I am a Nebraskan. Now, while that moniker carries certain connotations—both positive and negative—the one thing that it carries with it is responsibility. The responsibility of working hard, providing for one’s family (regardless of gender), and caring for your neighbor.
When the story broke last week of the leaked audio tape of a ranting Bo Pelini, the University of Nebraska’s head football coach, following the 2011 game between the Huskers and Ohio State, my first thought was, “Who is going to take responsibility for this?” As the football coach, Pelini is perhaps the most visible and ridiculed public figure in the state, and is so because of the pride that the state takes in the Big Red. His lofty position is due to his predecessors, with what began with Bob Devaney and continued with Tom Osborne. My generation, growing up in the salad days of the 1990s, were, I truly believe, spoiled with the successes of those Husker teams. We reveled in the 25 straight wins, back-to-back championships, and national glory.
So why, when the current head coach is discovered—two years after the fact—to have blown his lid regarding the fans after one of the greatest comebacks in team history, are people calling for his head? It’s because they’ve forgotten their responsibility as fans. Are they the same ones, in 2011, that left at halftime when the Huskers were down by three touchdowns to the Buckeyes? Possibly.
But what is more important is that they’ve forgotten that as fans, it is their responsibility to uphold the support and sportsmanship that come with filling the stands in Lincoln on Saturdays. These student-athletes work tirelessly to compete and win, and it’s at least partially because of the fans that they don that white helmet with the red ‘N’ on the side.
But it is not the fans’ responsibility to ridicule the head coach, to dissect the offense and defense, and to offer suggestions as to how the team could improve. Granted, Nebraska fans are some of the more-knowledgeable college football fans in the country, but what makes Nebraska stand out, what sets it apart, are the class and sportsmanship that are synonymous with Husker football.
The demonstration of respect shown by the student section before the UCLA game on September 14th is evidence of that. By releasing those gold and blue balloons, and by Coach Pelini having the Nebraska players wear #36 stickers on their helmets to honor Nick Pasquale, the UCLA freshman who died after being hit by a car, it showed that the foundation laid over the past 50 years in Lincoln still exists.
Bo Pelini is a human being. He’s been called out for his actions, he’s taken responsibility, and he’s sincerely apologized for them. UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman, Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst, and AD Emeritus Tom Osborne released a statement in which it was revealed that Osborne became aware of the existence of the audio tape last year and spoke with Bo about it. What this shows is the level of confidence Osborne had and still has in Bo, his acceptance of others’ shortcomings, and his belief that people can improve and better themselves.
Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel penned a great article on the positive impact Bo has had in Lincoln and how it’s transcended the football field. Pelini has embraced alumni and former players and he seems determined to prepare these young men for life after college. Bo may not be a native Nebraskan, but he understands the responsibility that comes with residing there.
Nebraska may never again rise to the prominence of the Devaney or Osborne championship teams, but the program, as well as the fans, can uphold the reputation of class and dignity that make the Huskers what they are. And as for the fans who walk through the entrances that read “Through These Gates Walk the Greatest Fans in College Football,” they must understand the responsibility that comes with that statement.