Not that I had a choice, but I’m glad I lived — and worked — when I did.
I fell in love with college football in 1977, proposed in 1978 and we’ve been married ever since.
The game was glorious in the ’70s, ’80s and most of the ’90s. Oh, cheating and paranoia have always been in Saturday’s Game. But the game also had an innocence about it, full of color, wacky characters and storytelling.
Sometimes, you felt as if you were covering a comic book, or a movie. Or a movie about comic book superheroes.
This was back when there were one or two games on TV every week.
Back when most games were played at 1 or 1:30 p.m., and fans could eat breakfast and dinner at home — or hit the Legion Club or O Street.
Back when you could spend 30 minutes with a coach after practice — and he might invite you to his house.
Back before we sent a coach a text if we had a question.
Or joined Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram to see what the coaches and players might be saying.
Or in case a player and a fan have a Twitter fight.
Or to see how a recruit feels about Nebraska today. Check his account every day, though, in case he flips.
Or to see if the Nebraska and Ohio State receivers coaches are going at it again.
Back when the summer magazines and their predictions were breaking news, with color photos. Now, cable channels and newspapers and blogs cover the sport year-round, and stories are told and seasons analyzed by the time August rolls around and the starting line isn’t nearly as fresh or exciting as it used to be.
Back when the Big Red Machine was all souped up and rolling.
Oh, there I said it.
Look, this isn’t about how things were better back then. That’s not always true. To each generation its own. Better, worse, whatever.
I’m here to tell you college football, in 2016, is a much different animal than, say, 1986.
That summer, I came to Lincoln to do an interview with Nebraska middle guard Danny Noonan. Got him in the old Big Red lounge for 60 minutes. One hour, me and him. Noonan told story after story. He went off the record a couple of times. I let him. A relationship was born.
Today, a meeting such as that would be virtually impossible.
Why? Well, back to 1986. In September, I came to do a story before the Florida State opener, when the NCAA suspended 60 Huskers for letting unauthorized people onto the pass list. The decision was reversed before the game.
At the stadium, I ran into a friend, Bud Shaw from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was in Lincoln to cover the game and do a story on the players in hot water. Then he would fly home Sunday.
In 2016, the Journal-Constitution hired two full-time writers to cover Nebraska for its Big Ten blog “Land Of Ten.”
The Atlanta paper covering the Big Ten? In today’s world, there are no rules. There’s just more, more, more.
The new AJC scribes fit right in at NU football practice. They are somewhere in there. A group between 25 to 40 media types are at practice on media availability days. From newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, recruiting websites, you name it.
In 1996, Tom Osborne met with three writers after every practice, maybe a TV guy or two once a week.
The plethora of cameras and microphones and questions means you get more Huskers. It also means less time with coach and players, less time for storytelling, less time to build relationships and less trust from coaches, who don’t have time to know everyone.
And coaches have gotten a lot better at saying nothing.
Osborne used to jog after finishing daily interviews. Now, maybe he would see the crowd waiting for him and jog the other way.
Or maybe he would go tweet. Osborne on Twitter? Imagine the fun.
Social media has brought a 24-7-365 element to college football that taps into the best and worst of the game.
This is Kelly Mosier’s area. Mosier is NU’s assistant athletic director for “Creative and Emerging Media.” In other words, he keeps the department up to speed on all things social media. In 2016, this is a very important job.
Mosier’s job also speaks to the specialized nature of college sports in today’s world. The NU football media guide lists 278 names in the athletic department, including Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst.
That’s more than the combined athletic staffs that used to make up the entire Big Eight.
Mosier estimates that 99.8 percent of student-athletes at NU are involved in one of the four main branches of social media. The kids come to NU already experts in social media, accounts and identities established.
Throw in the celebrity status of the college football player and watch it explode. Fans follow their favorite player’s daily exploits, what he ate, what he’s thinking. Imagine Mike Rozier or Johnny Rodgers on Twitter back in the day.
Or Broderick Thomas (@Sandman).
“That’s the beauty of it,” Mosier said. “(Social media) allows fans to be way closer than ever before. It’s a pretty cool deal.”
Well, until it’s not. Way back when, a student or fan would have to sit down and pen a nasty poem to a player after a bad game — or actually confront him in person. And risk getting the business end of the player’s arm.
Now, critics come hard and fast and often after a game. Cyber bullies are everywhere. Players sometimes respond immediately.
We’re waiting for the first tweet from the sideline. Or, better yet, in the huddle.
Back in 1987, NU sports information workers used to put a tape recorder next to the talkative Thomas, to monitor for inflammatory comments.
Now, we all monitor Twitter. It’s open-air entertainment, and it’s now Journalism 101. Media types have to follow a team’s social media offerings. Football programs have staffers keeping tabs on players. Mosier says he encourages assistant coaches to follow their position players, saying it brings them closer.
So who monitors the coaches?
Well, we do. The fans, too. There are many college coaches on twitter, with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh leading the parade. Rarely do they break news. But now you have to keep track just in case.
Meanwhile, it’s now a necessity for a coach to have an account, since the NCAA allows coaches to retweet (or endorse) social media posts from a recruit.
Do the coaches really have time for this? Or do they just have an administrative assistant doing it?
“It’s usually someone involved in the program assisting them, actually hitting the send button,” Mosier said. “But the coach always knows what’s being done.”
Can you imagine Bob Devaney and Bear Bryant going at it over a recruit on Twitter?
No. They lived in a different world, where a player could run afoul of the law and it never came out — after a phone call between the coach and the sheriff’s office.
Today, no such luck. Not only has that practice gone away, but when trouble does arise, it pops up on social media almost instantly.
So can rumors that spread like wildfire.
More, more, more. More on a coach’s plate, more to worry about, more things he can’t control. More media, more access, more football for the fan to devour.
The game has changed. Life changes and the game follows. But some things don’t change.
For three hours on a Saturday, we get a blue autumn sky, 100 yards of green turf and a football.
And the greatest game of all. Still.
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