This basketball season has mercifully come to an end. The relief is felt by many parties; the fans who watched with ever deflating expectations, and the players who felt the tightening grip of social media. Chief among those players is Terran Petteway, who in one season went from potentially being the Tommie Frazier of Nebrasketball to the program's version of Taylor Martinez.
Just how similar are Petteway and T-Magic?
Neither came into the program highly celebrated. Those close to each team appreciated both players' potential for greatness, but the red carpet was kept in the storage closet when each arrived in Lincoln. No one's grandma was trumpeting the arrival of either player.
For Martinez, there wasn't even a guarantee that he would play quarterback. Bo Pelini promised him a shot playing the position, but no set-in-stone assertions. He was simply an athlete. Nothing more, nothing less.
Petteway came to Nebraska with the exact same expectations as Leslee Smith and Walter Pitchford. All three were Division I transfers who carried the perception of players who either couldn't cut it in their previous programs or were growing restless. Petteway was deemed a player who might help in the immediate, but was not necessarily viewed as a long-term savior.
So when both Martinez and Petteway splashed onto the national scene, both eruptions caught large portions of the Husker fanbase by surprise. As a redshirt freshman, Martinez unseated senior incumbent Zac Lee and provided an immediate athletic burst that had previously been missing from the quarterback position. Petteway showed a panache that Doc Sadler would have barred from many of his basketball-less practices. Both Martinez and Petteway went from zero to hero.
But with hero status comes the possibility of slipping back to zero, and oftentimes, even further below where one started.
Expectations can provide motivation and push one to greatness. They can also be an unbearable weight. A weight that manifests itself in disappointment and social media bombardment.
For Martinez, the unraveling was a process of multiple years. In his first year, he led the Huskers to the Big XII Championship Game, but a poor second half nullified a 17-point Nebraska lead and gave Oklahoma the victory. Martinez was largely forgiven for the defeat, as injury and shaky playcalling had a lot to do with the collapse.
It wasn't until the following two years that Nebraska fans began to truly turn on Martinez. A road shellacking at the hands of Russell Wilson and company in Madison in 2011, followed by an even more dubious showing in the 2012 Big Ten title game against Wisconsin ultimately sealed Martinez's fate. Short of winning a title in 2013, Martinez was destined to be tabbed a failure, and his potential would be deemed untapped.
Never mind that the injuries that previously gave him a pass persisted, or that his defense often failed him in those same contests. The tide had turned. By the time the die had been cast in 2013, fans were calling for Tommy Armstrong.
For Petteway, the reversal was quicker and starker. Because of the differences in the football and basketball programs, the potential ceiling and floor were higher and lower for Petteway. It's not that Nebraska previously had no expectations in basketball. It's that the expectations were so low that when Petteway practically carried the Huskers to the NCAA Tournament, bronze statue artists were eagerly awaiting the opportunity to commission a tribute to Petteway.
With a nearly identical roster to last year, the sky didn't seem like the limit for Nebrasketball this season. It seemed like the starting point. But the lack of a true post presence, an early-season stumble at home against Incarnate Word and an unfathomable nine-game losing streak to close the season brought it all crashing to a halt.
While lugging the burden of his cancer-stricken mother, Petteway carried the load all season for the Huskers, for better or for worse. He again led the team in scoring, but he needed to do so. Nebraska went from having a Big Three to a Survival Two. Other than Petteway and Shavon Shields, Nebraska had no true offensive weapons, and in the quest for points and victories in the midst of unprecedented expectations within the program, Petteway often forced the issue and struggled.
A year after being viewed as a fun, free-wheeling competitor, Petteway was now seen as a careless, immature liability. Nebraska fans transitioned from being concerned about losing Petteway to the NBA draft to wondering if the team might be better off without him.
Petteway and Martinez come from disparate programs with wildly different coaches and expectations. Are these collapses in perception just a part of the players' personalities? Or are they merely a reflection of a fickle fanbase in desperate need of a winner?
Pelini often stood up for his quarterback, but he also initially brought him into the fire with his verbal undressing in College Station. Tim Miles, known as the more positive of the two coaches, has repeatedly stood by his mercurial star, though the frustration in his body language has at points rivaled that of the very person it's been directed toward--Petteway.
In both cases, the blame often falls squarely on the shoulders of Martinez and Petteway, at least in the minds of the fans, simply because they were the best players on their rosters at the time. Were it not for Martinez's splashy start, no one would have batted an eye at his mid-career performance. Were it not for Petteway's dramatics a year ago, he would have been an afterthought. If it weren't the way it is, the linebacking corps and Walter Pitchford would have faced far more scorn on social media. But that is not how it works.
The two teams are on different planes historically, neither of which is particularly enviable. Nebraska football has been tasked with maintaining an unsustainable success level, while Nebrasketball must overcome years dyed-in-the-wool defeat. It's arguable which is a tougher situation to find success and maintain sanity. But in either case, in spite of our frustrations, we as fans can do better. We want to believe we are more than we are. Years of sellout streaks and terms such as "the greatest fans in college football" lead us to believe we can control the destiny of Nebraska. And in a way, we can. But it's usually not for the better.
Petteway and Martinez may forever leave half-legacies, but there are memories in the bank. Whether Petteway bolts for the NBA, where he is likely to be a second-round pick, or comes back for another shot at NCAA glory alongside the best recruiting class in Nebraska history, he has etched his name into the Nebraska annals with one of the most memorable seasons in Nebraska history. And while it's harder to make similar concrete claims for Martinez, he remains one of the most statistically accomplished and exciting quarterbacks to ever wear the scarlet and cream.
High standards and expectations are great. They should never cease. But eating our best players alive has proven unproductive. May both Martinez and Petteway find peace, and may we as Husker fans do the same.
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