“. . .all these woes shall serve for sweet discourses in our time to come.”
- Friar Lawrence, Romeo and Juliet
“I sure as hell hope so.”
- Chris Hatch, eternally optimistic Husker basketball fan
About midway through the first half, with Nebraska trailing by double digits and Iowa fans cheering so loudly they were drowning out the Husker fight song, I turned to my wife, shrugged my shoulders and said the only thing I could think of, “Sometimes . . .it’s just really tough to be a Nebraska basketball fan, isn’t it?”
You see, I love Nebraska basketball. I’m a proud season ticket holder. I have about 4 Red Zone student section shirts and I still wear them more than I should, both due to the inherent need to suck in the post-collegiate gut and the fact that those free-with-ticket-purchase shirts aren’t exactly made of high-end material and have started to fall into a state of disrepute.
But the simple fact is, being a Husker basketball fan is a little masochistic. It’s a little neurotic. It’s a little like being an enormous Scorsese fan even though you know his movies can be breathtakingly, violently, depressing. But, damn it, I just love the team. I take pride in supporting a team that has no choice but to “effort” through games. I take pride in standing to clap along to the fight song in a near-empty arena. Maybe it’s the contrarian in me. Who knows. Maybe I am a masochist.
Whatever the reason for my devotion, as I found myself struggling to justify an early deficit to a team equally crappy to my own, I was rewarded on Saturday. Not with a program-changing win. Not with an NCAA “w” or a Cinderella run through a post-season tourney. No. I, and many other like me in this small club of pain-junkies that more closely resembles a cult following of an underground rapper or a director of ultra-gorey horror movies than a fanbase for a basketball team, was rewarded with a small victory.
And at Nebraska, after a season of slogging through tough losses and ugly wins? It’s the small victories that taste the sweetest.
As we walked into our seats, ROW 32 Stand up!, I noticed that the crowd wasn’t quite what I had hoped for. The game had been rescheduled due to Thursday’s blizzard and I had erroneously believed that this would help bolster attendance numbers. A sellout crowd it was not. The crowd, officially listed as 12,000+ on ESPN’s website was only slightly above average.
There was an oversaturation of Iowa fans (*Author’s note: read: more than one) and so what would normally have just been too sub-par Big 10 teams battling it out in a meaningless February game took on an air of us v.s. them. Normally I can keep my fandom at arm’s length from the rest of my mental faculties. With Iowa? Things are different.
They’re felt deeper. The sparks of my caring-too-much are fired with a quick-pumping bellows and, against my better judgment, things get personal. With no other fan base have I so quickly developed a detestation. Even the pony-tailed, hackey-sacking masses from Boulder, Colorado never drew my ire quite like the Hawkeye fans. I believe it has to do as much with proximity as anything else, and my time in Omaha where I frequently encountered Hawkeye fans who crossed the border to move to The Good Life or commuted over to just catch a glimpse of how the other half lived certainly cemented these beliefs, and so the black and gold die-hards were out in pretty healthy numbers.
The Hawkeyes came out hot. Riding a wave of loyal road-fans and a wave of angry Nebraska taunts, especially savory booing was had by all when the opposing team announced Nebraska native Mike Gesell. Gesell seemed to relish his role as villain and promptly got off to a scorchingly hot start. Very early on Iowa threw down a two-handed dunk and Gesell hit a couple tough shots and the Hawkeye contingent picked up steam.
At this point, two things happened at nearly the same time.
1. It became personal. I began cheering wildly. Not wanting to take the bait and get involved in verbal fisticuffs with some random guy who’d made sure to cram in a few bloody Mary’s before the game, but not wanting to let some Coucil Bluffian blowhard come in and out-cheer my team on our homecourt, I made sure to stand and loudly clap during the timeouts. I made sure to gleefully leap to my feet and whoop like a bad “Indian Extra” in a John Wayne movie when we made a big play. I was desperately trying to serve as a one-man counterweight for the Iowa bums who had somehow scored tickets to our section.
