Years ago, head football coach Bill Jennings made the infamous statement, “We can’t feed the ego of the state of Nebraska with the football team.” Jennings’ last team in 1961 went 3 – 6 – 1 and he finished with an overall record of 15-34-1.
Bob Devaney arrived in 1962. Nebraska collectively decided around 1965 that we could feed the ego the state with the football team. Devaney won two national titles. His successor, Tom Osborne, won and won, then won some more. He added three more national titles. Nebraska’s last great season was a long time ago, but Osborne won so much that his legacy lingers. The results since haven’t been disastrous, but they certainly haven’t been great either.
We’re still trying to feed our egos with the football team.
Are the losses of the Nebraska football team making you angry? Do you not want to watch our beloved Huskers anymore?
If so, then I am here for you as your fearless leader, and I promise the counseling I provide is worth every penny you’ll pay for it.
I was a youth soccer coach for a decade. I saw plenty of parents who lived vicariously through their children. They saw their children, sons or daughters, as I coached both, as reflections of themselves. They expected their child to perform well, in the hopes that it would reflect well upon them. When their child won, they took the credit. When the child failed, they had no desire to share the blame.
I once watched a father walk onto a soccer field and carry his eight-year-old son off by the back of his neck because his son wasn’t paying close enough attention to the game. I asked him if he thought his reaction was “a bit much”. He told me to mind my own business and coach the other boys on my team and he would handle his. I was dumbfounded.
I was a Boy Scout leader for 17 years. I ran into Boy Scout leaders who expected us to run our scout troop as if we had young boys participating in mini military exercises. They expected 10-year-old kids to behave like privates, 13-year-old kids to behave as corporals, and 15-year-old kids to act as sergeants. Some kids were up to the task. Most of them weren’t. There were plenty of good times ruined because an adult decided the boys weren’t performing up to standards, and everyone had to be made miserable as some life lesson. Yelling had to be done. Extra chores had to be assigned.
I once had another leader at a camp start yelling at one of my scouts for addressing me by my first name and not as “Mr. Johnston.” He then started yelling at me for allowing such disrespect to happen. He did this in front of a number of people, both kids and adults. I let him yell at me until he ran out of energy, then I thanked him for giving me the opportunity to talk to my kids about respect.
Keep in mind that the examples I’ve provided are outliers. 90% of the people I dealt with in scouts and soccer were terrific people. Unfortunately, it’s that 10% that grabs our attention. They make the most noise. They make others miserable.
So, which are you? Are you in the 90%? Or the 10%?
I’m not talking about complaining. It’s natural to complain. I’m talking about when you step over the line and ruin everyone else’s fun.
I did this for years when it came to Nebraska football. I would become so angry watching the games that my wife refused to watch them any more. My kids didn’t want to be around me when the games were on. I admit to being a little more than obsessive - when they finally invented the DVR, I would rewind the play over and over and then, because of my extreme football knowledge, yell, “It’s Burgermeister, the right guard. That guy couldn’t block his way out of my $%$#$#!”
(I wasn’t that way all of the time. Maybe 10% of the time. Unfortunately, it’s that 10% that grabbed my family’s attention and ruined their fun. My wife might disagree on that 10% estimate.)
If Nebraska lost, I would be grouchy for the week. The football team had hurt my ego. I don’t think I’m alone in that. Wherever we go around the planet, we define ourselves with Nebraska football. It’s been a great marketing tool for the University, but maybe this time around it isn’t so healthy. Perhaps we should put the ego-feeding need for football wins off until we start doing so.
Coaching youth soccer and being involved in Boy Scouts were two of the most rewarding things I ever did. They outshine the public speaking I did early in my career. At one time in the computer industry I was doing so much writing that when I totaled up the circulation of the magazines I wrote for, it was around two million people per month. The accomplishments I’ve had in my career didn’t compare to taking a group of kids into the wilderness for the first time or having a kid go from not being able to kick a ball to being the most improved player on the team.
Perhaps we should assume a different perspective about Nebraska football.
It’s not the wins and losses we should focus on this season. It’s the growth. That will require that we put our egos aside and try to act more like parents. Not the ones that live vicariously through their kids, but the ones that genuinely want to watch their kids try things and sometimes fail at them all the while understanding that they are not raising a child. They are making an adult who at some point will have to go out into the world by themselves, make their own decisions and become a productive member of society. (If you’re not a parent, the same still applies. As individuals, we either grow or die. The full explanation of this concept is beyond the scope of this article. Ha!)
We saw some growth in the second half of the Purdue game. There was a spark in the team that wasn’t there before. You could see it in our young quarterback, Adrian Martinez. In the first half, he seemed hesitant to run, slow in his decision making, and reluctant to make some throw. In the second half, the offense started to click. The team still made those dumb mistakes that drive Scott Frost insane, but they began to click at a much better rate than we had previously. It didn’t result in a win, but it was growth, even if a bit.
That’s the equivalent of your kid finishing a merit badge. That’s your kid, the goalie, learning that he has to come out of the goal to take on another player who is coming at him one-on-one. They are small accomplishments on the way to something more substantial.
Nebraska has a lot of mistakes to overcome and a lot of growing to do, that’s clear. Overcoming those obstacles isn’t up to us as fans. We can only do what we control. What we can control is how angry the losses make us and how we interact with other fans.
I’m just going to watch this team and see if they get better day by day. I’m going to do my best not to let the losses get the best of me. I have faith that someday, perhaps further in the future than I’d like, that they will be feeding my ego again.
In the meantime, I’m going to celebrate the small victories, the growth.
Right now, that’s all we have.