My wife and I were talking politics last night. OK, not exactly politics. We were discussing how much had changed in our little world since Barack Obama was elected president on Nov. 4, 2008.
We were seven weeks from getting married. We didn’t have kids — now we have three rugrats. We had just bought a house near Westside High School — now we live in Gretna. Of course, we could’ve had the same conversation about the eight years of George W. Bush.
It’s not just my life that changed in those eight years. On Election Day 2008, Bo Pelini was in the midst of his first season at Nebraska. He was reeling following a blowout loss at Oklahoma in which the Sooners led 28-0 after six minutes.
How many points did OU score that night? 62. That’s a little eerie*.
* Of course, the Huskers also gave up 62 at Colorado in 2001.
Here’s the good omen from that week in 2008. The 5-4 Huskers bounced back, beat a pretty good Kansas team, 45-35, and won out. If Mike Riley matches that accomplishment and finishes 11-2, Nebraskans will give him a pass on the Ohio State loss.
>> In honor of Election Day, I thought I’d put together a little Husker-centered ballot for you to chew on. It’s a lot more fun than choosing judges, right?
1. Rank these five multi-year Nebraska starting quarterbacks of the post-Eric Crouch era:
2. The single conference championship game of the past decade you’d change if only you could:
3. If Mike Riley retired tomorrow and you could hire anyone to coach NU, you’d choose which of these five men:
4. Of all the advantages that Nebraska had during the Osborne era that no longer exist, which would you replicate today:
A unique offense built for Nebraska’s climate and recruiting environment
A strength and conditioning program that’s the envy of peers
Coaching staff continuity that fosters exceptional player development
National exposure from being one of a handful of major programs
Relaxed academic rules enabling NU to develop Prop 48s and partial qualifiers
5. Which of these home-and-home nonconference series would most interest you:
6. Nebraska’s best play-caller since Tom Osborne was:
7. The single player who best represents the Bill Callahan era was:
8. The most inexplicable loss of the Pelini era was:
Iowa State 2009
9. In the next eight years, Nebraska will give up 62 points or more in a single game:
10. What happens first:
Nebrasketball notches its first NCAA tournament win
Nebraska football wins a Big Ten championship
Nebraska baseball reaches the College World Series
Nebraska volleyball records an undefeated season
* * *
I would put these questions in a Twitter poll format, but I’d rather not litter my timeline with trivia, I don't want to allow people to vote more than once and I want to maintain some sense of surprise (like a real voting process) — so send me your ballots (email@example.com) and I’ll post the results in the next blog.
>> Last week, I neglected an interesting piece of reader feedback regarding the Big Ten’s move to Friday night games. Here’s Dustin’s response:
As a life long die-hard Husker fan, I am not happy about the idea of the huskers playing home football games on Friday. Why? Well, you may not realize this, but not all Husker fans live in Omaha or Lincoln.
Friday night games will be difficult, if not impossible for people who live a couple of hours or more away to attend. Kind of like the 11 a.m. games we play frequently since going to big 10 aren't the most convenient. Or 8 pm games kind of suck too. I got season tickets for the 1st time 4 years ago. Was so excited. But they aren't cheap.
Have you ever sit in the south end zone? They are horribly uncomfortable too, and that's putting it nicely. The university charges us fans a lot of money for those tickets. The start times vary so much & seem to get more extreme every year. And they pack us in there so tight we can barely breathe. Now they want us out of town fans to take off work or use vacation time to attend a Friday game!? There is more to this than just making more money.
I didn't renew my tickets this year despite the fact it was a life long dream of mine to have husker season tickets. I just felt like me, the average season ticket holder, is just taken advantage of in the name of making more money. They just keep making it more difficult to attend games. And what about high school football. What about hosting recruits for home games? They will be sacrificing a game just to make a few more bucks.
>> My opinion on Nebraska basketball’s final record didn’t change after last night’s exhibition win over Chadron State. The Huskers will still be lucky to get to .500. But I must say, this team should be far more interesting than last year’s.
Isaiah Roby is the best of the newcomers, but Jeriah Horne and Jordy Tshimanga are intriguing, too. Last year’s freshman class — Glynn Watson, Ed Morrow Jr., Jack McVeigh, Michael Jacobson and Bakari Evelyn — got more hype coming out of high school. But this class, I think, has a lot more potential.
>> Excellent profile of Kansas frosh Josh Jackson, from Bleacher Report.
>> Steph is back! What a performance last night.
>> Finally, loyal Mad Chatter reader Paul Putz, a doctoral student in history at Baylor University, has been working on a fascinating history of professional basketball in Omaha, specifically the post-WWII Omahawks. Below you’ll see an excerpt of Paul’s work:
In November 1947 one of the best basketball teams in the country showed up in Omaha for a game at Creighton University’s gym. The 1,000 Omahans in attendance on that November night were probably disappointed with the outcome, but they did get to witness greatness. Two future basketball hall-of-famers took the court: six-foot-ten center George Mikan patrolled the paint, dropping in twenty-six points, while five-foot-eleven guard Bobby McDermott launched set shots from ungodly distances, tallying twelve points.
Mikan and McDermott were the stars of the Chicago Gears, the best team in the brand new Professional Basketball League of America (PBLA). Their opponent on that November night? The Omahawks, Omaha’s first entry into big-time professional basketball.
