Story #11: Finding A Common Ground
I became a Husker fan on January 2, 1984. It is a pivotal day in Husker history, to be sure. Miami-Nebraska. Orange Bowl. Two-Point conversion. A tipped pass. More than a decade before the ghosts of that game were laid to rest. I was 9 years old and watching the game with my father. We were not Nebraskans, watching the game via a television broadcast in the cold of northwestern South Dakota. Looking back on it, I was like many young boys who look for ways to gravitate towards their father – to connect with them and seek their approval. I do not recall a moment before that night ever seeing my dad so emotionally invested in a contest of any kind. I did not understand the degree of passion he displayed towards the game. After it ended, however, there was the ‘Lesson’ about how a winner should win. Whether it be after a movie or a youth basketball game, there always seemed to be the ‘Lesson’ with my dad. Some were hard lessons, others difficult for a child to grasp. All were important to my father. On that night, I heard about this red-haired coach and his stoicism, restraint, and work ethic. His insistence on winning the right way. There was a ‘Lesson’ to be learned about going for the two point conversion rather than settling for the tie and being acknowledged national champions anyway. To be sure, I was not sure what exactly that was at 9 years old, but I think of it often. My father thought Tom Osborne was the best kind of winner and a great person, somehow made greater in his eyes even though his team lost the game, so naturally I wanted to be that way, too. As luck would have it, we moved to Nebraska 2 years later, securing the Huskers’ place in my soul forever. Here, I was surrounded by Husker news at all times. Nightly news broadcasts. Kent Pavelka on the radio on fall Saturdays. John Melton, Dr. Tom, and the Husker players on PBS during the week. It was a ritual that everyone in Nebraska followed. Husker football was something that my dad and I shared often – throwing the football around the yard with the play-by-play in the background, and he treated me to my first game in Memorial Stadium on September 28, 1985 against Oregon. It was just him and I, shivering in a blanket in our north stadium seats while wet snow and sleet fell all afternoon long. Even at 11 years old, the majesty of the experience was overpowering to a small town kid. This was the epicenter of the state, the central nervous system that we all shared. The balloons, the songs, and the play on the field. Tom Osborne on the sidelines. The final score of the game was 63-0. Rarely one to defy my father’s wishes, I insisted we stay to the end, despite the weather and his not-so-gentle urging. Legend had it that Coach Osborne came out and jogged around the field after the games. I never saw him. The windshield wipers burned out due to the crusting sleet and snow on the 4-hour drive home, so we had to stop every 5 miles to clean off the windshield. I didn’t care. I envisioned Coach Osborne making endless loops while jogging around the field in the sleet and the snow. He wouldn’t complain – real winners never did – so neither would I. As I’ve grown older and started a family of my own, I often wonder about why I feel the way that I do about Husker sports. For the longest time, I firmly believed that it was the ideology of the program, imprinted by a legendary coach, and learned at a particular time in my life that held the allure for me. As coach Osborne stepped away from the program following the 1997 season, however, my interest never waned. Looking back on it now, I understand that it was never about the coach or the team or the sterling accomplishments of the program. It was something much simpler than that, born on a cold night on January 2, 1984. After that game, my father and I connected in a way that has stood the test of years. I understood what my father expected of me as a young boy and, later, as grown man. No matter the trials that face every family relationship, Husker sports has been the always-open line of communication between my father and I – the sacred ground where we can both agree on something when it seems we disagree about everything else. With 2 sons of my own, 28 years later, I am the one teaching the ‘Lesson’. I hope it serves them as wells as it has their father. Go Big Red!