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December 8, 2010

Huskers: Selling hope.

by Deena Winter

Cornhuskers quarterback Taylor Martinez smiles while on the bench during the Colorado game, during which he did not play. Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE

My husband was once a sports rube. He says the greatest moment in his life, until he met me, was when his Minnesota Twins won the World Series for the first time during his senior year of high school. Then, his first few years as a sportswriter, particularly his experiences covering big time football and basketball, beat any love of sports out of him. He says he could have covered hockey for a lifetime, as long as he didn’t want to have a family. Hockey players had perspective. They enjoyed it. Never took it too seriously. Got beers with their rivals after games and told old time hockey stories that were funnier than anything in Slapshot, the Paul Newman cult hit my husband calls the best sports movie of all time. But football is different.
That’s why he’s been so interested in Huskermania since we moved to Lincoln six years ago. The pain. The anger. The rubes.
All he can listen to anymore, when it comes to sports radio, is a show on KFAN in Minneapolis hosted by Dan Kohl, who calls himself the Common Man. The show is a disorganized mess of a satire that takes shots at sports rubes, athletes and coaches in the fair-weather fan market of Minneapolis. Kohl says that every year all sports teams basically sell hope.
That’s what Husker football does. It sells hope that every year the Huskers could win a title. This year they made it to No. 5 in the nation. Had a shot at a national title. Sold hope. But they lost three games, and now they’re headed to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl, where they’ll hammer Washington, which they already hammered in September at the height of the hope-selling.
In a pretty condescending fashion, my husband tells me that every time a team plays a game, another team is trying to win that game. One of those teams must lose. And the Huskers won 10 of the 13 games. And will probably win 11 of 14. That’s pretty good, he says. But not good enough for rubes, who expect their teams to win them all. Only one team can do that, sometimes two, sometimes none. And that team is the national champion.
When I watch games with a Newsweek on my lap and a pile of pistachios, I’ll sometimes look up to see a yellow flag or a fumble and say “What the $#*&(@$ are we doing?” And my husband will ask me who I mean by “we,” because I don’t play for the team. I didn’t go through two-a-day practices. I didn’t have to get poked in the chest, thank God, by Bo Pelini in the middle of the third quarter. I hate that when he says that.
On my husband’s Common Man Show in Minneapolis, Dan Kohl likes to play a clip of former Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Tice, in a stunning moment of clarity, advising during a news conference that everybody “Enjoy the season.” Then he got fired. His successor, Brad Childress, coached the Vikings within one idiotic Brett Favre pass from making the Super Bowl. Ten games later, he got fired.
This, according to my husband, is sports. Sell hope (national championship). And when hope is lost (Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma), sell blame (Shawn Watson, Big 12 officials, Big 12 conspiracy, 20-year-old redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez). Then we can sell new hope (national championship). Oops – I mean “they” can sell new hope.

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