Last week, BTN posted a brief video of Nebraska head coach Scott Frost on the topic of Blackshirts.
"I don't want the Blackshirts just to mean our starting defense. It meant more than that when I was here."— Nebraska On BTN (@NebraskaOnBTN) May 4, 2018
The @Huskers @coach_frost talks about his vision for the Blackshirts heading into the season. pic.twitter.com/D4FTYh6UlS
Frost went on with that:
“You didn’t earn a Blackshirt even if you were a starter unless you did things the right way. Unless you were a leader on and off the field, unless you were tough, unless you were at 100% and playing as hard as you can all the time. There’s a lot of characteristics that a Blackshirt represents to me, and we’re going to make all our guys earn those Blackshirts.”
No doubt in my mind that Frost’s thoughts the Blackshirts swing closer to Bo Pelini’s opinions, which became rather controversial over time. There are two schools of thought about the Blackshirts: they are either something you are, or something you are held to.
Nebraska’s Blackshirt tradition began when Bob Devaney sent assistant coach Mike Corgan to a sporting goods store to get some different colored practice shirts to identify the defensive players when Devaney decided to join the trend towards two-platoon football. Corgan, noted for his frugality, picked the black because they apparently were marked down. Originally, the Blackshirts were handed out each day at practice to the top defensive unit based on the previous day; you could have a black jersey one day but not the next. According to Mike Babcock, the tradition evolved to awarding the Blackshirts at the end of pre-season practice under Tom Osborne. However, when Bo Pelini replaced Bill Callahan after the 2007 debacle, Pelini reverted back to players having to earn their Blackshirts, but with a wrinkle: the Blackshirts were earned on the field. When the defense played at a level he felt fit warranted the award of Blackshirts, out they came. Sometimes that was near the beginning of the season.
Sometimes it wasn’t until November.
That didn’t sit well with some people. Some media members made it a game, wondering when they were going to be awarded. Some fans thought that Pelini had given up on the tradition; some even alleged he “hated” the Blackshirts. I never bought into that; he always held it out there as an incentive for his players. (Let’s be honest, if Pelini hated the Blackshirt tradition, he wouldn’t have it plastered all over the North Stadium facility.)
I don’t know how Scott Frost and Erik Chinander plan to handle the Blackshirts, but when Frost says “you didn’t earn a Blackshirt even if you were a starter,” you cannot assume that they’ll be issued near the end of August. They might... or Frost might need something more than just being a projected starter to earn a Blackshirt.
I agree with Frost ... and Pelini, for that matter, on this subject. Blackshirts aren’t something you are given or just “are”; it’s something you earn. There’s a tradition to be upheld as to what a Blackshirt means. It’s not giving up 50-burgers to teams like Minnesota and Iowa. It’s much, much more than that.
Because it means so much more. Just watch Jack Gangwish:
So if we go into Akron week without any sign of the Blackshirts, I’d hope that the fans and especially the media not turn this into a sideshow, like it was earlier this decade. The Blackshirts will be awarded in due time. If we haven’t seen them, there’s probably ample evidence that the defense isn’t ready yet for them. Give them time and the respect to earn them.