Yes, the 2009 Nebraska football season was my favorite Nebraska season in my lifetime.
I didn’t say it was the best Nebraska football team in my lifetime. That would be (maybe could have been) the 2020 Nebraska football team.*
Or the 1995 Nebraska football team.
Or the 1994 Nebraska football team.
Or the 1999 Nebraska football team.
Or the 1997 Nebraska football team.
Or the 2017 Nebraska football team.*
Or the 2001 Nebraska football team.
It is possible that the powerhouse Nebraska football teams in the 90’s could have been more enjoyable for somebody who remembers life going through the 1980’s as a Nebraska football fan.
I don’t think it is possible to completely appreciate what you are going through if you have not already been through the bad times.
So that leads me to what I still believe to be my favorite season during my short life as a Nebraska Football fan.
*I like jokes.
Preseason, Florida Atlantic and Arkansas State
Quick rewind to the end of the 2008 season. It was Bo Pelini’s first season as head coach and Nebraska ended on a four game winning streak.
Most notably was the win against Colorado where things felt like they changed with the Alex Henery 57 yard field goal and then the subsequent interception by Ndamukong Suh as he trampled over Cody Hawkins on his way to the end-zone.
Then they finished it off with a Gator Bowl win over Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers.
So now we are moving into the 2009 season with some raised expectations. Coach Pelini talked Ndamukong Suh into returning for his senior season and boy did we not expect what we ended up getting from Suh.
There was a quarterback battle brewing leading into the season. It was between junior Zac Lee and true-freshman Cody Green. At the time Cody Green was the next great thing. Lee ends up winning the quarterback battle.
Little did we know at that time there was another true-freshman quarterback on the roster in 2009. We would find out about him in 2010.
Lee shows us what we had heard about him through the first two games of the season. A 49-3 win over Florida Atlantic and a 38-9 win over Arkansas State. Those two games did not give us an accurate glimpse of the offensive struggles that Nebraska would have for almost the entire season.
Several years before 2009 when the home-and-home series with Viriginia Tech was announced I was pumped. I had liked Virginia Tech ever since Michael Vick played. Add that to the fact they have the best tunnel walk song of all-time.
I actually would be okay if Nebraska just threw up their hands and said “Yep, we know we stole from Virginia Tech. They can say whatever they want but Sirius has now been replaced with Enter Sandman by Metallica.”
At the end of a scoreless third quarter Nebraska was up 12 - 10 over the 13th ranked Hokies. The defense was playing lights out by keeping Tyrod Taylor in the pocket.
Then it all changed when Nebraska was up 15 - 10 with 1:20 left in the 4th quarter. Danny Coale caught an 81 yard pass to the Nebraska three yard line. There was obviously a mistake made. Matt O’Hanlon received most of the ire of Nebraska fans for the next few weeks. He ended up making up for it at the end of the Oklahoma game. It felt like a little bit of redemption for him.
Back to Virginia Tech.
The visual I have for this game was right after that 81 yard reception the camera went to Bo Pelini and he just takes off his headset and tosses it back toward the players.
The team fought and fought all game long only for a mistake to unravel everything. It won’t be the only time that happens in 2009.
The offense side of the ball against Virginia Tech? 343 yards and zero touchdowns. Alex Henery scored all 15 points.
In the end Nebraska loses by 1.
Nebraska wins 55-0.
The offense shows signs of life against a much weaker opponent. Next up one of the schools which has merely embarrassed Nebraska for two years leading up to this year. Combined scores the two seasons was 93 to 23. Oh ya, also their starting quarterback was committed to Nebraska before switching up his commitment. That did not sit well with Nebraska fans.
I present to you. The Missouri game.
Want to know how good Nebraska’s offense was for about two quarters? Zac Lee completed a pass to Menelik Holt halfway through the second quarter for a first down. The commentator said “Yay, a first down.” Awesome.
Nebraska didn’t score a single point until the fourth quarter. The Nebraska defense was doing a great job. They had to be looking over to their offensive teammates and think, “come on guys, do something.”
Heading into the fourth quarter down 12, there really was not much room for hope. Then all the sudden Zac Lee decides he’s going to throw not one, not two but three touchdown passes.
The last one to Mike McNeill where he was completely open was my favorite. The scream from Zac Lee after that touchdown pass had to be a scream of “finally get off my back!”
Zac Lee’s first touchdown pass was a 56 yard “bomb” to Niles Paul. That felt like they broke the seal. Then Suh felt the offense should get another crack at it. He intercepts a Blaine Gabbert pass at the 13:45 mark in the fourth quarter and then things changed for the good.
Another touchdown pass to Niles Paul and it was over. Mike McNeill catches the third. It all happened within a span of under four minutes.
It changed that quickly. If you can hate another school then I hated Missouri. That win felt so good. The way it happened made it even better.
When pulling up the schedule for 2009 to write this article I learned that Nebraska lost to Texas Tech at home by 21. I don’t remember that game at all. Truthfully.
