Kirsten Bernthal Booth, John Cook

Creighton coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth, left, and Nebraska coach John Cook have two of the nation's best volleyball programs.

Mad Chatter is back! We’ll cover Huskers-Buffs, Eagles-Falcons, Pat Casey’s retirement and much more. But first, the (new) beginning of a special in-state rivalry. 

Hopefully. 

Nebraska and Creighton went the distance Thursday night at Omaha’s loudest hospital. The Jays rattled NU in the second set. Then Mikaela Foecke got mad. Or at least it looked that way. The Husker senior — two national championships under her belt — carried John Cook’s band of newcomers to a win they won’t forget

But if you look at the bigger picture, the star of the night was volleyball in the state. You had 14,022 fans, the largest regular-season crowd in NCAA history, holding their breaths through every rally.  The best part? They were wearing red AND blue, shoulder to shoulder. 

“What an awesome night of volleyball,” Creighton coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said. “To have the largest crowd in NCAA history is pretty amazing, and a five-set thriller that we’re obviously disappointed in how things finished. What incredible fans we have in this state. They came and enjoyed great volleyball.”

The Huskers and Jays hadn’t dueled since September 2016 — before CU jumped to a higher level. Now Bernthal Booth is building a perennial top-20 program, which creates an opportunity. 

Hosting final fours is fabulous. But the biggest volleyball match of every season in college volleyball should be CU-NU in downtown Omaha. 

Why in Omaha? Because the match doesn’t feel so special at the Devaney Center, with limited capacity and an all-Husker crowd. Pinnacle Bank Arena is an option, but not as appealing as CHI Health Center, which gives Creighton a crowd boost. It also gives Nebraska a chance to play in front of its massive Omaha fan base and to get more comfortable in a place that hosts final fours.

Maybe call it a "neutral court" every year. Or treat Nebraska as the home team every other year. 

The point is, the Huskers and Jays are on to something special here. An opportunity to imitate Kentucky-Louisville in men’s basketball. An event that reminds volleyball fans around the country just how deep the grassroots reach here.

Does Nebraska want to give Creighton that kind of platform? It should, even though it means inevitably losing to the Jays for the first time ever. Thursday night — and hopefully many more matches like it — will make the Huskers better in the long run.

It will also put an even bigger spotlight on volleyball.

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» We can define Nebraska football in part by its nemeses. The biggest game on the schedule.

In the 70s and 80s, it was Oklahoma. In the 2000s, it was Texas. This decade? Wisconsin. But if you were a child of the 1990s, the villain was Colorado. 

The irony of that statement is that Colorado went 1-8-1 against Big Red in the 90s. And lost every game from 1992-2000. The Buffs were hated, yes. But what goes a bit overlooked is how they brought out the best in Nebraska. 

Of the five best Husker performances of that sterling decade, I’m convinced three happened against Colorado. 

1992: a 52-7 exorcism at Memorial Stadium. Nebraska out-gained the Buffs 428-144, out-rushed them 373-8 and forced six turnovers.

1995: a 44-21 beatdown in Boulder. On that day, Nebraska didn’t record a single penalty, didn’t commit a turnover and didn’t allow a sack. It scored on the first play from scrimmage and produced 226 yards passing and 241 yards rushing.

(What other games fill out the Top Five? Florida 1995, obviously. And I’ll pick one of those Kansas State wins, probably 1996, one of the most dominant Blackshirt performances — 86 total yards — of the era.)

As the Colorado narrative goes, Bill McCartney got under Nebraska’s skin and unseated the Huskers atop the Big Eight. That’s true if you stop the story in 1990. But the rest of the decade — until Black Friday 2001 — produced some of the best football Nebraska has ever played.

» Trivia question: When is the last time Nebraska football started a season this late in September? Answer coming at the bottom of the blog.

» An email from Harrison Beck:

How on earth did Nebraska go to play Akron and no one called me for the interview of the century about Terry Bowden? He was the head coach at North Alabama when I almost won the Harlon Hill. The only coach who could whisper into this wild horse's ear, and he says, "just run." Guy let me call my own plays like 1942 Johnny Unitas. 
 
I could you about the time he sent me to Best Buy to go get him a TV remote. 
 
Or the time he ran out of gas and made me go fill his truck up. 
 
Or the time he made me go to Frostys to get him an italian roast beef and hot dog sandwich. 
 
Or the time he made me clean out of his garage at his lakehouse. 
 
Or how Bobby Bowden treats him like his little 10 year old son still. 
 
