Saturday, September 23, 2017

Requiem For A Dog

As a child I feared dogs. I am not sure about the origins of this fear, but I had it from a very young age, to the point that I cannot remember when I was not afraid of them. It did not help that I grew up in a place where trashy people kept their miserable dogs tied to a tree in their back yards, where they would bark and growl menacingly. Or that people let their dogs run wild, like the house on the corner with a massive doberman. There was also the time that I went to the park about age nine and some idiot had their huge dog running unleashed. I ran out of fear and the dog chased me and tackled me to the ground. My friends who had dogs would mock me for my demands that the dog be kept away from me. I interpreted their attempts to jump up and greet me as threats.

In adulthood I learned to be able to barely tolerate dogs since my outright fear was too embarrassing. It was thus an unpleasant surprise ten years ago when I found out that the woman I was wooing long distance had a big dog. (We had met in a third location.) I knew for our relationship to work I would have to be able to deal with the dog, and I wasn't sure if I would be able to.

To my surprise, I fell in love with the dog. She was a border collie-Bernese mountain dog mix, a big furry friendly animal who did not bark or jump. Instead, she would just come up to me and nudge my hand with her snout, encouraging me to give her some attention. Hannah melted my heart and made it possible for me to love dogs, something that I never thought that I would ever be capable of doing.

I'm sure you know the rest of the story. I ended up marrying her owner. After two years in long-distance marriage limbo, I was able to move to New Jersey and live with my wife and our dog. I am not sure how it happened, but at some point the first year I arrived I became the primary dog walker. Every morning the first thing I did was to take Hannah on a walk around our Newark neighborhood. She was a local celebrity, especially when I walked her after work. Little kids would run up and beg to pet her, or look out the windows of their cars and shout "bow wow!" She also made a new improbable friend: my cat Stella. The two kept each other company while my wife and I were out at work, and when I came home neither animal seemed starved for attention.

Hannah was ecstatic to have two parents rather than one. Her nightly ritual was to take a flying leap into our bed and nestle herself between the two of us, despite her sixty pound weight. The next year, that changed in ways I still feel guilty about. As we welcomed two girls into our life, Hannah was now permanently demoted. The first night we had them at home she was at least fiercely protective of the girls. However, as they grew older and started crawling, we had to keep her separate with a baby gate, something that she very obviously resented. I still kept walking her, and would slyly brag to my spouse that Hannah had switched her primary allegiance to me.

At least when our children were a year and a half old we moved out of our Newark apartment into a house. Hannah obviously enjoyed having more space, both indoors and outdoors, but sadly her feline companion died a year later. Her health took a deep dip, to the point that we thought Hannah was going to follow her into the grave. She managed to recover, and my daughters even began to develope a more sympathetic relationship with her.

Unfortunately, Hannah's health went into decline, as your would expect from a old dog. She had issues with incontinence that often frayed my patience and meant some very unpleasant surprises when I came home from work, stressed and exhausted. Some medicine helped with this, but she was not the enthusiastic dog she used to be. Instead of dragging me down the block on our walks, I had to cajole her to get out of the house. Last Thanksgiving I was seriously frightened at her health, but she managed to rebound to give us another year together.

Sluggish but cheerful, I hoped that Hannah was going to see another spring. But it was not to be. On Wednesday, as I was riding the train home from work, my wife let me know that she could suddenly barely stand, and was going into seizures. We both knew it was time. At the vet's office, it was obvious that she felt the same way too. In those horrible minutes of having to wait for the doctor to come in, I just kept petting and petting her, all while her face held the same panting grin that had melted my heart years ago. Her eyes had were now clouded, but she was still the same loving dog I'd known for a decade. I soon gazed into that face for the last time. When we came home we had to tell our daughters the news. One was nonplussed, the other shrieked a shriek of grief and despair that let me know that she understood what death meant, probably for the first time in her young life.

