For all the grief we give Pelini for his team’s failure to go undefeated, Tim Miles has been putting on a clinic on how you get 150% out of your players. Seriously, the guy has a depleted roster and his team is pushing the best of the Big Ten.
Apparently, enthusiasm for Nebraska basketball — or Nebrasketball, as no one says — is at a fever pitch, if anonymous bloggers are to be believed. Probably, it is more accurate to say that it is enthusiasm for enthusiasm that is at a fever pitch. In any case, excerpted above is just one drop in the leaky bucket of early-season exhortations that this year will be the year when it will finally pay emotional dividends to follow Nebraska basketball.
Never mind that the Huskers have only two 20-win seasons in the last 15 years, and have never — NEVER — won an N.C.A.A. tournament game.
But let’s imagine there is reason for optimism, if not for actual, meaningful success than for the satisfying clanks and whistle noises that are the impossible-to-refute evidence of progress toward fickle, ethereal college-athletics respectability. Certainly, Nebraska started the season with a number of victories, as many larger college programs do. But the Huskers also won at Wake Forest, traditionally no slouch in basketball, and they defeated Southern California, which is no doubt lavishing its players with astoundingly lucrative illegal benefits.
And on the morning of Dec. 6, Nebraska was neat and trim and 6-1. That night, the Huskers played instate rival Creighton, and lost in resounding, if typical, fashion, 64-42. It was no surprise, probably, to many observers. And no cause, really, for alarm; the Blue Jays are, year in and year out, a better club.
But for the Huskers, it marked the beginning of an interesting trend: in five out of the next 10 games, Nebraska would fail to score more than 47 points. As a point of reference, the median scoring average for a Division I team is typically 20 points higher.
Indeed, since losing to the Blue Jays, the Huskers have only three wins, none against major-conference programs and only one by double digits. Since starting play in the so-called Big Ten Conference, they have lost four in a row — by an average of 14 points.
“A lot of good things went on,” Miles said. “It just wasnt enough to win.”
Still, the blogger Salt Creek and Stadium at the really-it’s-good blog Corn Nation writes, “I’m telling you right now – it’s time to buy in.”
Which is fine. I am willing to concede that it is more than likely Mr. Stadium has valid, if unclear, reasons for his optimism, and I can believe that the Huskers’ new coach, Tim Miles, is a vigorous advocate for his players. It is further nearly certain that I know so little about basketball that I cannot be trusted to give an intelligent opinion. However, I observe that this finger-on-the-nose giddiness about Nebraska’s basketball team can be interpreted as an example of what I like to call Red Blindness. That is to say, Nebraska fans are not the most level-headed observers of their favorite team. (The showers at the Citrus Bowl had scarcely been mopped before some bloggers were predicting a breakthrough for the football team in 2014!)
Certainly, the phenomenon exists for every club. But I don’t read every blog. And, especially during the football season, what I saw on blogs and on the Twitter was the sometimes angry sentiment that Huskers deserved the support of their fans — to the exclusion of any and all criticism.
I realize that this was not exactly what Mr. Stadium was getting at. Also, it is fair to be mindful that athletes like quarterback Taylor Martinez are, in the end, youngsters and not professionals — though the cash value of an athletic scholarship should never be sneezed at. And it is certainly worthwhile to reflect that college sports are, after all, utterly without importance. But the minute fans stop being honest with themselves and the team they support, the endeavor of college sports becomes futile. It isn’t like Nebraska athletes are your high school classmates; it is O.K. to judge them for what they are: Beneficiaries of your interest.
No one would accuse a serious and reasonable critic of the government of being unpatriotic. So why do I have to swallow gigabytes of nonsense just so I can hang on to my Husker card? Enthusiasm for Mr. Miles and the Huskers might be needed, it might be magnanimous to display, but I fail to see how it is warranted.
Oddly, Sunday night, Mr. Miles seemed to anticipate my feelings.
“If you’re a shallow person and you only need a win to get you over the top, then we’re going to have problems, but you can’t live that way right now.”
He isn’t the first to suggest I lack depth. And so, O.K., I guess we restart the clock on the rebuilding project that is, and has been, the Nebraska athletic program.
That being said, having lived for more than 20 years in Nebraska, having seen Moe Iba in person, I am compelled to add that no matter what Mr. Stadium had written, I wasn’t going to start following Nebraska basketball again in any event. There is a quaint form of comfort to be derived from the fact that, One, I can still remember where I was when the Rich King-led Huskers were waxed by Xavier in the 1991 tournament and, Two, Nothing worth mentioning has happened since then.
And that is the thing. That Husker bandwagon that no one has really gotten on? If I have to, I can still slip on the back and no one will notice.