Published Friday, September 20, 2013 at 8:40 pm / Updated at 3:41 pm
nu football
Shatel: How should game's 'greatest fans' reply to rant? Just show up

Is that mike off?

OK, good. Just checking. You never know these days. Gather 'round, Husker fans. I've got something to share with you. And if this ever gets out, I'll be back at the Raytown (Mo.) News, covering JV basketball.

You've heard of must-win games for coaches. Well, today is a must-attend game for Nebraska fans.

I don't want to hear any X*%#*%!! excuses.

Sorry. That's uncalled for. Anyway, after last week's loss to UCLA — remember that? — I heard a lot about apathy. People dumping tickets for today's game. Men actually planning to do something with their wives on a Saturday. Sheesh. Like that could happen.

When it comes to Nebraska football fans, I'll believe apathy when I see it. And I hope I never see it.

Let me give you a few reasons there should be no empty seats today.

1. Have you seen the menu of TV games today? I'd rather watch the Oprah Channel.

2. It's going to be 77 and sunny. Fair weather. Get it? Anyway, when you're frozen to that wood bleacher in November, watching Iowa's offense, you'll be glad you came today.

3. So you're thinking about selling your ticket to a South Dakota State fan. Well, Christmas is coming up. But do you really want to see the B side of the 2000 Nebraska-Notre Dame game? You don't want Memorial Stadium to be on a “Sea of Blue” poster in every sportsman bar in South Dakota.

4. There's a good chance that freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong will see meaningful snaps, if not start. The future QB plays? That's what you live for.

5. The soap opera nature of today's game. How will Bo Pelini greet the fans? How will they respond? Standing ovation? Bouquet of boos? Will they leave the game early? Will Bo leave the game early?

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6. There are only seven or eight (or is it nine?) of these every year. And you're going to sit one out?

7. This is who you are. This is what you do.

There's been a lot of discussion this week about what makes a good Husker football fan. Does a good fan boo the home team? Does a good fan support the coach at all costs, even 38-0 turnarounds? Does a good fan never leave the game early?

I don't think it's any of those things. To me, what makes a Husker football fan is showing up.

Nebraska fans are relentless. They're always there, win, lose or 70-31. They've been there for 50 years, for 328 straight sellouts.

Today will be No. 329. That won't change. The season is sold out. But what will it look like? Will there be splotches of empty seats? It's happened. Husker fans are also human.

The sign says that through these gates pass the greatest fans in college football. I've always said you should let someone else brag about you, but that sign is a humble boast in the nicest possible way.

It's a sign that's hard to live up to, though. What if fans shower Pelini with boos today? Are those not great fans? Are those not passionate fans?

If your answer is no, then the standard is too high. Fans are fans. They pay their money. They're going to voice their opinion. They're entitled to do that. Nebraska fans are better than most. They're as human as any.

It's tradition. Husker fans voiced their displeasure toward Bob Devaney in 1968, booing in the form of a petition to have the coach fired. Ten years later, the noise sent Tom Osborne to Colorado for a day. A few years later, after two early losses and a shaky first half against Auburn, the home fans booed.

Nebraska fans are more consistent than the wind in this state. Can't they be allowed a little release?

I understand what Pelini was doing two years ago during and after that Ohio State game. The coach had his players' backs. The problem with the Bronx cheer, however, is that at times you can't be certain where it's directed. Pelini thought the fans were booing his players. Most likely they were pointing at the coach.

What we forget is if Braxton Miller hadn't gone down with an injury, the fans would have been really booing.

Just like they were really cheering last year at Northwestern, when Pelini saluted them after the comeback. But they were there. Again.

The saying goes that Nebraska is the nicest place you'll ever lose. A few boos won't ever change that reputation, which folks here hold dear to their hearts and should.

Here's the thing about Nebraska football: it's a treasure. The state's treasure. A precious commodity, which affects attitudes and the economy and makes the good life that much better. Especially when you beat Ohio State.

The coach is the caretaker and curator of that treasure. Whether the coach is here 25 years or five, he's merely passing through. He's part of the tradition and history. His job is to nurture and protect the jewel while he's here.

The same goes for the fans. They are merely passing through, too. One day they will hand down their passion and tickets to the next generation. When they're here, they nurture and protect the program by showing up.

Are you sure that mike's not on? This is getting really deep.

The Nebraska fan and his passion should never be taken for granted. In a state with 1.8 million people, in a time of satellite TV options, the sellout streak should never be assumed.

Winning will always assure the fan is there, and in that sense the relationship is reciprocal. The passion of the fans will always demand winning.

It's been a tough week for that passion. Team blows big lead to UCLA. Team drops out of rankings. Coach says program doesn't need its Hall of Fame quarterback. Head coach is caught on tape cursing fans. Has the program ever had a worse week?

This is another litmus test for Husker fans. But by my definition, there's one way to know if they pass the test.

A good fan is one who comes back.

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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