I'm trying not to let those last moments dominate my memory. Today, as the time for our usual late afternoon walk came around, I felt such an absence. I remembered all those walks with Hannah dragging me around. I remember her delighting all the neighborhood kids. I remembered a dog companion who made me capable of loving dogs. I do not think I will be able to love another one the same.

Friday, September 22, 2017

What Katy Tur's Book Inadvertently Reveals

We need more reporters like Bugs Raplin

I am just over halfway through Unbelievable, Katy Tur's breezy memoir of covering Donald Trump's campaign last year. I picked it up with great interest, wondering what somehow who covered him day in and day out would have to say. So far, I have been very disappointed.

There is little to zero insight in this book about Trump, his campaign, his supporters, or the way the media covered him. Instead, it's a self-serving story of Katy Tur Intrepid Reporter. Now don't get me wrong, she put a great deal of work into covering Trump and endured some really rotten treatment from him. At the same time, there has been ten times as much space devoted to the food at various events than the reasons Trump won the election.

I guess I should not have been surprised, since the journalists in the higher echelons of the media, as Tur's book inadvertently reveals, are only interested in The Game, and will never, ever question it. She talks with horror at the way that Trump insulted her at campaign rallies in ways that made her fear for her safety. She famously talks about the time he planted a kiss on her without her consent. She discusses Trump at different times as if he is a transparent fraud. However, when it came to her reporting from the trail, it followed the rules of The Game. She reported the horse race, never flat out telling the country that she thought the man she was covering was entirely unfit to be president.

I don't mean to single out Tur here, since she is just one member of the press corps that plays by the same rules. At least she's given some sense of what she really thinks of him, the others never do. Trump for them is not a moral catastrophe, he is a career, he is ratings, he is money. In the summer of 2015 I remember Rachel Maddow, someone whom I greatly respect, treating Trump's rallies as an amusing joke. This was the same man, of course, who had just called Mexicans murderers and rapists and was openly exploiting racial resentment. As true as that was, he was also a cash cow, something the head of CNN even admitted.

In being a cash cow, Trump played the media during the election like a fiddle, and continues to do so. Yes Trump is a failed businessman, but he is a very successful media figure. During the election he got the cable stations to broadcast his rallies unexpurgated, giving him an insane amount of free airtime on a scale that should not be allowed in a functioning democracy. (Oh for the days of the equal time provision.) He still finds ways to get the cable stations to hang on every word he has to say. HE sets the tone, HE sets the terms of debate. In any debate the side that fights on its own ground is halfway there to winning.

Worse than that, he knows The Game and knows the roles of the other people playing it. Trump constantly engages in dominance via humiliation. He attacked Katy Tur's reporting while she was in the room with his baying mob. John McCain endured years of rotten treatment as a POW, but had his sacrifice denigrated. He doxxed Lindsay Graham. He called Chuck Schumer "crying Chuck" after the Senator wept when recalling his relatives who were killed in the Holocaust. He claimed that Ted Cruz's father was involved in JFK's assassination. Despite all of this all of these people have gone on to either cover or work with him as if he is a normal person WITHOUT DEMANDING AN APOLOGY. The Game and playing it matters more than their integrity, something that Trump, who wants to place himself at the center of The Game. gleefully exposes with his behavior.

As long as our media and political elite value The Game above all else, it is useless. I've said it before, I will say it again. This is all in our hands. No one is going to come and save us, so we need to get to work.

Monday, September 18, 2017

My Letter To Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson

Doug Peterson is the Attorney General of Nebraska, my home state. He is one of the AGs suing the federal government over DACA, and I felt it necessary to tell him what I felt.

*****
While I currently live in New Jersey, I was born and raised in the great state of Nebraska. I take a great deal of pride in the Cornhusker state, and for that reason I still care deeply about what happens there. For that reason it was with shame and dismay that I read that you were one of the state attorney generals responsible for a push against the DACA program.

The young Nebraskans that you want to deport to countries they hardly even know represent so much potential for the state. I grew up in Hastings, a town that has benefitted greatly from recent waves of immigrants, who have helped the city maintain its population and who have added new life and vibrancy. I have seen this repeated in towns across rural Nebraska, which is desperately in need of new blood.

