Let's be honest...this Husker football season has been a huge disappointment. Fans started out the season thinking of a return trip to the Big XII Championship game and possibly a BCS bowl game. The team even had loftier goals, chanting "National Championship" at the end of preseason practices.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving Day, and Nebraska plays Colorado tomorrow for a chance at a bowl game...namely the Independence Bowl in Shreveport. Lose tomorrow, and Nebraska has just it's second losing season in 45 years. Saturday, Dr. Tom Osborne will sit down with Bill Callahan and his staff and discuss the future of Nebraska football. Some folks expect that meeting to result in a dismissal of much of this coaching staff.
As the disappointment level rose as the season spiraled downward, interest in Husker football dropped as well. Fans were willing to pay hundreds of dollars for tickets to the USC game, but a few thousand fans walked out in the first half of a beatdown by Oklahoma State a week later. Tickets became plentiful on the open market. I had a couple of extra tickets sold in September for the Kansas State game, but when game week arrived, the purchasers backed out on the deal. I put the tickets up for sale again, but only received one response: "I'll take those tickets off your hand if you'll pay me $50!" Heck, earlier this week I received four more tickets to the Kansas State game (plus two parking passes!).
So the night before the game, I asked my brother-in-law, who usually joins me at the games if he wanted to bring his son to the game. He hesitated because he wondered if he was still too young, but I pointed out that nobody else wants these tickets, so unless he felt that his son was going to be too much of a distraction, he might as well go.
So sure enough, off to Lincoln we go. His eyes grew wide when he saw the stadium and all the people. Everything was a new experience: the marching band, the huge HuskerVision screen, using the binoculars to see if he could see Grandma and Grandpa in their seats in the North end zone. So much to experience, he was one of the few fans in red in the stadium that didn't care that Kansas State jumped to a 10-7 lead with a couple of long drives in the first quarter against Cosgrove's defense.
But then Nebraska's little good luck charm too effect as the Huskers erupted to a 38-10 halftime lead. Dad would tell his son to cheer louder for the defense and hopefully they'd make a play, and suddenly they did. We ridiculed Ron Prince's decision to go for it on 4th and 24 from midfield with 30 seconds left in the first half, and cheered loudly when Joe Ganz and Todd Peterson made him pay for it with a couple of long passes to score a late touchdown. People around us told that if the Huskers were going to play like that with him there, we needed to bring him more often.
At halftime, we had to find him cheese pizza for lunch, and he smiled at a vendor and got a free bottle of water. In the fourth quarter, Herbie Husker came up to our section and posed for a picture with dad and son. (Hopefully the guy who took the picture for us will e-mail it to us soon!) On the drive back from the game, he finally fell asleep exhausted from his big day, but the rest of the weekend, it was all he could talk about.
I don't know what will happen tomorrow, and I'm not positive what is going to happen after that. It's likely not going to be a positive time for Nebraska fans as we encounter another off-season of uncertainty. We're going to be constantly reminded of getting smoked game after game, questions about whether we were too easy or too rough on Bill Callahan and his coaching staff. People are going to throw things back into our face about Steve Pederson's claims about Husker fans being the "Greatest Fans in College Football".
In a season like this, you forget why you are a fan of Nebraska football. Long time fans remember 60-3 records, playing in five national championship games in eight years, and struggle with the idea of the Huskers being 5-6 and getting beaten soundly in most of those losses. But those same struggles on the field presented an opportunity for a five-year old to attend his first Husker game and remind me of why I'm still a Husker fan.