Football season starts tomorrow for my college team, the Nebraska
Cornhuskers, and I'm pretty fired up about it. I hang out in geeky circles, and as you might expect, the Venn diagram for sci-fi/fantasy writers and football fans doesn't have much overlap (a notable exception is my friend Rich Matrunick, who is an excellent writer and ardent fan of the Steelers and Penn State). I don't begrudge them this -- you can't make people like what they don't like, I always say. I just don't get to talk football that much. So being a writer, I thought I'd write a little about it.
[Author's note: If you're a fan of football in general, or of Nebraska football in particular, I have nothing new for you. This is post is written for outsiders wondering how a scrawny, sensitive, bookish guy with no athletic ability ends up liking a sport for made for large, aggressive alpha males.]
Nebraska the team is a rally point for Nebraska the state. Nebraska fans
tend to live in the past, most
specifically the 1990s, when the Huskers were indisputably the best
college football program in existence. We point with pride to facts that would be embarrassing to other states, like the fact that on game day, Memorial Stadium's 90,000 spectators make it the third-largest city in the state (though most teams are jealous of the fact that there hasn't been a single empty seat at Nebraska home games since the Kennedy administration).
Nebraska is unique in that there are no other major sports teams of any kind within the state, and outside of Lincoln or Omaha, there isn't a whole lot for kids to do. When I lived in Florida, you had fans of UF, Florida State, and Miami intermingling with each other and deflating each other's tires. In Nebraska, your conversational choices are commiserating over Husker football or long, awkward pauses. (Okay, you could talk about Iowa, I guess, but why?) Half of all flat surfaces in the state are painted Husker red. Living in North Carolina, I occasionally meet fellow Nebraskans, and the first thing we talk about -- whether they're a retired banker or a kid in a punk rock band -- is how the team looks this year, and to bemoan the team's play-calling (FYI, no football fan anywhere has ever been happy with their favorite team's play calling).
Some of my favorite memories are from when I was a kid watching Husker games at my Grandma's house in Homer, Nebraska (population 500 or so). We'd gather around one of those boxy wooden TV sets that weighed a hundred pounds and had a seventeen-inch screen. My wife Jen still brings up the time I took her to meet my grandmother. Grandma had prepared us a picnic feast, and over pimento-loaf sandwiches and potato salad she grilled me over whether new coach Bill Callahan's west coast offense was strategically on-par with Nebraska's traditional option-based running attack. Grandma did everything but bring out a chalkboard and start diagramming plays.
I wanted to share a couple things with my non-sporting friends to show part of why I enjoy the game. I'm not trying to convert anybody, but rather show that football (and football culture, which even I will admit can be obnoxious), for all its seriousness, still has some genuine fun left in it.