Dreamers are especially noteworthy in the contributions they are making to the economy of the country and the economy of the state. Leaving morality aside, it seems that uprooting them from their adoptive country would be a terrible idea from an economic perspective. Of course, if there is anything that we can say about bigotry, it is that it is profoundly stupid. At the end of the day, I think we both know that people like you are opposed to the Dreamers because of who they are and where they are from. It is a sad fact that there is a great deal of hate and resentment in the state of Nebraska being directed at immigrants, and your actions give aid and comfort to the forces of racism. Prejudice is the only explanation I can see for you going out of your way to cut off the state’s nose to spite its face.

Please reconsider your cruel stance on this issue, especially as politicians are currently scrambling to protect the Dreamers. It is not too late to keep your name from going down in history as an enabler of injustice. It is not too late for you to put humanity above politics. In short, it is not too late for you to do the right thing for Nebraska.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Episode 18 of the Old Dad's Records Podcast

On episode 18 of Old Dad's Records I thought I'd talk about music that fits with the month of September. The song I chose was on the nose, but so what! The song in question in "September" by the great Earth, Wind, and Fire. It is a song of pure joy, and as such a necessary thing to have in my life in these dark times. For the album, I talk about Ram, Paul McCartney's second solo album, and the best argument I know of when I want to defend Macca's solo work. I end by recommending Detroit post-punkers Protomartyr.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Why Medicare For All Matters

This week Bernie Sanders introduced his Medicare For All bill in Congress. In itself, this should not be a big deal. Congressmen like John Conyers have been proposing something like this for years. The difference is that enough prominent Democrats have rallied behind it that true universal health care has now essentially become a litmus test for Democrats.

This is a very important development. The last time that I felt this was the case was back in the early 1980s, when Democrats were still keeping the old time New Deal religion. After 1984, when Reaganism appeared to be the new reality, that changed. By the time a Democrat was able to propose a new health care system in the form of Bill Clinton, it crashed and burned. Barack Obama managed to get somewhere, but only by basically adopting a moderate conservative solution. Even that involved a great deal of struggle and opposition.

Now it appears that Democrats are willing to go all-in on a social democratic health policy. My hope is that this represents a major values change. The other side has profited from turning policy issues into moral issues. For example, the inheritance tax is opposed by saying "It's not right to keep someone from giving to their children." For years Democrats have failed to offer the proper moral argument in return, since that argument required a social democratic values system, as opposed to a neoliberal one. The Democrats have long been incapable of saying "It is morally wrong for the wealthy to perpetuate their power and advantage across generations," even though this was an uncontroversial opinion a century ago.

It is this values clarification that is necessary for the left to win out. Instead of getting lost in the weeds of policy wonkery, progressives are more willing to think big. This means starting from some assumptions, such as that every person's life has value and every person deserves to be healthy, safe, and protected. Even if the push for Medicare for all fails in this Congress, which is pretty much inevitable, it is changing the discourse in ways that are absolutely essential.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Looking At 42


My birthday was last week, on Labor Day. I've now hit 42, which is a good number. It reminds me of Jackie Robinson and The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. I refuse to let myself be sucked in by our culture's obsession with youth and fear of aging. Sometime in the past year I realized that, for the first time in my life, I am at peace with the knowledge of my inevitable death. Perhaps it's because I felt like I've finally accomplished enough to feel like I have not wasted my shot. I certainly didn't feel that way at 32.

At the same time, I have realized that I have changed in ways that are not all that great. In recent years I feel that I've regressed and become a much less good-natured person. In my teens and early twenties I was angry a lot, with a big chip on my shoulder. This was mostly due to emerging out of years of bullying at school, which inflamed feelings of contempt for other people and my surroundings. To protect myself from constantly being told that I was ugly and weak I told myself that I was better than the people around me. I carried this attitude with me to college, but getting social acceptance there helped wear it down. This process continued in graduate school (compounded by the humbling experience of my master's program), and by the time I hit 30 my friends would actually characterize me as "laid back" and "easy going." Nobody who knew me at age 17 would have said such a thing.

