At Nebraska's 2014 Spring Game, the punch line of Nebraska coach Bo Pelini and his cat reached an epic high point. Frankly, I'm not sure whether ANYTHING can top the Tunnel Walk with his cat.
The cat joke became a national phenomon when the Nebraska coach tweeted at @FauxPelini, his internet doppleganger, during the BCS National Championship game.
@FauxPelini ok enough is enough... I want my cat back. You've had her long enough!— Bo Pelini (@BoPelini) January 7, 2014
And for about 10 minutes, Pelini stole the thunder from Florida State and Auburn as the national media turned away from the game.
Bo just upstaged BCS game RT @BoPelini: @FauxPelini ok enough is enough... I want my cat back. You've had her long enough!— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) January 7, 2014
It didn't end there, though. Defensive coordinator John Papuchis joined in the fun while on a recruiting trip.
Another Day on the grind with the Boss and his cats #catlover #GBR #allergic. Got to love closing time! pic.twitter.com/ePKbGrn3d4— John Papuchis (@CoachJP_NU) January 29, 2014
Of course, we now know it didn't end there. And yesterday, @FauxPelini waved the white flag of surrender as Pelini won the internet once again.
.@BoPelini Fine, you can keep her— Fake Bo Pelini (@FauxPelini) April 12, 2014
Even ESPN SportsCenter spotlighted the gag last night as the "Top Cat" of the day.
.@SportsCenter with the "Top Cat" of the day for the #Huskers Spring Game. #GBMeow pic.twitter.com/imnjEiLy98— Nebraska Huskers (@Huskers) April 13, 2014
Great moments in ESPN history. pic.twitter.com/qEagX5UCky— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) April 13, 2014
But while @FauxPelini popularized the cat gag, he didn't create it, contrary to popular belief. The origins of the cat gag actually go to an anonymous Tumblr site called "Kitty Pelini", which features Photoshopped images of Pelini, brother Carl, and Tom Osborne as well.
While Pelini's original response to @FauxPelini appears to have been initiated by Pelini himself, the rest has had a hand from the athletic department. Anya, the cat in the Tunnel Walk actually is owned by Ethan Rowley, who works in marketing for the athletic department. Speaking of marketing, the group running the @Huskers Twitter account has taken a huge step forward in recent months. In the past, they seemed to be only interested in trying to get people to use hashtags, but now they actually get "social". No longer satisfied with just talking about the Huskers, they now try to create a buzz around Nebraska athletics.
@FauxPelini: #Huskers are red, no one likes blue, You're not our real coach, but we wanted to make sure you knew. pic.twitter.com/jH2oUvTCwE— Nebraska Huskers (@Huskers) February 14, 2014
And they've convinced Pelini to open the curtain and make the Bo Pelini that his players love more public. We started to see it last year with the Harlem Shake and cell phone prank. Yet some people seem oblivious to the real Bo Pelini that's been emerging. Earlier this month, the World-Herald's Lee Barfknecht took a dig at Pelini while complimenting basketball coach Tim Miles.
Beyond X's and O's though, Miles' biggest contribution by far has been to make Nebraska athletics fun again.
NU administrators openly rave about the era of good feeling Miles has established throughout the department with his engaging personality, honesty about his team and connection with the fans.
What those officials won't say publicly but is heard behind the scenes is they want the football program to learn something from Miles, and fast.
And that's the long lasting benefit to gags like yesterday. Old school, Twitter-inept reporters like Barfknecht may have ignored or dismissed Pelini's recent openness, but a stunt like the cat in the tunnel walk was so over-the-top that it's impossible for even Barfknecht to overlook. It may not soothe old, still festering, wounds, but it does eliminate old, tired talking points.
It's hard to argue with a straight face that Nebraska's football program doesn't have a fan friendly, feel-good image because of the coach anymore.
Not with this Lion King, "Circle of Life" moment out there.
"@RJMHoneybadger: @AFRO_THUNDER80 pic.twitter.com/WakvkaRmEo" that is too funny— Kenny Bell (@AFRO_THUNDER80) April 13, 2014