Forgive Me, Huskers

With age comes perspective.

This post is something of a departure. It has nothing to do with my hobbies, though it could be argued that sports fandom is a hobby of sorts. OK, we’ll stay on that page.

I grew up in Boulder, Colorado. I grew up cheering for the Colorado Buffaloes. I even attended games. I watched Cliff Branch return a kickoff for 97 yards– he caught the ball directly below where we were sitting in the southwest corner of the horseshoe at Folsom. College football was always a big deal in our house (Daddy was a Purdue grad). The Big 8 was the conference of choice, since that was where the Buffaloes roamed, followed closely by the Big 10– thence cameth the aforementioned Boilermakers. In the early 1970s the Buffs were even a pretty good team– ranked number 3 in the nation in 1971, in fact.

Guess who numbers One and Two were? Nebraska and Oklahoma. Also Big 8.

Guess who were the only two teams to beat the Buffs in 1971? Those same guys. Yeah. National ranking at the end of the fall campaign had the Buffs at number three, the Sooners at number two, and the Huskers at number one. Quite the year for the conference, you must admit.

But here’s the thing: growing up, no matter how good the Buffs were, there were always those guys in Lincoln to crash the party. CU could never beat them. Home or away, those guys in the white helmets with the red N on the side would show up once a year and just kill us. And as a result, from childhood on I developed a hatred of all things Husker that bordered on a pathology. I didn’t just hate them, I LOVED to hate them. (Joke from 1978: “What does the N stand for on Nebraska helmets stand for? Nowledge.”)

Oklahoma U. is an entirely different rant. I hate them worse than ever. You ever sit on the losing side of an 82-42 score?

Guess where I went to college? CU. That’s right. I matriculated the same year that Chuck Fairbanks came to town, with his NFL reputation and his baby blue jerseys and his new logo that looked like a pig, and who proceeded to completely wreck a decent football program. My entire five years in college the best season the Buffs could muster was 4-7. One year was 1-11. And every other year, about 20,000 Nebraska fans would show up in Boulder in their red-and-white motor homes and their red jumpsuits, fill the entire horseshoe in a sea of turgid red, and out-cheer the Boulderites as the Huskers made buffalo burgers out of the hometown heroes. It was awful. Not only did I hate those indomitable people on the west sideline, now I hated their fans.

Nobody should be that good.

And when they are that good, at least put in the second team in the fourth quarter, right? But that was a foreign concept to Tom Osborne. I think that written at the top of his gameplan each week was the statement “1.) Run Up The Score”.

People say that Bill McCartney turned the annual CU-Nebraska game into a grudge-match rivalry. Buffalo scat. Where the hell were those sportswriters in the 1970s? We hated the Huskers long before Bill came on the scene!

Of course, from Nebraska’s perspective, I am fairly certain that the schedule date with CU was just another day at the office. “Who we gonna run up the score on this week, Coach Tom?” “Um, looks like Colorado. Whoever they are. All you second team guys, just stay on the bus.”

Not until 1986 was the first brick knocked out of the wall. In a miraculous game, the Buffs beat the Huskers 20-10, for the first time in, well, my lifetime anyway. I didn’t even live in Boulder by then, but I purchased a copy of the Rocky Mountain News and saved the sports section for decades. The headline? “At Last, Buffs Beat Nebraska”. The guys at the News got it. I think the headline for V-J day may have been smaller. I was literally giddy for days. And when, a few years later, CU won the national championship against the Fighting Irish, I felt even better. But more importantly, in three of the past five years, they’d beaten the Huskers.

Fast forward a decade or three. The Big 8 became the Big 12, then both the Huskers and the Buffs departed from it to join other conferences. Now at various times the two schools still meet, but without the conference record on the line the games have lost much of their significance. And there’s a lot more parity– some years, both teams suck. I even felt sorry for the Huskers, the time that CU injured their starting QB and he was basically lost for the year. It might even have been a cheap shot, if memory serves.

Where am I going with this? Well, as I mentioned a few pages ago, with age comes a certain amount of perspective. I’m 60 now. I’m not a 9-year old kid shivering in the stands as the local college team plays football in the snow and mud. I’m not an undergrad watching my team get shellacked by those invincible Boys from Lincoln. And, though I’m still an alumnus (class of 1984) of CU, that school is not what it used to be. Or, maybe, it’s more of what it used to be. It’s not even ironic that I graduated in the ultimate Orwellian year, given the direction the culture of the school has gone. Now, I stand off at a distance and watch the world go crazy with its political correctness and its cancelling and re-educating and equity and all the other current buzzwords, and ask myself, where do I fit? Do I fit into the Summer Capital of Progressivism, Boulder? Or, align with the rural traditionalism of Nebraska? Who knows– maybe the Lincoln campus is also infected with leftists. But the state as a whole is far different than Berkeley East, and I think maybe I don’t hate them anymore.

Besides, their jerseys are the same colors as those of my high school. That’s a point in their favor.

Huskers? Please forgive me. I think I actually like you a little now.

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