It was after getting my PhD that things changed again. Two years of being exploited in a low-paid "visiting professor" position and three years on the tenure track where I again had to face the kind of bullying that I thought I had escaped in my youth had some bad effects on me. I have become much more attuned to perceived slights, and to people condescending to me or trying to take advantage of me. I vowed after that to never again be a pushover and to always hit back twice as hard when someone came at me. Now I get mad. A lot. For awhile I thought that I had attained a healthy assertiveness that I had once lacked and whose absence had allowed other people to hurt me. Now it seems that I am in danger of becoming a bitter, angry person, the kind of middle-aged I guy I used to look at with a shudder.

Part of the issue is that as a teacher and a parent and a spouse, I have to expend vast amounts of patience on a daily basis, and I am finding all too often that when I get home from work, my reservoirs have been exhausted. I've resolved to try to fix this.

The inspiration came from thinking about some of the people I have been lucky to know in my life. I know people who have been through worse than me who are still the kind people they always were. They are the kind of people who never say anything bad about another person, who respond to challenges with patience. They are people are who are always able to maintain perspective about the problems in their lives. I need to remember their example.

If middle age has taught me anything so far, it's that the doors of possibility close with each passing day. Instead of thinking about the person I am going to be, which is what consumed my youth, I AM that person, and either have to be at peace with that, or think about how I can be better.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Memoirs of a Lapsed Husker Fan, Part Three

1995 was the year of Lawrence Phillips, in more ways than one

This is the third installment of a four part series. You can read part one here and part two here.

The 1994 national championship win will never be rivaled as my most meaningful sports fan moment. I don't think I can care about sports the same way now that I am older and wiser, and none of the teams I root for has the dramatic tension of the Osborne-era Cornhuskers. The aftermath of the win, however, was bittersweet. Penn State had managed to win the Rose Bowl and go undefeated, leading to whispers that the poll voters went for Nebraska only out of sympathy to old man Osborne. That rankled. Would Nebraska ever truly get the respect it deserved?

There was also something more serious afoot, namely accusations of sexual assault against defensive lineman Christian Peter. These had first emerged during the 1994 season, but in 1995 the University of Nebraska would award his victim, Kathy Redmond, a settlement. She has gone on to be a prominent activist in the fight to hold athletes accountable for acts of domestic and sexual violence. Peter's acts would be overshadowed during the season by Lawrence Phillips, as the 1995 season exposed a deep, dark underbelly of misogynistic violence on the Nebraska football team. While this team would go on to be the most successful in Nebraska and maybe college football history, looking back 1995 was the year that my Husker fandom stopped being naive and absolute and began to start cracking oh so slightly.

This was a team that absolutely dominated the opposition in ways that have perhaps never been seen before or since. The closest any team got to the Huskers was Washington State, who lost 35-21. Tommie Frazier was back from his blood clots, and at the top of his game. The Blackshirts were putting the fear into opposing offenses, and Nebraska's option attack put up obscene statistics. Four different running backs put up 100 yard games. I got to see them play Pacific in Lincoln, when the Huskers put up over 700 yards and their third string running back, Damon Benning, ran for 173 yards. I was able to attend the game because a friend of mine at Creighton was high school friends with one of the players. We even hung out a little afterward, and there just seemed to be this aura of absolute confidence around him and the couple of other players I met hanging out in the dorm afterward. These guys were not going to lose.


But beneath all of this was a scandal that began to permanently alter my feelings about Tom Osborne and the Nebraska Cornhuskers and college football writ large. Lawrence Phillips went to the apartment of backup quarterback Scott Frost (more on him later) to attack his girlfriend Kate McEwen, who was Phillips' former girlfriend. He dragged her down three flights of stairs by her hair in the midst of the beating. The news was absolutely shocking, especially Osborne suspended Phillips, rather than kicking him off of the team. His reasoning was that Phillips, who had lived a hard youth in foster care, was in danger of going completely off of the rails had he been kicked off the team.