Or how he goes through the newspaper and online and prints out and cuts every single press clipping with his name in it and the game topic - and builds a binder he reads every game week of ESPN, CBS, Local Newspapers-- and their opinion on him and the team.
 
Gosh dangit -- so many good stories. 

» Here's another good story. Before last Saturday’s monsoon at Memorial Stadium, I staked out Tom Osborne in the parking lot. (I asked permission beforehand!)

I wanted to capture a bit of Osborne’s arrival on a momentous occasion and document fans’ reaction to him. 

I omitted, however, the most interesting encounter with a fan, a scene that demonstrates Osborne’s imprint on his state, even at age 81. 

Mike Burnett of Omaha is pushing 60 years old, but he often thinks back on a day in 1974 or ’75. He’d just been cut from the Creighton Prep basketball team. He was shooting baskets alone in the gym after school, waiting for a ride home, when a skinny, red-haired man walked in.

The lights were down, but Burnett recognized Tom Osborne immediately. The coach stopped and watched Burnett take four or five shots. Then he walked out without saying a word.

Burnett reflected on that moment for 40-plus years. He always wanted to mention it to Osborne, hoping he might remember, too. Once Burnett saw the coach in an airport, but he chickened out. But last Saturday he was driving to Lincoln, thinking of John McCain’s heroic life, when he remembered Osborne.

A couple hours and a couple beers later, Burnett was tailgating outside Memorial Stadium when Osborne parked in the stall right next to him. Burnett approached the driver’s side door and waited for Osborne. When the coach opened the door — old-school road maps spilling out — Burnett told Osborne the story.

“You stopped and sat there and watched me shoot,” Burnett said. “It touched me. I was, first of all, shocked. I was so nervous, I was throwing air balls, I’m sure.”

Then Osborne, without changing his expression, dropped the perfect reply.

“I wish you would’ve asked me to shoot with you. I might’ve missed a few, too.”

» Pat Casey represents one of the great success stories in college baseball history.

His reign at Oregon State has many similarities to Osborne’s days at Nebraska. Three national championships in 24 years (Osborne went 25) at a place that — let’s face it — shouldn’t compete for national titles. 

He built a culture with in-state recruits and a stoic demeanor. He went out on top and probably too soon. Even the controversial moral decisions feel familiar. Osborne had Lawrence Phillips; Casey had Luke Heimlich. 

Like Osborne in 1997, Casey didn’t seem ready to retire Thursday. He just seemed burned out

» How Deland McCollough, Kansas City Chiefs assistant, found his biological father in the most surprising place. Crazy story.

» A 12-year-old women’s soccer phenom is deciding whether to go pro. A great look behind soccer’s player development system.

» I missed the NFL. I sooooo missed the NFL. And here’s why. Even when games are relatively ugly, like Thursday’s Eagles-Falcons pillow fight, you get great drama. 

Seriously, is Roger Goodell pulling strings? Are officials and coaches in on it? Why does every other game televised by Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth seem to go down to the last play? 

Hopefully it’s a good omen for a great NFL season in which the league’s stars finally stay healthy.

» Mad Chatter is bringing back its NFL playoff pool.

You’ve seen college bowl confidence pools, where you rank your bowl winners on a scale of 1-40(ish). This is the same thing with NFL playoff qualifiers. Rank your predicted NFL playoff teams on a confidence scale, 1-12.

So if you’re 99 percent sure New England will make the playoffs, they should be a “12″ on your list. If you can’t decide between the Giants and Cowboys for the last NFC wild card, that should be your “1.” The tiebreaker? Your Super Bowl pick.

No entry fee required (though you will receive a free World-Herald book). Deadline is Sunday at noon. Email me your picks at dirk.chatelain@owh.com

Here’s my ballot for 2018:

12 — New England

11 — Pittsburgh

10 — Rams

9 — Minnesota

8 — Green Bay

7 — New Orleans

6 — Jacksonville

5 — Philadelphia

4 — Chargers

3 — Carolina

2 — Houston

1 — Baltimore

I’ll admit, this contest feels a lot tougher than usual. 

» Finally, your trivia answer. When was the last time Nebraska opened a football season on Sept. 8 or later?

The Huskers beat Northern Illinois, 48-17, to kick off a 10-2 season. They were undefeated, in fact, until a November road trip to ... 

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Reporter - Sports

Dirk writes stories and columns about Husker football in addition to covering general assignments and enterprise for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @dirkchatelain. Phone: 402-444-1062.

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