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October 4, 2002
Husker don't!
ESPN The Magazine

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Let's see. They're robbing the banks in Norfolk. There's no rain for the crops in York or Papillion, nor for that matter in Fremont or Funk. And Johnny Carson has yet to come out of seclusion to remind everybody that at least once there was somebody who was anybody from Nebraska.

But then ... WHO CARES? The Huskers are THREE AND %$&#@*ING TWO!

Been wiped out, 7-40 and 14-36, pitifiul-back-to-humiliating-back! Couldn't move against Penn State. Couldn't touch Iowa State. (Iowa State? They shoot corn dogs, don't they?) Probably can't beat anybody but McNeese State, which, wouldn't you know it?, Nebraska fortuitously scheduled this week -- undoubtedly to reduce the suicide rate in downtown Lincoln.

Children of the Corn
There's nothing more volatile than a mad Husker fan.
Quite appropriately, that is precisely where ESPN producer Lee Fitting and YIR (Your Intrepid Reporter) found one John Shannon strolling along (a little wobbly, it seemed to us) looking for a barber shop in the middle of the afternoon.

"I'll tell you what the problem is, Sir," the scruffy-looking Shannon said, incorrectly guessing that Fitting had recently been knighted by the Queen. "I think Nebraska's quarterback is mind-defined."

Before we could figure out what that meant, Shannon was off, offing the team's poor Jammal Lord -- whose main detriment happens to be that he isn't Eric Crouch, last year's Heisman Trophy winner -- on a stream-of-Husk-consciousness: "What he's doing is he either has problems at home, or he's got problems with the team or a teammate. Something is going on -- I'm not sure exactly. But I know that his confidence is very much down so ... It's just not the quarterback. It's him and his teammates. The courage of the quarterback has downfalled and the teammates have looked down on him because of it."

Equipped with this knowledge -- at the very moment Shannon spoke, Nebraska coach Frank Solich was contemplating downfalling Lord from the starting lineup -- we attempted to move along in search of more maniac-in-the-street expertise about the Husker Don'ts.

But Shannon -- no relation to Del, although he was surely some sort of Run ... Run ... Run ... Run ... Runaway -- was hardly finished with us.

"They [the Cornhuskers] need a change," he continued. "No, not a change, Sir. What they need is they all need to get together, sit with each other and have a, ah, ah, to sit with themselves against the conspiracy that is going on with the people. The coach has nothing to do with it in my point of view. But he has a little discrepancy with the team. What they need to do is build some confidence, get together, have some lunch and you know what -- what's up Nebraska!"

Ah, yeah.

As you might have guessed, as soon as we loosed ourselves, Shannon entered the local barber shop and was summarily thrown out of the place quicker than you can say Dude!

That was depressing enough. But things have gotten so bad in Husker Nation that everyone in greater Lincoln from barbers and lawyers to construction workers and from bookstore babes to grain merchants has their own analysis of what's wrong with Nebraska.

Barber Gary Haun: "The offensive line isn't taking care of their assignments. Another play, the backs miss the opportunity to go a lot further than they had. Still another, it's the quarterback making mistakes."

Attorney Jerry Soucie: " ... The defense needs to go to landmines and punji sticks. They can't do anything right."

Hardhat Gus Golter: "I watch every game, drink red beer with every game and by the end of the first half I'm so disgusted I'm almost throwing my phone. Like it's fire Solich, hire Barry Switzer, that kind of thing."

Coed Piper Marsh: "People are just irritated. They don't know what is going on. They are wondering why the players aren't living up to the standards that Nebraska fans have for them."

Hardhat Jon Reynolds: "If they get behind, Nebraska can't throw the ball."

Coed Alicia Eikenhorst: "I think when Tom Osborne was here, we had a lot better team and I don't think Solich is living up to what the expectations are of him."

Attorney Jim Mowbray: "I am curious if we are gonna be able to continue the consecutive sellouts. We are breaking records now which are the records we don't want to break -- which is falling out of the polls for the first time in 348 weeks. I think if we don't have a winning season, someone is gonna go and it would have to be Solich."

Chad Buller
After getting bounced out of the Top 25, the Huskers have a lot to think about.
Grain Merchant Rick Torres: "I really don't like what [Solich] is doing, what he has done the last couple of years as his own offensive coordinator. He's calling the plays and he can't see the defense. He was used to doing that when Tom Osborne was here. He'd be up there and he could look down and see what was going on with the defense and all that and he would call the plays and he could talk to Tom. But now ... I don't understand why he even wears a headphone set. Who is he talking to up there?"

The one positive about the whole situation, according to Torres, is that "there are a lot of people that get to go to the game this week who've never been ... because everybody is giving their tickets away 'cause they don't want to watch the Huskers."

Whoa. Now, we're talking serious. Now we're talking money. Oilman and prominent booster Dan Hergert said now he's talking to Nebraska athletic director Bill Byrne, of whom he isn't exactly a passionate fan.

"In the last 10 years [the athletic department's] focus has really changed from football to all sports," said Hergert. "[Byrne] has made up his mind he wants to win a Sears Cup. But how important is that? Bill is the kind of fellow that is concerned about his welfare. In his contract he gets a bonus for practically everything, for every sport. How many athletic directors have a radio show? He has a large ego and we are overspent. Our budget is $44 million, in that area, and there is just no way ... unless this football program carries it, we are gonna be in deep doo-doo. If [Byrne] were running a business as a CEO, they would have run him off a long time ago."

Speaking of which, nearly four decades ago, a Nebraska alumni group in Omaha circulated a petition to remove coach Bob Devaney and his staff. Devaney went on to win two national championships. Early in his career, the now-Republican House of Representatives member, Tom Osborne, couldn't beat Oklahoma, couldn't win a bowl game, couldn't recruit speed and quickness. Mid-'90s, Osborne went on to cop three national titles in four years.

So is that a death knell sounding for Byrne, Solich, et.al.? Or is it just Paul Pack's 500-pound Husker bell ringing again? That's the one Pack hauls in from his farm out in the hinterlands of Davie, Neb. (pop. 150, give or take a few pigs), the one that sits outside the Davie Tavern on every college Saturday (accompanied by an official traffic sign reserving the bell's own parking space), the one to which after every 'Husker score the denizens of the DT race to be the first to tug the rope that rings the bell that alerts the territory that Nebraska ain't dead yet.

"Seven-year-old kids come runnin' out here ... 70-year-old women do," said Pack last week. "When we used to score 40-50 points every Saturday, my bell got a lot of action. This year ... well .. the thing's about rustin' out."

But then Pack couldn't resist. "For old time's sake," he said. And, sure enough, he reared back, tugged the bejeezus out of his rope and rang his bell.

Curry Kirkpatrick is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at curry.kirkpatrick@espn3.com.



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