I didn't buy it.

At the time, this was a kind of apostasy. I was sure that Osborne believed at least a part of what he was saying, but this, along with Christian Peter's continued presence on the team, disturbed me. Looking at my fellow Husker fans, I began to believe that they had struck a deal with the devil. In that long period of frustration between 1983 and 1994, Nebraska fans began to turn on their old image of themselves. They used to talk with pride about the team's record number of Academic All-Americans, the number of walk-ons, and the team steering clear of recruits who might be talented but lacked moral values. (Yes, there was some mythology here, but the narrative was important.) Husker fans had started to wonder if these straight and narrow traditions meant that the Huskers would never be able to go to the top. In 1995 it looked like the pinnacle had been reached after the older values were betrayed. Even worse, it seemed that most of the team's fans were willing to accept that. Of course, at the time I would put those thoughts aside on game day, which I guess was an act of true hypocrisy.

After crushing the opposition, Nebraska played in the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship against the Florida Gators. Again, the Husker chip on the shoulder got inflamed, as Sports Illustrated predicted a Gators win, despite the Huskers' absolute dominance. I was actually pretty confident that they would win, which is why it didn't bug me that much that I was in Ireland at another debate tournament during the game. At about half-time a friend made the transatlantic call home to get the score, and when he told it to us, we thought he must have had a bad connection. At that point Nebraska was up 35-10, en route to a 62-24 domination. Lucky for me, my parents taped the game for me, and after I got home I watched it every day for a week. I laughed at the normally cocky Steve Spurier throwing his stupid visor, powerless to stop the Husker onslaught. I exulted when Tommie Frazier broke 8 tackles on a 75 yard run that might be my favorite Husker play of all time. It was his last game, and he went out in style as one of the winningest quarterbacks in NCAA history.


At the same time, Phillips had been brought back, and he started the game. The Huskers did not need him to win. The fourth string running back on the team was a freshman by the name of Ahman Green, who would go on to have a long NFL career. To those who supported Osborne, it was proof that Dr Tom really cared about his player, and not winning. To those who were critical, it seemed especially excessive to give a violent abuser a second change when it made no difference to the team's prospects. Phillips declared a year early for the draft, and would go on to have a troubled and violent life, until killing himself in prison in 2016. As the years passed and Phillips made more headlines for bad behavior, Osborne's decision became harder to defend.

The Huskers went from the top of the world in 1994 and 1995 to more uncertain territory in 1996. Tragedy struck in the off season, as backup quarterback Brook Berringer, who had won several games when Frazier went down in 1994, died in a plane crash. He was actually getting some attention before the NFL draft, rare for a Husker quarterback. The new starting QB was Scott Frost, a figure of some controversy. He was a local boy, from Wood River, and was by far the most touted in-state high school quarterback in my lifetime. He spurned Nebraska, however, to go to Stanford while Bill Walsh was the coach. Many Nebraskans considered this a betrayal, and when he transferred to Nebraska, he was not welcome with open arms. It did not help that he struggled early on, especially in a shutout loss to Arizona State. I remember screaming and throwing my Huskers cap, especially after he got sacked in the end zone. After that game, though, I wondered if I was taking Nebraska football too seriously. I also began to question the people who were so critical of Frost for having signed with Stanford, and by extension the expectation that being a true Nebraskan meant blind loyalty to the football team.

1996 was also a strange season since it was the first of the Big XII, which was the old beloved Big 8 with four teams from Texas added. The Big 8 had four teams in the top ten the year before, so Nebraskans resented it when the Texas squads acted like they were equal partners in the endeavor. The Big XII, part of the supersizing of conferences to make money that still plagues college sports, also destroyed one of the most important aspects of Nebraska football: the Oklahoma rivalry. Nebraska and Oklahoma were now in different divisions, meaning they would not play each other every year anymore. Something was lost in that year that never came back, and now that Nebraska is in the Big Ten, it never will.

