of the most passionate fanbases in America still care about one of their most cherished traditions? Did you even know the Blackshirts haven't been handed out yet?

Blackshirts forever?
Blackshirts forever?
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday I sarcastically joined in on all the #TBT fun on Twitter by reminding Husker Nation we once proudly wore these ridiculous shirts in anticipation of one of the biggest home games in years. We ended up failing to get our revenge against those damn Longhorns, but that wasn't because of our defense.

While the Horns D corralled a young T-Magic and forced Bo to play embattled quarterback Zac Lee for most of the game, the Blackshirts held tough. Yeah, Garrett Gilbert had more than a little success rolling out, but it was a performance respectable enough to uphold the Blackshirts tradition.

Speaking of that, whatever happened to the Blackshirts? I mean, I still see merchandise being sold and giant skulls on the HuskerVision screeens, but is the tradition itself going the way of Billy C's "Pound The Rock" credo? Maybe it's not that bad, but it does seem the tradition has been de-emphasized and begrudgingly brought up to appease the media and all us whiny bloggers.

In case you forgot why we call our boys "Blackshirts", here's a quick refresher from Huskers.com:

Among Nebraska's best-known traditions is that of the Blackshirts, the nickname for the Huskers' defensive unit. The nickname, originally two words (Black Shirts), dates to Bob Devaney's third season as coach and is derived from the black, pullover, contrast jerseys worn by defensive players in practice.

Over time, the distribution of the black pullovers changed. They were no longer handed out before practice and collected afterward. During Tom Osborne's Hall-of-Fame tenure as head coach, members of the top defensive units received Blackshirts at the end of pre-season practice, the week before the opening game. Typically before bowl games, McBride would award all senior defensive players the coveted practice jerseys at the bowl site, to wear during game preparations.

A few years ago it would have seemed pretty trivial to include a refresher of the Blackshirt tradition in an article, especially this late into the season, but considering the lack of even a mention of the tradition from the local media and most message boards it does make you wonder if 1) anybody even really cares when they are handed out anymore or 2) everybody is riding dirty on the Kansas City Royals bandwagon and couldn't care any less about motivational tactics revolving around a dark piece of clothing.

I'm not here to argue whether or not the defensive unit "deserves" the Blackshirts at this point or not, but the lack of chatter about it does surprise me a bit.

I did get some interesting responses when I asked Twitter if anybody in the media has brought up the Blackshirts so far this season though...

As evidenced by the tweets above and the mentions Brian Towle received when he asked if we still cared about the tradition, the Twitteratti was a little more passionate about the tradition than the message board folks who were more or less apathetic about the whole thing.

On top of all this talk by us mere mortals, outside of Dirk's plea to enhance the Nebraska brand, we really haven't heard a peep from the media. Maybe after seven years of dealing with Bo's death stares they've learned their lesson. That, or they know the shirts are about to be handed out.

Here's a summary of when Bo has handed out the Blackshirts:

It looks like we're right in the sweet spot where Bo finally thinks his defensive unit deserves to see those black jerseys hanging from their lockers. Given the dates above and the following quote from Pelini himself regarding the Blackshirt tradition, we shouldn't be surprised by anything now days...

In the early 2000s, the jerseys were hung in players' lockers before the start of the week's practice leading up to the opener. Then they were distributed in a pre-season ceremony, often with more than 11 defenders receiving them. "That's not part of our philosophy," Coach Bo Pelini said.

In his first season as coach, no Blackshirts were awarded until late in the season, after an outstanding defensive effort against Kansas. "Blackshirts are earned on the field," Pelini said.

Pelini's move to delay awarding the Blackshirts until the team "earned it" was a brilliant move when he arrived in Lincoln in 2008. We needed to instill a new mentality and we had to make the term "Blackshirts" mean something again. What does the tradition mean seven seasons later? If he's a defensive wiz and his defenses don't live up to his standards until late in the season, does he need to bring in someone to help him get the boys up to par at the start of the year?

Why does it seem like we care more about the Tunnel Walk music than a tradition that dates back to the Devaney era? If Bo himself changed the Tunnel Walk music would everybody be cool with it?

What if that devil Bill Callahan pulled something like this?

Did Bo succeed in de-emphasizing the whole tradition so the media doesn't inconvenience him with questions regarding the tradition?

What if Bo handed out the Blackshirts Friday morning, making this entire article mostly a waste of time?

So many questions, so many answers...that we need from YOU...in the comments section...NOW.