On the Burning of Our Football Program
Yesterday I had the opportunity to take in Iowa State’s drubbing of the Hapless–er, I mean, Kansas Jayhawks. It was a lot of fun and good to see the Cyclones get a win (the quality of the opponent notwithstanding). Despite my Nebraska loyalties, I’ve been a part-time ISU fan for a long time. After all, my favorite football game of all time happened October 1, 2005, when the Huskers and Cyclones battled to a double-overtime Nebraska win.
While nothing beats being in Memorial Stadium for a Husker game, the overall game experience was great. My girlfriend’s father, with whom I attended, knew a lot about football and was a great conversationalist, and whoever runs the PA system at Jack Trice Stadium does a lot of fun things to keep the crowd in the game.
But while I loved the experience overall and hope to get to another game soon, one thing I definitely cannot say I enjoyed was the fans. While they were friendly enough to me (though it certainly helped that I was wearing the right colors), it made me more than a little uncomfortable the way they talked about their coach (one of the most successful ISU has ever had), their starting quarterback (the team’s leader, and best player, for about four straight years now), and their offensive coordinator (who was in the middle of producing over 500 yards of offense).
And I really don’t mean to call the Cyclone fans out in this, because it’s hardly an attitude native to Ames.
Ohio State fans are already whining about their team, despite being undefeated. San Francisco 49er followers started to complain early and often last year, in spite of three straight trips to the NFC Championship game. Heck, reading the comments of Texas fans in the last days of Mack Brown is about like reading the diary of a middle school girl who’d just been dumped (“He said we’d win games together, and he said we’d be national champs forever, and it wasn’t true! And now my life is ruined!”).
I guess that’s just how sports are. The entitled whining, the undue scrutinizing. That is just what football fans do.
But that’s not what the best fans in college football should do.
As bad as I felt for Rhoads listening to the grumbling from delusional fans who don’t understand why it might be hard to win more than a couple of games a season in a place like Ames, I’ve been outright disgusted by Husker fans over the past day and a half.
There’s a lot of reason to be frustrated right now. We’re 2-3 and we could easily be 5-0. But. There’s plenty of blame to go around, and it can’t all fall on the coaches. But. This is a staff trying to adjust to a new program, a new culture and environment, and players they didn’t recruit. But. Let’s not pretend this was the worst loss Nebraska’s had. It’s not even the worst loss in the past decade. If Pelini and his staff could turn the 2009 season around after losing to Iowa State at home, there’s every reason to believe Riley and his staff can turn this one around after losing to Illinois on the road.
But they can’t do it without our support. If you don’t believe fan support absolutely can impact a program, look no further than the aforementioned Pelini regime. Losing the fanbase caused him to go from a hot up-and-comer (in 2011 Bleacher Report ranked him #11 on their list of best coaches in the nation) to a loud-mouthed buffoon in just a few years. Once he lost support of the fans, he was always on the defensive, always trying to justify his employment. It made it all but impossible for him to learn from his mistakes or grow as a coach. And so he didn’t.
The worst thing we can possibly do right now is repeat that scenario with Riley. I don’t know if he’s the man we need for the job, and neither does anyone else. I do know that if we run him out of town before we get a chance to find out, the rest of the football world is going to spend the next year shit-talking our program. I know nobody, coaches or recruits, will want to be a part of that kind of toxic atmosphere. I know the condition of our program absolutely cannot improve if we can’t shake those aspects of it.
The title of best football fans is not something we can just claim. We need to earn it. To defend it. We haven’t been doing this for several years now. I include myself in this.
After this week the game against Wisconsin has suddenly become a lot less important to the division championship, and a lot more critical to our program than anyone could have predicted. Let’s show up in full force and full throat. It’s time to earn that plaque we hang in our stadium the way we expect our team to earn championships.