After getting embarrassed in Tempe, the Huskers won the rest of their regular season games, including the season finale against Colorado, now the team's "official" rival and the permanent occupant of the slot on the schedule the day after Thanksgiving. I went to the 1996 game in one of the great adventures I ever had with my father. I was home from college visiting my family for Thanksgiving, and my sister was a student at the university with season tickets. She wanted to make the long drive back to Lincoln to go to the game, and my dad and I thought we would try to get some tickets at the stadium, and failing that, watching the action at a local bar. That day brought freezing rain, something all too typical on the Nebraska prairies in late November. Luckily for my father and I, it meant that the scalpers had to drastically reduce their prices. We got seats behind the north goalposts, and stood pretty much through the whole game and the rain pelted us. My coat, which I had thought was water resistant, really wasn't, and by the end I was soaked to the bone, unable to feel my feet. It didn't matter. Despite a struggling offense, Nebraska beat the hated Buffs through the grace of the Blackshirts, who wreaked havoc on their opponents. Nebraska got the lead in the first quarter on an interception return, and never gave it back. It was a tough win in a tough season without Tommie Frazier and it gave me hope for the end of the season.

Somewhere in here you can see me freezing my nuts off

In the old days of the Big 8, winning that big game the day after Thanksgiving meant Nebraska had won the conference. However, now they would have to play an extra championship game for the conference title, which they lost to Texas, and thankfully I did not see. (Yup, I was at a debate tournament.) That game seemed to imply that the days of Nebraska's conference dominance were over. In another such sign, the second-place prize for the Huskers was the Orange Bowl, once the Holy Grail of the Big 8 season. Just as conferences were changing, the bowls were too. The game was played on New Year's Eve, rather than New Year's Day, and while the setting left something to be desired, the Huskers crushed a very good Virginia Tech team, 41-21. I remember it well because it was part of a New Year's Eve tradition. My parents were close friends with two other couples, and every eve one of the families would host the other two, the adults drinking and playing cards upstairs, us kids running around and playing downstairs. That year I was 21, and I and some of the kids were having beers, too. I didn't know it at the time, but just as my New Year's Eve holiday tradition was soon about to end, my connection to Husker football was going to be frayed.

But that didn't happen quite yet. 1997 would be one last golden season for Nebraska, for Tom Osborne, and for me. It was my last football season living in the state, which I never would have imagined when it started. It was only appropriate that Nebraska boy Scott Frost would lead that team with a season worthy of Tommie Frazier, and perhaps even better. He rushed and passed for over a thousand yards, the first Husker quarterback ever to do so in a single season. He ran the complicated option like a well-oiled machine, and more than once followed a pitch to Ahman Green -another Nebraska kid from Omaha- with a punishing block on defender. Despite a very odd throwing motion, he was more dangerous as a pocket passer than most option quarterbacks I'd seen behind center.

Nebraska won all of their regular season games, but one was truly miraculous. Nebraska was behind late against a tough Missouri squad on the road, down by a touchdown. Frost threw a last ditch pass into the endzone. It looked doomed, but bounced (some say kicked) off of a Nebraska player's foot into the diving hands of Matt Davison. The "Flea Kicker" has got to be one of the most amazing plays in college football history, the NCAA equivalent of Franco Harris' "Immaculate Reception." The game went into overtime, and Nebraska won. Again, I was at a debate tournament, and in those pre-cellphone days had not heard the score. We went back to our hotel room to watch Sportscenter, and the highlights of the game had me jumping and hollering with my teammates in exuberant, joyful disbelief.