It might be because of the 2009 highlight video I have at the bottom of this article also appears to have omitted that game as well.
I literally don’t remember a single thing about this game.
After looking up a little bit about it, it said that the Nebraska offense was in the red-zone three times in the first three quarters and did nothing with it.
Seems about right.
I tweeted this out about three weeks ago.
Iowa State at Nebraska, 2009.— Nate McHugh (@nmchugh85) March 23, 2020
That's it. That's the tweet.
Anybody who followed Nebraska football that year knows exactly what happened against Iowa State in 2009.
Nebraska scored seven points and committed eight turnovers. Four of those turnovers were inside the Iowa State four yard line.
Freshman Cody Green gets his first start of the year. That’s how bad the offense has been. He leads them to seven of the team’s 20 points. Alex Henery keeps on making field goals.
At this point I’m thinking of just scrapping this article because this is depressing.
Did I forget about how painful this was watching this team?
Then I remember the Oklahoma game.
I’ve been to plenty of loud games at Memorial Stadium. This game in my opinion was the loudest from beginning to end. The intensity of the crowed was sustained throughout the entire game.
The Blackshirts intercepted Landry Jones five times including the redemption interception in the fourth quarter by Man O’Hanlon where he tossed the ball up after falling to the ground. I believe he was flagged for it, but nobody cared. It was awesome. O’Hanlon had three interceptions that night.
One of the coolest moments, which likely would not happen anywhere else but between Nebraska and Oklahoma was at halftime. Both current (an injured Sam Bradford) and former players and coaches from both teams lined up across the field. One by one from north to south.
As each person was introduced the crowd cheered loudly for every single one of them. It was out of respect. Then they got to Barry Switzer. I was nervous on what to expect but the cheers (or maybe some boos) was louder compared to what any other player received. This included Nebraska players. A part of that was likely from all of the Oklahoma fans that were at the game.
Tom Osborne was next and I’ll never forget what happened. The crowed erupted. It felt like an explosion. It still gives me chills.
The final was 10-7. Unlike the Virginia Tech game, there wasn’t the mental lapse which cost the Huskers the game.
Watch the highlights from that game. There was so much emotion built up throughout.
Kansas, Kansas State and Colorado
This is in no way disrespecting these three schools but I would just be wasting my time to write much about them. We all know what came after Colorado.
Nebraska clinched the division with the win against Kansas State. They went 3-0 against the divisional opponents in this stretch.
Texas was waiting.
Big 12 Championship Game: Texas
We didn’t have a chance going into that game. Then all the sudden we could see what was happening in front of our eyes. A historical performance by Ndamukong Suh.
Suh had 4.5 sacks against a national championship contender. The defense shut down Texas and destroyed any hope for Colt McCoy to win the Heisman.
It was like the rest of the country finally saw how dominant Suh was the entire season. He should won the Heisman. Going forward if there is ever a defensive player that they are talking about winning the Heisman just let them know it isn’t going to happen. If Suh didn’t win then nobody on that side of the ball is ever going to win.
No, I am not counting Desmond Howard.
At the end of the game, after all the crap Nebraska Football had gone through in 2009, Nebraska ended up beating Texas in the Big 12 Championship game. Colt McCoy had the mental mistake of waiting too long to throw the ball out of bounds.
It was over.
Then Mack Brown raises his finger and the officials oblige. Still to this day I can’t believe the officials didn’t run off of the field after the clock hit zero.
It hit zero.
Does anybody think that if it was Tom Herman raising his pointer finger instead of Mack Brown that they still would have put one second back up? I don’t.
You can argue whether it was technically right or not. I just know that it shouldn’t have happened.
Then they hit a 46 yard field goal.
Holiday Bowl: Arizona
“Nebraska’s back and we are here to stay.”
Love the quote. I can love it for what it meant at the time even though I know that is not what ended up happening.
Nebraska blanks Arizona and scores 33 points. At that time I truly agreed with Coach Pelini. I felt like we were finally back where we belonged which is one of the top programs in the country.
He was wrong but so was I.
So Why 2009?
I think the highs of Missouri, Oklahoma, Big 12 Championship Game (Yes, I know we lost) and Arizona would not have meant so much if it wasn’t for the lows. Those were some brutal lows.
To me the 2009 Nebraska football season was an emotional roller coaster. I was in the middle of law school and Nebraska football provided a source of joy that law school was not giving me. Surprise. Surprise.
I look at 2009 like it was a movie. There are the highs. There are the lows. Even heartbreak toward the end.
The best part was that it left me with hope when the credits rolled. I’m not sure we have had a season like that since.
Hypothetical Question: What if Taylor Martinez played as a true freshman in 2009. What do you think would have happened?
I have no idea, but if the Taylor Martinez who we saw in 2010 would have been what we would have received in 2009 then the sky would have been the limit.
This is in no way being critical of the coaching staff. He likely wouldn’t have been ready, though the offense in 2009 was so bad you think he would have been an upgrade.
At least he would have been a threat.
My favorite 2009 Nebraska football highlight mix. The music makes the difference.