2. A pair of Husker fans we refer to as the “Negative Nancies” climbed up onto their soapbox and fired into their completely unfunny and brutally obnoxious stand-up act. Or was it their deeply scientific and insightful look into the world of Collegiate athletics? They groaned. They moaned. They attempted to be bitingly sarcastic but only left me hoping that they would get bitten by a rabid street-dog. They tried to be offensively, caustically hilarious, but they were more battery acid-ear drops.
The first half went badly. The Husker couldn’t break Iowa’s press. They couldn’t make their free throws. The Iowa fans were giddily firing up their foreign chants and things were spiraling. Nebraska was down 41-25 at the half. An already frustrated fan base was wringing their hands instead of clapping them. The Iowa fans two rows down to our left were acting as if they had just found out that LeBron James was going to come back to school and use some of his un-utilized eligibility to play for their squad. At this point, things looked bleak.
As halftime began we kicked into our second favorite Husker side game. The Time Miles Tweet Prediction game.
Quick side rant:
My wife and I have several side-games that help us get through some of the longer dry-spells that occur during a Husker basketball game. I highly recommend using them when you suddenly find yourself in a lengthy T.V. timeout with only the dance team to watch and the Huskers down by 20 points.
1. The Gallegos game:
This game is where I set a 3-point shot attempt total prior to every game tipping off for Husker shooting guard/small forward/for the love of God, why don’t we have any height player Ray Gallegos. It’s been set as high as 14 (*Author’s note: my wife correctly took the over. I’m not kidding.) and as low as 11 (*Author’s note: my wife took the over and was just off.) but it illustrates the insanity of Ray Gallegos getting a perpetual greenlight from three-point range from Tim Miles.
2. The How Late Will Those Two Girls in Row 31 Show Up Game: Where we attempt to predict whether the two girls in the row in front of us will arrive. Lately they haven’t showed up at all, and I have personally theorized on anything from Alien abduction to Taken 3 plotlines.
3. The Tim Miles Tweet Prediction Game: Tim Miles has attempted to utilize social media like no coach before him. He’s embraced Twitter. He’s released short videos and he even stood in as the Student Section made their own Harlem Shake Youtube video. Every game, after the halftime talk in the locker room Miles tweets out some thoughts on the first half. We find that attempting to predict what Miles will tweet keeps us occupied during the Elderly Clogging/Anything with a unicycle halftime shows that the University mercifully abandoned about halfway through the year. **Spoiler Alert** He doesn’t use as many F-Bombs as I would hope.
Alright, back to the story.
As the second half began the Huskers began fighting. And I’m not talking about the keep-it-respectable-so-we-can-lose-by-10 kind of fighting. I mean they were pushing. Clawing. Desperately, frantically attempting to salvage their pride. They were trying to make a comeback.
The Negative Nancies behind us were fully content to keep their standup act going. The Iowa fans shouts were still loud. But something was happening. The Huskers were starting to come alive. My already too-loud screams starting getting a little wilder. I started standing up a little more for little things, like a high-flying rebound by David Rivers. Nebraska was chipping away. Not to make a masterpiece, no, this wasn’t the kind of delicate, craftsman’s touch, they were chipping away recklessly; a rescue team trying to remove the rubble of the first half.
Iowa had gone cold. Our starting five, who would play the entirety of the second half, were rejuvenated. They were fighting their way out from the corner and off the ropes and it certainly wasn’t pretty. It certainly wasn’t elite. It was ugly and bruising and knuckle-bleedingly tough. They would take a leap forward, two steps back, then you would look down on the court and they were suddenly moving forward again.
Dylan Talley was hitting leaners and runners. Tough shot after tough shot. Bailing out a dysfunctional offense along with freshman Shavon Shields heady play. We were down 10. And then 8. And then 6. And then, suddenly we were within four points of the Hypothermically cold Hawkeyes and their fans were sitting down and we were the ones standing and screaming maniacally. We were the ones relentlessly screaming as our defense and our team tried to defend our home turf.
