Over the weekend, Omaha World-Herald sportswriter Tom Shatel called Nebraska’s loss to Minnesota “unthinkable.”
Now I get it.
For years, I’ve been trying to figure out where the sense of entitlement that Nebraska football fans carry around comes from. I thought I had it pinpointed to history and a general ignorant understanding of the same. I guess I was only half right.
In addition to Nebraska’s winning history creating certain expectations for fans, the people who cover the Cornhuskers are just as much to blame. Maybe they don’t realize they are doing it, but little things like the word Shatel used to describe Nebraska’s loss feed an unreasonable way of thinking that makes losses to programs like Minnesota unthinkable.
Why is it unthinkable for one college football team to lose to another college football team, especially given the fact that the two have similar geography, a similar recruiting base and the exact same number of scholarships? Why it is unthinkable that programs who turnover 25 percent of their personnel every year might yield different results from year to year. Why is it unthinkable that these programs made up of 18-22 year old kids might perform differently from week to week?
It’s not unthinkable. And this is why Tom Shatel’s choice of words was ridiculous.
College football fans have this irrational thought process that says “if it happened before, it should always happen.” Nebraska football fans could be the poster boys for this school of thought. Again, a school of thought fed to them by the media who produces all content not on the actual field of play from which the fans form their opinions.
On Friday, a local talk radio show was asking callers to call in and give their predictions for the Minnesota game. It was a Husker fan circle-jerk, with high fives all around as caller after caller predicted a double-digit win for Nebraska. Then one caller chimes in with what was apparently an “unthinkable” prediction. He said the Huskers would win by less than a touchdown.
You know that record-scratching sound in movies where when someone who doesn’t belong in a room or a bar walks in and everything screeches to a halt? That’s pretty much what happened on that radio show. One of the show’s hosts immediately replied “YOU THINK IT’LL BE THAT CLOSE?” I like to picture him almost falling out of his chair in the studio, papers flying everywhere. Imagine if the caller had predicted a Minnesota win. Would the station have spontaneously combusted?
When the Nebraska media isn’t busy trying to convince the fans what to think, they are busy asking the fans to think about questions that either don’t matter or can’t be answered. Jon Nyatawa, another Omaha World-Herald writer, published a piece after the game asking fans questions like “Nebraska lost the line-of-scrimmage battle to Minnesota. Is the lack of physicality a sign of things to come?” I don’t know Jon, but I know it’s a good indication of how things are right now.
Nyatawa also asked “How does NU rebound mentally? The road to a potential title game berth gets only more difficult from here.” Win lose or draw, the road to a title game was always going to be tougher after the Minnesota game. Again, the media trying to convince fans just how good Nebraska is or is supposed to be. Rather than look at the loss as a gauge of the team’s shortcomings and overall talent level, the media focuses on it being an unexpected hurdle on the way to a place they are good enough to get to. Maybe they aren’t good enough to get there? Maybe they couldn’t beat a team that Iowa beat a couple of weeks ago on the same field.
*GASP* MAYBE NEBRASKA IS NOT AS GOOD AS IOWA!
No, no, no. That just can’t be. This is Nebraska. Nebraska’s standard is national titles in football (five in over 123 years). We are supposed to rise to the top of this Big Ten conference every year, just like we did in the Big Eight and kind of did in the Big 12. We are better than Iowa…because…because…well, we just are.
Actually, probably not. From what I’ve seen in terms of offense, defense, coaching and just flat out being prepared to compete, Iowa is the better team in 2013. That’ll all sort itself out on the field later.
What doesn’t appear to be anywhere near sorted out is this illogical belief in a football team — a belief that goes well beyond being die-hard fans, blasts past the realm of being a homer and settles right into borderline religious extremism. This belief is such that a minimal amount of historical championship success has dwarfed and eclipsed what it means to be a winning football program (which Nebraska is). This belief has Nebraska fans ignoring and blowing off nine and ten win seasons because the team hasn’t won a conference title recently. This belief has a current head coach on the hot seat — a coach with a higher winning percentage than the overall winning percentage of the program throughout its history.
That belief is almost the textbook definition of “sense of entitlement.” You want more specific examples? Check out some of these responses to a question asked on Facebook by another local talk radio show. The question was “So what is your immediate reaction to today’s game?” Now, naturally you are going to get some heated, knee-jerk reactions, but some of the responses were very telling of a deeper problem.
Sara says “All I can say is that I really wanted Bo to succeed and I’ve been supportive of him, but after this I’m done. This isn’t working. Time for a new coaching staff.”
WOW. What isn’t working? Your team is 5-2. Your current head coach has won 71 percent of the games he’s coached. Tom Osborne won just over 83 percent. Basically, Bo wins seven of every ten. Tom won 8 of every ten. Does every coach need to be Tom Osborne?
Tom (not Osborne) says “Complete regime change Monday morning. Let the world know we do not tolerate this in the land of the husker!”
Good idea, Tom. Let’s let the world know that we don’t accept coaches who win 70 percent of their games. Let’s let every head coach out there know that if you want this job, 70 percent is not good enough in a place where our team has won…70 percent of its games historically. Wait a second…
And perhaps my favorite comment, coming from a fellow named Matt. Matt says “Angry, frustrated and depressed. I miss the Nebraska football I grew up watching. I no longer look forward to Saturday’s in the Fall.”
So hold on there, Matt. I’m going to assume you grew up watching Nebraska during the 1994, 1995 and 1997 championship run. So basically what you are saying is that if your college football team doesn’t win all of its games and the national title, you want to take your ball and go home because this isn’t fun anymore. Hmm…there is a word for that…hang on, it’ll come to me. Is it ENTITLED???
What happens now is we sit back and watch a fanbase cannibalize itself in a civil war over what the Nebraska program was, is and shall become. Steven M. Sipple, columnist for the Lincoln Journal Star, seems to have fired the first shot in the latest battle. He wrote an article following the loss to Minnesota with the title “Husker Fans Should Expect More From Pelini’s Program.”
Of course they should, Steve. Why not? After all, you are telling them they should, right?
Gimme a break. There are 125 teams in FBS Football. All of them, unless they are on sanctions, have the same scholarship limit. All of them play on TV. All of them are essentially playing for the same prize. It is unreasonable for any fan or group of fans, regardless of the history of a program, to expect their college football team to win ten and eleven games every single year while competing for conference and national titles annually. If and when it happens, GREAT! Enjoy it. But as soon as you make that the standard, you set yourself, your fellow fans and your team up for a huge letdown every time, even if it’s only 3 out of 10, you don’t come out with a win.
That is where Nebraska football is right now. A group of college kids is expected to perform at the same level that a bunch of guys did years ago, regardless of the fact that the playing field and rules have changed. Those expectations come from an unreasonable and entitled fanbase, fed those ideals over time by an unreasonable and entitled local media.
I suppose expecting that to change anytime soon would be unthinkable.
BY J.P. SCOTT ON OCTOBER 28, 2013
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