As if to dispel the demons of the last season, Nebraska went in the Big XII championship game in San Antonio against a local team, Texas A&M, and blew them off the field by a score of 54-15. Despite that, Nebraska yet again had to deal with doubters in the media. The Huskers were only #2 in the AP poll, despite such dominance. Michigan was also undefeated, but had won its games much less convincingly. Because the Rose Bowl still locked in the Pac 10 and Big 10 winners, the Huskers and Wolverines would not be able to settle it on the field. Instead, Nebraska needed a big win in the Orange Bowl against Tennessee to ensure at least a share of the title by holding on to the top spot on the coaches poll.

The Blackshirts made Peyton Manning make Peyton Manning Face

In case you don't know, the Vols' quarterback was none other than Peyton Manning, by far the most hyped college quarterback I'd ever seen. Of course the hype was not misplaced, as he would go on to greatness in the NFL, but at the time I resented the adulation he received. The Blackshirts must've too, because they held the vaunted Manning to only 131 yards passing. He found himself constantly harried by Nebraska's blitz, unable to get the ball down the field. In fact, he was pulled out later in the game in favor of Tee Martin, who would lead the Vols to the championship the next year, something Manning never managed to do. Nebraska's explosive offense blasted through the Tennessee defense. It wasn't even close, the Huskers won 42-17. Even better, the coaches poll gave the Huskers the number one slot, though the media did not. I still think Nebraska would have crushed Michigan had they played that year. Was Brian Griese honestly going to be able to do what Peyton Manning couldn't? In any case, Osborne went out on top. My ill feelings about his handling of Lawrence Phillips subsided a little bit.

Witness the domination

Little did a I know at the time, 1997 would be my last true season as a Husker fan. In September of 1998, I moved to Chicago to start my master's program. Before leaving, I wentto a Husker game against UAB, who Nebraska beat handily 38-7. It was a day after my birthday, and like my first Husker game in the flesh, it was a birthday present. Fittingly, it is also the last Nebraska game I have attended in person. It was a beautiful day late summer day, so different than my last trip to Memorial Stadium in the freezing rain. 

While that game had all the hallmarks of the past, from the fans releasing their balloons after the first Nebraska touchdown to the sea of red, the 1998 season felt different. The new Nebraska coach was Frank Solich, who had been Osborne's consigliere for years. Like Osborne, Solich was quiet and stoic in ways that reflected the ideals of Nebraskan masculinity. He was a short, slight person who had played fullback for the Huskers in the 1960s, a testament to his toughness. In true Nebraska respect for tradition and stability, Osborne's hand-picked coach followed him, just as he had been tapped by Bob Devaney back in the early 1970s. But that circle would get broken, like some of the Husker streaks. Nebraska's consistency had been one of the team's hallmarks, and it also reflected the state's values system. We were very proud of the fact that while the championships had not come until recently, Nebraska had been 9-3 or better in every season since 1968. That streak was broken in Solich's first year, as the team went 9-4 and lost a bowl game to Arizona in the Holiday Bowl. The team did not even make a New Year's Day bowl, which was embarrassing enough. The Huskers did not even win their division, much less the conference. For other fans a 9-4 season would not be such a disappointment, but for Husker fans it seemed that the immutable laws of the universe had been challenged. Some began talking that Osborne knew that this team was not capable of maintaining the streak, which was why he decided to retire.

There were other streaks, too. Husker fans took perverse delight in beating up on certain teams year after year after year. Kansas State had not managed to beat the Huskers since 1959. The Wildcats had traditionally been one of the worst teams in top division college football, but even after coach Bill Snyder had come in and magically transformed the team into a winner, the streak remained. In 1997, as the Husker offense truly hummed as Scott Frost hit his stride, K-State got shellacked 56-26. In 1998, the Wildcats finally got their revenge, winning 40-30. It would be Kansas State, KANSAS FREAKING STATE playing for the conference title while the Huskers sat at home. This was impossible, it was not supposed to happen. The lion had lain with the lamb, the seal had been broken, and judgement had been loosed upon the once unstoppable, arrogant Cornhuskers. I saw some of that game in my Chicago studio apartment, so far from the windswept prairies of my home state. Things had changed now for good, both for the Huskers and for me.