The Omahawks are a mostly forgotten episode in Omaha’s sports history. When Omaha’s old-timers or history buffs think about professional basketball, they probably turn first to the early 1970s when Omaha (kind of) claimed an NBA team of its own. From 1972 to 1975 the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, led by Tiny Archibald, Jimmy Walker, and Sam Lacey, played at least eleven games each season at the Civic Auditorium. Some might recall, too, the one-year existence of the Nebraska Wranglers, who won the Women’s Professional Basketball League title in 1980-81. And then there are the minor league basketball teams like the Omaha Racers. But long before the Wranglers, Kings, and Racers, the Omahawks were in town.
If you’ve never heard of the Omahawks, don’t feel bad. There is good reason for that. For one, their entire history spanned a grand total of six games. For two, they came into existence at a time when professional basketball was not nearly as popular as it is today.
Back in 1947 the American sporting scene was dominated by professional baseball and college football. For those who did enjoy basketball, college was the preferred game. And even if some liked the pro version, a dominant professional league had not yet emerged. The National Basketball League (NBL) had the most talent, but many of its teams came from mid-sized cities in the Midwest like Fort Wayne (Indiana), and Oshkosh (Wisconsin). The other major professional league, the Basketball Association of America (BAA), had less talent but made up for it with deep-pocketed owners and big-city markets. Many of the best black players did not play in either league, instead suiting up for traveling teams like the New York Renaissance or Harlem Globetrotters.
In 1949 the NBL and BAA merged to form the league we all know today, the NBA. But in 1947 that merger was not inevitable. Recognizing that professional basketball had plenty of room to grow, Maurice White, the owner of the Chicago Gears, decided to form his own league. After winning the 1946-47 NBL title, he took his Gears out of the NBL and made them the centerpiece of the new PBLA. White attempted to expand the geographic scope of professional basketball by placing PBLA franchises west of the Mississippi River and south of the Ohio River. The Omahawks were part of this westward strategy.
The Omahawks were marked by their home state in many ways. They had Frank Hagan, Creighton University athletic director, running business operations. A woman from Auburn, Nebraska, submitted the winning “Omahawks” moniker as part of a naming contest run by the Omaha World-Herald. And five Nebraska products earned spots on the roster: Ralph Langer (Ainsworth), Jim and Wayne Kaeding (Benedict), Clyde Ehlers (Thayer), and Rex Barney (Omaha).
Ralph “Swede” Langer, who led the Creighton Bluejays to back-to-back trips to the National Invitation Tournament in 1942 and 1943, was expected to be the star. Langer’s basketball career had been put on hold while he served in the U.S. Army during World War II. With the Omahawks, Langer had a chance to play for the Omaha basketball crowd once again.
The Kaeding brothers also had high expectations. Jim and Wayne had shattered scoring records and dominated Nebraska’s small-college basketball circuit while playing for York College. Jim was even drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors (now the Golden State Warriors) in the 1947 BAA draft, although he didn’t sign with the team.
Rex Barney was the most famous of the Nebraska bunch, but not because of his exploits on the hardwood. Barney had been a multi-sport star at Creighton Prep before signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943. A hard-throwing and wild pitcher on the baseball diamond, he signed with the Omahawks in part because he wanted to stay in shape during baseball’s off-season.
The final Nebraskan, Clyde Ehlers, grew up on a farm near York. As a high schooler he starred in both football and basketball, leading Thayer to Class C state basketball titles in 1940 and 1941. After high school he played semipro basketball for teams in York and Lincoln.
Joining the five Nebraskans were a handful of basketball hopefuls from North Dakota, California, Arizona, and Missouri.
Unlike most other teams in the PBLA, none of the Omahawks had experience playing in the top two professional basketball leagues. But they were scrappy. Take, for example, that November 1947 game against the Chicago Gears. Although the Gears won, the intensity of the game left such an impression on George Mikan that fifty years later he could still recall having “a particularly rough time of it” in Omaha.
The Omahawks may have played hard and left their imprint on Mikan, but they never really had a chance to prove themselves. The PBLA imploded after the Omahawks had played just six games (posting a 2-4 record). Star players like Mikan found a home on NBL or BAA teams, but many others were left without a team or league. Since salaries were far lower and professional basketball was far less stable back then, the Omahawk players dropped their pro hoop dreams and found other things to do.
Most of them managed to stay involved in sports. Rex Barney pitched for a couple more years with the Dodgers, then got into broadcasting. He eventually became the public address announcer for the Baltimore Orioles. Ralph Langer, who went down as the leading scorer in Omahawks history at 11.2 points per game, settled in Omaha. He passed his athletic ability on to his son, Mark, who earned All-State basketball honors in 1969 for Creighton Prep.
Both of the Kaeding brothers became teachers and coaches, with Wayne settling in Beatrice, and Jim in Muscatine, Iowa. Football fans might recognize the name of Jim's grandson: Nate Kaeding, a three-sport star in high school who later became a star kicker for the University of Iowa and the San Diego Chargers. As for Clyde Ehlers, he probably out-Nebraskaed them all. He went back to the family farm and lived out the rest of his life on the Nebraska prairie, passing away in 2011.
As another basketball season tips off, here’s a hat tip to those five Cornhuskers who decided seventy years ago to chase their pro hoop dreams in a football crazy state. It may not have worked out as they planned, but at least they got to play against the great George Mikan.
If you’d like to read more about the Omahawks, Paul has written a more in-depth history of the team. His article, “Big-League Basketball Comes to Omaha: A History of ‘Omahawks,’” will be published in the forthcoming issue of Nebraska History, a quarterly magazine run by the State Historical Society of Nebraska. You can follow Paul on twitter @p_emory.