CHICAGO — Ben Crowder is not Bill Snyder’s source.
Crowder grew up in central Nebraska. “The beautiful village of Waco, 200 people strong.” Graduated from Centennial High School in 1995. Moved onward and upward to NU, where he graduated in 2000.
As a student, he was aboard the Husker Express during the glory years, witnessed the championships, the celebrations, lived the DVDs. He grew up on Tom Osborne and Tommie Frazier, and also Kansas State, Iowa State and Oklahoma.
Then it was time to meet the real world. And that meant Chicago.
Crowder arrived here in 2001, summoned by a job in an investment firm where he still works. He was a stranger in a strange land — getting strange looks while wearing a red “N” shirt and searching desperately for his heroes amid the TVs showing all those Big Ten games.
“I didn’t think much of the Big Ten,” Crowder said. “It was hard at first. Most of the bars here were Big Ten bars. The Big Ten is like a big fraternity.”
Eventually, Crowder found his heaven at a local pub called Kirkwood, where the Husker people hung out.
It’s on Sheffield Avenue, in a tree-lined brownstone neighborhood not far from Wrigley Field.
Kirkwood is a cool place, with a giant bar and an outdoor patio in the back. But it has a distinctive Big Ten feel. The first thing you see when you walk in is a table hockey game, complete with players painted in Blackhawks and Red Wings jerseys.
You never saw a table hockey game in Manhattan or Stillwater.
To the right of the big bar hangs a banner showing Nebraska’s football national championships.
To the left of the bar, a banner showing Indiana’s basketball national championships.
A Husker football-Hoosier hoops bar? With 14 teams, sometimes you have to share. Welcome to the home of “Chicagoans for Nebraska.”
Crowder is now the president. The group has 300-some members, a fraction of the 2,000-some NU alumni who live in the Chicagoland area.
They have watch parties. They have bus trips to the game at Northwestern. They’re doing a “Taste of Nebraska” shindig next month, and hope to have Runza and Valentino’s pizza shipped in.
And now, as Nebraska enters its sixth season in the Big Ten, the people here no longer ask them why they’re wearing Husker shirts. One day in 2010, they woke up and they were in the fraternity.
“It was a little stuffy, but now that we’re in there, it’s good,” Crowder said. “We’re more included in the group. We’ve done more events with Penn State and Michigan fans.”
So, you’re not aching to go back to the Big 12?
“Oh, no,” Crowder said. “I mean, we all remember the Oklahoma games. But we’ve moved on. We feel like we’re part of the Big Ten. There’s so much going on here. It’s a good place to be.
“But ... it would definitely be nice to have some success.”
Snyder, the Kansas State football coach, made headlines the other day when he said he knew of two former Big 12 schools that wished they could come back to the conference.
The inference immediately was Nebraska. Then Snyder confirmed the suspicion a day later by telling an ESPN reporter that he missed the series with NU and added, “I’m not so sure they’re pleased with the decision they made.”
I’m not sure who Snyder was talking to, but it could have been a former Husker coach or player or Husker fan who got lost and wound up in Aggieville looking for Chad May.
Enough already. Folks, it’s not happening. Nobody in charge at NU wants it to happen. Very few Husker fans I know or hear from want it to happen. The vessel is pointed north and east.
The Big Ten offered the ultimate package in 2010: a secure place to live and play, a place for NU academics to explode and a nest egg that will take care of future generations of Huskerdom.
On Tuesday, we’ll get a nest egg update from Commissioner Jim Delany, who is expected to announce a new TV deal that will allow each Big Ten member to pocket $40 million to $50 million a year.
Plus, the Big Ten put Nebraska in the easier of the two divisions, surrounded by rivalries that should grow and all within driving distance. It has the potential to be the Big Eight for future Husker fans.
You want to talk about something Husker fans miss, Coach Snyder? That would be the Big Eight.
The sideshows and uncertainty of the Big 12, the Longhorn Network and games with West Virginia and possibly now Connecticut, Houston or Cincinnati? No, thanks.
I tell you what Husker fans really miss: winning big.
If there’s any regret about the Big Ten, it’s that NU football has yet to put its best foot forward. The Huskers have won their division once, and then got blown out. The losses to Wisconsin. And Purdue. Ugh.
Sure, the games with Rutgers and Maryland do not compute, and home schedules like this season’s are hard to digest. But the big boys in the other division will start showing up every other year soon enough.
None of that will matter if and when NU gets back to being a big boy.
That’s the concern, the focus that Husker fans have right now. Win the division again. Then see if Mike Riley and Co. can knock Urban Meyer or Jim Harbaugh off a pedestal.
Yes, it will help when those fully vested Big Ten checks arrive in July 2017. And there have been a handful of Husker programs that have won Big Ten titles. But raising football to the highest level in the league will feel like Big Ten initiation.
A few weeks ago, I attended an annual Big Eight writers reunion. We acted out a Bruce Springsteen song, sitting around telling boring, old stories of glory days. In this ever-changing world of realignment, it was therapeutic for an old soul.
I’m starting to wonder if Coach Snyder was talking to some of those Skywriters. Hey, the idea that the K-State legend misses Nebraska? It’s touching.
Sorry, Coach. Nebraska is in the Big Ten, now and forever. There’s a great, big future ahead, and a lot of work left to be done.
And a cool hockey game waiting at the front door.