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Sports

TIME OUT with Joe Flanagan

So, are you bullish or bearish? Buying or selling? All ‘N’? Or maybe ‘n’ but wavering slightly?
At one time, those questions regarding Husker football support would never have been uttered in Nebraska. Once Bob Devaney got the Big Red Machine cranked up, and Tom Osborne subsequently fine-tuned, then super-charged it, fans were All Big Red, all the time.
Of course, that was during a period of 35 mostly-glorious seasons graced with 21 conference championships and punctuated with five national titles. An ongoing 17-year drought of championship hardware has, unfortunately, wrought changes.
We’ve seen athletic directors and coaches come and go, offensive and defensive styles – and results – vary, with frissures appearing in the foundation of Big Red football.
All of which has also resulted in some fractures in the Husker fan base.
Nebraska football is still just two seasons removed from two of the most-polarizing figures in program history. Steve Pedersen’s damage was, to at least some degree, mitigated by Tom Osborne stepping into the AD role when Pedersen was fired. But Bo Pelini’s tenure, and dismissal by Osborne successor Shawn Eichorst, has left cracks not yet fully mended for some.
Eichorst has done many good things since taking over as Athletic Director, in numerous areas, yet hasn’t been universally accepted, mainly due to following The Legend, who many felt was urged out the door by then-chancellor Harvey Perlman in 2013.
I find it hard to believe any Husker fan could truly dislike current Husker Head Coach Mike Riley, probably the most affable and well-liked figure in college football. In fact, Riley would seem to embody the qualities most Nebraskans like to claim our natives possess – friendliness, courteousness, kindness, diligence, competitiveness coupled with sportsmanship.
Still, there are Husker fans who look at Coach Riley’s career record at second-level Oregon State, and short, unsuccessful stint in the NFL, along with his reputation as a “passing-offense guru,” and have a hard time putting their full faith in him. Too many, I think, mistakenly identify him with disastrous Bill Callahan memories, fearing the worst.
So, these past two-plus years, Husker fans have engaged in internal debate. Many view last season’s nine victories, prior to a late-season collapse, and greatly-enhanced recruiting as progress and reasons for optimism. Others hear ‘Pro-Style’ offense and shudder – “C’mon Mike, just run the damn ball!”
Pro or con, confident or leery, every Husker fan has to admit to a tingle of excitement at this time of year, however. Fan Day was another big hit at Memorial Stadium Saturday and practice officially kicked off Sunday.
Football is back! Not recruiting news, no off-season chatter or mundane news reports – the Huskers are actually back on the field!
Hallelujah! And pass me my 1995 National Championship mug!
Yes, we’re always ready for football in Nebraska, and 2017 is also shaping up as a very intriguing Husker campaign.
Tulane QB transfer Tanner Lee has been receiving national accolades (from no less than the Manning triumvirate!) and new Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco, whose unit helped spur Notre Dame to the 2012 national championship game, is aboard to install his favored 3-4 scheme and reinvigorate the Blackshirts.
A number of touted young players are not only ready and eager to take the next steps in their careers, but are being counted on as difference-makers in the ongoing pursuit of Nebraska’s first conference championship since 1999.
Locally, there is even added anticipation, with former Cardinal standout Wyatt Mazour coming off noted spring game exploits, drawing praise from the head coach (Danny Woodhead anyone?), and putting himself in position to contribute this fall.
The big-picture questions will be answered over the next several seasons. Now is the time for internet chatter and coffee shop discussions to focus on and enjoy position battles, schematic changes and the anticipation of another season’s kickoff.
After all, there’s still four weeks before we hear the inevitable, “C’mon Mike, just run the damn ball!”
Right now, we’re Husker fans – bullish, buying what Diaco’s selling, all ‘N’ and all behind the Big Red.
Deep down, never doubt, we’re still Nebraska.
Go Big Red!