Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Husker in BuffaloLand (or, Learning to Care About the NFL)

Some people are sports enthusiasts. They watch every sport available, are fans of all the local teams and are up on the names and stats of all the players. My family enjoys sports, both playing and watching, but the only thing I can remember getting really excited about as a kid was Husker Football.

I say, “Husker Football,” because for some Nebraskans, there is no other kind. By this I mean that they are aware that there are other teams, but that they have no interest in watching these other teams play, unless they are playing the Huskers.

If you ask a Husker fan, “Who is your favorite team?” they will answer “The Nebraska Cornhuskers!” without first stopping to check whether you meant professional or college football or if you were perhaps referring to a different sport entirely.

We love our team. We love to watch them win, and though we don’t like to watch them lose, that won’t stop us from watching (just to gripe to one another about the officials or the coaching staff).

There are other sports teams in Lincoln. Our USHL hockey team has some rabid fans, and it was always interesting to work food service on a Friday night after Omaha’s team had been in town for a game. Stars fans in blue and white would glare across the restaurant or trade friendly insults with the orange and white clad Lancers fans. We also have an AAIPB team, the Saltdogs. (We were and are still baffled about the name, at least the hockey team has a Lincoln-esque name.) And then there’s the No Coast Derby Girls, who never seem to be having a bout when I’m in town & available to go and watch.

I have known NFL fans who were born and raised in Nebraska. Of course, they’re always also Husker fans, but they have found it in their hearts to love another team as well. My high school boyfriend was a 49ers fan. There are amazingly quite a few Patriots fans around, for whatever reason. And my cousin loves his NFL team so much that the colors at his wedding were yellow and red, with his groom’s cake covered with Chiefs logos and crowned with a football helmet.

The easiest way to explain our fanatacism is simply by looking at a map.
Florida, California, and New York each have three NFL teams. Missouri has two! It has been proposed that the reason Nebraska doesn’t have one is because we are quite satisfied with our college team, and probably wouldn’t pay attention to one if it were in town. Those who do want to pay attention are generally fans of nearby teams, like the Broncos or the Vikings (and I’ve even known a Packers fan or two).

We have been paying attention to the NFL recently since we’ve had a few of our seniors drafted. We’ve been excited about the Lions picking up Suh (though disappointed at his behavior as of late, he was never that rude when the played for us), Alex is kicking for the Eagles, and though he had to sit out for the first half of the season with an injured foot, Amukamara actually went with the Giants to the Superbowl!

I’m not sure if there are any other college teams that have a following like ours. I’m sure other teams have crazy fans like we do, but I’m not sure anyone has a complete lack of interest in anything other than their college team like the fans of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

My husband and I were rather baffled at one another on first discussing football. I was ready for a fist fight: he’s from Colorado, and I expected that he would try to shout me down with the stats of CU’s Buffaloes as I shouted the years that the Huskers won National Champions at him. But to my surprise, he showed a total lack of concern for whatever was happening or had happened up in Boulder. He was a bit taken aback by the fact that I seemed to know next to nothing about the NFL, aside from the fact I could tell him that “Da Bears” were in Chicago, but only because I had seen it on a SNL sketch.

He couldn’t understand why I would be bothered by college football while I couldn’t get why he would care about the NFL.

He decided that I must be taught. My lessons came in the form of football games playing in the background of household activities happening on a Sunday, and paying attention to them when I felt like it. Supplementary lessons happened while sitting in the same room as the guys played Madden and ignoring them while I did something else. Eventually, I picked up a few things.

The first professional football culture shock I got was the fact that a fan does not just watch his team’s games, he watches everyone else’s. Who cares if you like the Chargers, you’re going to be watching the Bengals play the Ravens anyway.

I could never understand why anyone would want to get NFL Sunday Ticket until I began to learn how NFL teams are interconnected between North, South, East, and West, and the interaction between the NFC and the AFC. As I understand it, the Chargers fan from the AFC West is watching the Bengals and Ravens because the winner of that game may be going up against his team for the AFC Championship to compete for which goes to the Superbowl.

Another reason to pay attention to someone else’s team is that professional football players get traded around to play for different teams all the time. You want the best quarterback in the NFL to come and play for your team, no matter how many seasons he’s got left.

Also, since professional players are usually around a lot longer than four years, fans get to know the character of the player, on and off the field: is he a loving father, a party animal, a morale booster, or a drama queen? This leads to some people liking (or not liking) a certain team because they have a certain player on their roster.

My own support of certain NFL teams is completely irrational. Last season I developed a distaste for the Titans (for no discernable reason), and the Texans (because they seemed to be winning quite a bit). I have a special place in my heart for the Browns (who have won NFL championships, but it was almost sixty years ago, and way before the Superbowl was born) and I’m pleasantly surprised whenever the Bills win.

Although I now live in Colorado and occasionally get made fun of by friends for being a Husker, I am in good company: Husker fans seem to be everywhere. There are some who live just around the corner from my in-laws’ house, with a miniature red windmill in their front yard and Huskers mudflaps on their truck. It’s hard to drive anywhere without seeing Big Red “N”s on the back of vehicle windows or “University of Nebraska Alumni” frames wrapped around Colorado license plates. I even walked into the grocery store a couple of months ago, spotted a guy in Husker apparel, and said, “Nice coat! Go Huskers!” (He was as surprised to see me as I was to see him, he stuttered and managed to respond, “Yeah!” before I was out of earshot.)

Going back to the maps (which I claim no ownership of, by the way, I shamelessly stole them from various websites), it’s easy to see why we revere our Huskers. NFL teams may be nearby, but driving at least three hours to get to a game doesn’t appeal to many people.
You can see here clearly the reason that we love our Huskers: simply because they are ours. 

There’s something about cruising southbound over the bridge onto 9th street after being away from home for a while, and seeing Memorial Stadium shining in the afternoon sun.

Those are the times that you heave a sigh and think, “It’s good to be home.”


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