Talley hit a jumper. Iowa came down a bricked two shots and Shields knocked down a two. The game was tied.
The guy in front of me, wildly searching for someone to high-five made the mistake of offering his hand to me and I crash-landed my palm to his with forearm stinging fury. Normally I have the wherewithal when high-fiving strangers to pull my punches but, at this point, all wherewithal had been looted and pillaged and left looking like a store-front during a riot.
Gesell, the Husker born Iowa chosen Public Enemy #1 of the Student Section, missed a shot with two minutes and change to play. Brandon Ubel rebounded the ball and was rewarded on the other end by hitting a two-point basket.
Nebraska had the lead.
The Devaney Center, earlier a tomb of morosely quiet zombies had been systematically brought back to life. Layer by layer. Piece by piece. Ubel’s jumper to tie the game exploded into auditory confetti. Screams, shouts, and wild war-whooping cascaded down onto our fired up players. The building was electric. There was life in “The Bob” yet. This group of basketball fans, replete with chips on shoulders, that often times feels more like being a fan of a particularly deep underground rapper than a big time college basketball program, was suddenly desperate for a win that didn’t mean much to anyone outside of that arena or this state.
(*Author’s note: When you’re a Nebraska basketball fan, even “meaningless” games in February mean a lot. Saying that a conference win “isn’t important” is a lot like a starving person saying, “What, were you out of steak?” when they were just given a hamburger.)
Moments after Nebraska had snatched away a 2-point lead, Iowa responded. Aaron White nailed a three pointer. Just like that, the Huskers were down by a point. Nebraska’s next possession ended after a slow, agonizing process of perimeter passing and dribbling that gained us not an inch towards the basket. Talley launched a shot that caromed off the rim. It was Iowa’s ball. There was less than a minute left.
Iowa milked the clock on their next possession. Husker fans were nervously screaming, myself putting a banshee to shame in decibel-counting, and Iowa was unable to score. Nebraska ball. The Huskers would have a shot, but the shot clock would expire before the game clock.
Again the Huskers went into a facilitated stall-ball. Husker fans were antsy, and rightfully so, about their team needing a huge basket with no truly defined “go to guy” at the end of games. The Huskers, long plagued by stretches of withering incompetence on the offensive end, did what they normally do: they dribbled around, didn’t attack, and ended up stuck with no dribble on the fringe of the perimeter.
They were going to have to call a timeout. There was minimal time left on the shot clock to make a play. Since this post is already far too self-indulgently long, I’ll let you watch what happened next.
Talley hit the long range 3-ball with 9 seconds left and the Bob Devaney Sports Center, in its second to last game as the home to the Nebraska Cornhusker basketball program, Richter Scaled. I know that’s a term that only loosely makes sense, but that’s also the best way I can describe it. There was a cannon-shot of joyful explosiveness. In a game attended by too few and watched by even fewer (*Author’s note: since the game was rescheduled it was only available on BTN to Go) the Huskers had their best moment of the year.
The Hawkeyes inbounded the ball and rushed up court, hoping to catch the Huskers off guard but Gesell’s 3-point attempt to answer clanked harmlessly off the rim. Nebraska rebounded and a free-throw by Gallegos iced the game.
Sure it was against Iowa. Sure it wouldn’t qualify as a “signature win” that so many people are anxious to slap on any big-time victory in college sports. Sure it was in February and the Huskers will be lucky to somehow snag an NIT invite. But on that day it was a win. And a win, especially one against the despised, force-fed rivals one state to our right on a U.S. map, is surely good enough for me.
As we exited the building I could overhear an Iowa fan, wearing black and yellow-striped overalls no less, turn to her husband and say, “Well. . .that F—-ing sucked.” It was definitely a good enough win for me.