• Video Below: See the latest edition of the Big RedToday video show as well as the introduction of the Nebraska-Iowa "Heroes Game" rivalry:
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CHICAGO — A little after 8 a.m., Bo Pelini slips off his sport coat and drapes it over the chair. He faces a small table of reporters already pushing their cameras and tape recorders toward him.
"Quite a crew," he says.
And you're here for two hours, a reporter gently quips back.
"Oh my God," Pelini says with mock disdain.
Friday of the Big Ten media days looks like this: a cavernous room in the most cavernous convention center — McCormick Place — you've ever seen. More than 50 white tables for 12 conference coaches, 36 of their players and a handful of league officials. Reporters — young, old, tall, short, skinny, pudgy and just plain fat — are skittering around from table to table, gathering up any random quote they can.
In the middle of that is Pelini, a guarded guy with an occasional disdain for the media. He hasn't spoken to a full press corps since the spring game. He's certainly never been plunked in a stiff chair for two hours and handed to the press firing squad with only a bottle of Aquafina for defense.
You'd think a moment like this would be a recipe for something resembling great discomfort, if not disaster.
Despite having a year to warm to it, Pelini has doggedly downplayed his return to the Big Ten. To the media. To his players. Forever committed to the process.
"It's all about Nebraska with him," running back Rex Burkhead said.
This reluctance, remember, comes from a guy who grew up during the height of Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler's "Ten-Year War." Born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio. Starred at quarterback for Cardinal Mooney High School in front of packed houses of hard-edged, blue-collar fans. Played safety at Ohio State. Served as a captain. Wore the scarlet jersey with impossibly big white numbers and stuffed a long white towel next to his hip pad.
The Big Ten has to feel like home. Doesn't it?
"Home for me is who we're playing that week," Pelini says. "We're in the Big Ten now. That was a decision that was made by our administration. So I embraced it."
That's Bo. He refuses even the softball, as if to say, my memories aren't going to be the way you want them. His rules. His answers. The media dance with him is often — almost always — on his terms.
But then he'll tell you this: His wife, Mary Pat, looked again at Nebraska's schedule Thursday night.
"It occurred to her that the teams on the schedule looked familiar," Pelini says. "But that's about it."
Until a reporter asks about the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry.
"No love lost? That was more between the fans," he says. "Between the players? There was great respect there. You knew it was going to be a hard-hitting, heckuva football game. Now that I'm at Nebraska, you look across the way and see it's Michigan and you understand what you're up for."
And, around 8:30, this gets Pelini rolling. He's already recapped the Taylor Martinez/Texas A&M affair from last year, briefly railed against the media and the damnable "politically correct" template it imposes on the coaching world and spent a few words on Bubba Starling.
But once the Big Ten comes up, it keeps coming up. Home, at this moment, seems right where it ought to be.
He's asked about Hayes, Ohio State's coach from 1951 to 1978. Bo, who played under Earle Bruce and John Cooper from 1987 to 1990, met Hayes a few times before the Buckeye legend died in 1987.
"He was around a decent amount," Pelini says. "He'd always come around and say hello. What I always remember about him? He never forgot a name. He'd put a name with a face and remember where you were from. He knew I was from Mooney and he'd rattle off five guys who, through the years, came from Mooney. It was pretty impressive. He was an extremely intelligent guy."
Writers from Big Ten country are milling around the table now, leaning in. Pelini doesn't necessarily have the biggest crowd of reporters — that's Penn State's Joe Paterno and, surprisingly, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio — and that's probably a good thing. He likes the flow of questions right now. A smaller group suits him.
On Ohio's passion for high school football: "When a big game happened, people talked about it all week. There was a lot of pride in it. A lot of pride in the schools. Tremendous rivalries."
And his time as an Iowa graduate assistant and his memory of Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, who played there at the time: "He played a lot like he coaches. Tough." And the similarities between the Huskers and Badgers' football culture: "There are a number of programs in the Big Ten that are fairly similar in their philosophy. That's why I think it's a good fit. The traditions. The principles. The fan bases. The way the universities are run."
Nobody talks much about Pelini's playing days until a reporter from the Columbus Dispatch strolls over to get an answer. The writer jokingly mentions Pelini's given name, "Mark." Bo recalls when the public address announcer at Ohio Stadium used to refer to him as "Bo" and "Mark" — sometimes in the same game.
"One of the team managers said: 'I didn't know Bo had a brother,'" Pelini says. The table shakes a bit from the reporters laughing at the punchline.
Another fact most Husker fans didn't know: Pelini broke his jaw during his true freshman year in 1986. He got tangled up with OSU receiver Cris Carter, a pulling guard came around the corner, there was a pile, and smack!
"A lot of milkshakes," he said. "I couldn't eat solid food for about seven or eight weeks."
And he couldn't talk much. Was that tough?
"You know me," Pelini quips.
Questions pop up about Iowa — Nebraska's new declared rival if Friday morning's "Heroes Game" presentation has anything to say about it — and Pelini gives most of them standard answers.
But here comes a very specific question from an Iowa reporter and a distinct memory from Bo: a dramatic 29-27 loss to the Hawkeyes in 1987 as Iowa tight end Marv Cook caught a touchdown pass on fourth-and-23 as time expired — and Pelini couldn't quite keep him out of the end zone.
"I remember I was on the other side of the field," Pelini says. "They threw the ball and it looked like our guy was going to pick it off, and he tripped and fell down."
The video of the play is on YouTube — former Hawkeye play-by-play man Jim Zabel is screaming and getting kisses from Ed Podolak as they celebrate — and Pelini, wearing forearm and elbow pads, goes slightly airborne and hits high on Cook's shoulder, trying to blast him before wrapping him up. Cook falls toward the goal line.
"I think we hit Marv right about at the 1-yard line," Pelini says.
It's close. An automatic review these days. But back then, it was a touchdown — and the nail in Earle Bruce's coffin as Buckeye head coach. He was fired the following week, right before the Michigan game.
"I didn't think (Cook) got in, to be honest with you," Pelini says.
Always an eye on the referees.
You'd think two hours would be a slog for the media. And for Pelini. You'd think.
But this setting — and the Big Ten familiarity — has freed him up. He seems to know what the perception is as reporters joke with him:
How do you like this two-hour thing, he's asked.
"Oh, it's wonderful," Pelini says. "I wish they'd make it four."
Another question: How is Big Ten media days different from the Big 12 version?
"Big Ten media day's longer," Pelini says. "A whole day longer."
Is that good or bad news?
"I don't know," Bo jokes. "Figure it out for yourself."
The Big Ten reporters rotate away, and near the end it's just Nebraska guys again. The crowd slows.
Paterno walks out a little early, a man apart. From 15 minutes before the session began until he walks out, there was never an empty seat at his table.
Dantonio continues to mesmerize a phalanx of Spartan media members.
Ohio State coach Luke Fickell is taking handshakes.
Michigan's Brady Hoke, squat and broad like a human fire hydrant, spits out answers as plain as the bagels at McCormick Place. Sometimes they have the word "Michigan" at the end, as if it's punctuation.
Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald holds a close court of guys seated rather near him. They're laughing about something. Fitzgerald, reporters agree, is the natural here, destined for something more than the school that just signed him to a 10-year deal.
As for the coach who's not exactly a natural with the media, Bo Pelini senses the event winding down. There's an autograph session soon, and he'd like coffee. He stands, puts his jacket back on and, just as the two hours ends, he leaves.
There's a Starbucks in here somewhere.
— Jon Nyatawa contributed to this report.
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