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Flakes: We Were Spoiled

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Being a fan can be tough.

1980 Cotton Bowl

It does not seem like you have much of a choice if you are born and raised in Nebraska. I mean, there are a few but are far and in-between. Just about everyone here is a Cornhusker.

It doesn’t matter if your family went to the university or not. Just about everyone loves and follows the team from Lincoln. Very little has changed in that matter over the years.

From roughly 1965 to 2001 the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers were a behemoth on the gridiron. That is four decades of dominance that influenced multiple generations of fans. Sons turned into fathers and fathers turned into grandfathers and so on.

You’ve heard the stats.

To be honest, as fans, we were spoiled. Very few if any football teams, heck basketball teams, go that long without some down slide for at least a few years. Nope, not Nebraska.

Nebraska was blessed to have Bob Devaney come to Lincoln from the edge of the prairie in Laramie, Wyoming. We stole him and the Cowboys has never truly recovered. They had a brief blip in the late 1960’s but that was short lived.

Benefit Nebraska.

Devaney started recruiting and developing to not only compete regionally, but nationally. Kids from as far as Florida and California were starting to come and play for the Big Red. Not just diamonds in the rough but guys who would make Nebraska a national power.

With that Nebraska won back to back National Championships in 1970 and 1971. The ’71 team still being looked at by many as one of the greatest of all time.

We needed this. The arrogance that was developed in our state from this success was getting obnoxious. No fan believed that these times would ever go away. I mean, the leaders in our athletic department would not allow this to happen, right?

Nebraska had been on top for so long that many had believed that it was a latchkey operation. Put in someone who knows how things run and it would operate without any issue. Some saw through this. They knew that the operation was not special. It was not something that could last forever. These people pointed out the lack of top notch recruits in the state. The difficultly of bringing in top tier talent. The struggles that come with developing players.

Everything comes to and end at some point.

Frank Solich wasn’t a bad coach. In fact, he’s a fairly good coach. But, it he could not keep what Osborne built going. You could see the peak of 1997 slowly getting farther and farther away on the field. The top tier players were not coming like they once were. Other schools were getting stronger and cutting into the pie that Nebraska once dominated.

It didn’t help that this was also right around the time where recruiting was becoming a national obsession. Sites like Rivals and Scout were evaluating and ranking the top players and putting them out there for coaches and fans alike to see. Other athletic departments were putting more emphasis on recruiting. More money and resources were funneled into it each year.

The top coaches in the nation were also spending more time themselves getting who they wanted on campus. Heck, even the mid-tier coaches were catching on. Making it harder and harder for everyone.

Solich and his staff were slowly getting left in the dust. The game was changing around them and they were just enough steps behind to where the cracks in the armor were starting to show. I’ve always felt that the old guard from the Osborne years who stayed on for Solich saw this.

The biggest showing was most likely that 2001 Rose Bowl against Miami. While some may add that this is an unfair comparison as this was a stellar Miami team that sent a lot of players to the NFL. I agree, but this game shows some glaring talent and coaching disparities that still ring to this day.

Nebraska had started to fall behind while other rose around them.

That is probably part of the reason why so many starting retiring in the early 2000’s. They were getting to the point where the game was passing them by. This put Frank in a predicament. He was starting to lose some of his best coaches and replacing them was harder than it looked.

One of the attributes of the Osborne years was that he had very few coaches leave. Many of his top coordinators like Charlie McBride and Milt Tenpir were there for over two decades. You can accomplish a lot with that type of continuity. That’s for any organization, not just football. Even back then it was rare for a coach to stay in one place for that long.

Osborne could do that. His coaches liked him and he treated them well. Solich was probably the same. But his assistants were getting older and the game was moving on without them.

As we all know, Solich was let go after a 7-7 season followed by a 9-4 one. You can bicker until you are blue in the face but it was most likely going to happen the next year if not then.

Now, I could go into Bill Callahan, Bo Pelini, and Mike Riley’s administrations but we would be here forever and I’m pretty sure you would lose interest if you already haven’t.

I like to look at the 1999 squad as the last truly great Husker team.

So, it’s been 20 years since Nebraska has had a team that we all would like to hang our hats on and say “this is Nebraska football”.

As proven above, running a top notch program is not easy. It takes time and if you lose to many of your parts, it become very difficult.

Right now, Scott Frost and his team are still working from the ground up. It will take time to bring in the recruits, staff, and support that he will need to get Nebraska anywhere near where we want them to be.

It tough being a fan when your team is going through a transition. All of those decades before, we never had to do that. But these past 20 have gotten us to where we are now.

If you’re reading this, you are still part of the faithful. I’ve known fans who left or moved on to other interests years ago. You’ve made it this far, you can make it a little longer. This is a ground up rebuild and our lead architect has the resources and time. Something most coaches would not have.

So, yes we were spoiled. We got soft. But these past years of wandering will lead to something great and we will be more grateful when it happens because of where we came from and how we got there.

Being a fan isn’t easy, but believing can pay dividends in the end.

I should know, I’m also a Cubs fan. ;)

Mankilling Mastodons

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Monday Haiku

Warm winds from the south

Summer is not yet over

Drink your Ovaltine