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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Au Revoir, Husker Nation!

Mike Moran’s Sports Commentary
November 27, 2010

So, the Colorado-Nebraska football wars are over now, likely for good……………I suspect that not many fans in either state will shed a tear today over the end of a series that began in 1898 and became formal from 1948 and CU’s entry into the old Big Seven Conference through yesterday’s 45-17 blowout in Lincoln by the Huskers…………I’m going to miss the annual game terribly, but you’d have to grow up in Nebraska, then become a Buff athletic department employee, as I did, to understand the emotions that revolve around Nebraska football and CU’s occasional forays into gridiron greatness………….my father graduated from Nebraska in the 1930s, a period of tremendous success for the Huskers under coach Dana X. Bible, who led the team to six Big Six Conference titles in his eight seasons before leaving for Texas in 1937……….his successor at NU, Biff Jones, won two more league titles and his 1941 team lost to Stanford in the Rose Bowl…………..Bible’s teams were brilliant during the Great Depression, when hard-working Nebraskans were ravaged by the economy………..for those, the Nebraska football team was a ray of sunshine and hope, something they could rally around with pride, since the majority of the players were home-grown and looked on as “our boys,”……………….it all went south after World War II and Husker football fell into obscurity, save for a 1950 season under coach Bill Glassford and an Orange Bowl loss to Duke………….but the state’s loyalty and devotion to its football team never wavered during tough times……………you’d have to understand how we viewed our world in the 1950s and 1960s as Nebraskans and our anger over the state’s image………….Nebraska, and my hometown of Omaha, were often the butt of jokes by comedians and late night television, notably by Tonight Show host Johnny Carson himself, who grew up in Nebraska and cut his teeth in television during my teens on his own show, “The Squirrels’s Nest,” on WOW-TV, where one of his gigs was to interview pigeons on the roof of the Douglas County Courthouse in downtown Omaha about local politicians and their shenanigans and pratfalls………Nebraskans were often portrayed as hicks, and as kids, we felt and heard it, resented it, seeking the solace of things to be proud of – the College World Series (1948), our brand-new Rosenblatt Stadium and St. Louis Cardinals farm clubs, the “World’s Largest Stockyards,” the estimable Joslyn Art Museum, and an array of famous Nebraskans to point to and puff out our chests, including Henry Fonda, Darryl F. Zanuck, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Fred Astaire and even Grover Cleveland Alexander…………..but in the autumns, it was the Huskers and the one-hour trek down old Highway 6 to Lincoln to fill venerable Memorial Stadium with 35,000 fans to watch as the state’s boys took on Oklahoma, Colorado, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Missouri and others………the sound of Lyell Bremser’s play-by-play on radio on the front porch of thousands of homes………..and when one of my own Omaha Westside High guys, Pat Fischer, went to NU and played quarterback from 1957-60, we were giddy, even if the Huskers did not have winning seasons………….then came the hire in 1962 of Bob Devaney from Wyoming, and the explosion of the Nebraska program into a national power and 40 consecutive winning seasons and five national titles with Devaney and Tom Osborne at the helm………….the state’s inferiority complex vanished, and suddenly Nebraskans had an answer for those foolish enough to make fun of our weather, our polyester clothing, our crew cuts or our steaks and stockyards………..bring it on, we’re Number One! And we’ll kick your butts, too……..in my boyhood years in Omaha, Nebraskans who could afford summer vacations went to Minnesota, as my family always did, or to Colorado…………my uncle took me with him in the summer of 1953 all the way to California to meet my other uncle, an actor named Damian O’Flynn, and we drove to Denver to stay the night, then through the gorgeous Colorado Rockies………..I was stunned by the beauty of the mountains and it stayed with me and drew me as I grew………I daydreamed about living in Colorado………..out in Boulder, from 1948-1958, the Buffs were enjoying football success under Dallas Ward, who went 7-3-1 against Nebraska, then CU fired him for bigger things, ending with a spot in the 1961 Orange Bowl and a Big Eight title………Denver writers called the Buffs “Big Time Cholly”………..but the fast ride also earned the Buffs a huge NCAA sanction and the destruction of the program until former Oklahoma All-American quarterback Eddie Crowder took over in 1963 and led the long climb back to respectability for the Buffs………..that same year, I stood in the end zone in Lincoln with a film camera covering the epic 29-20 Husker win over Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma Sooners for an Omaha television station………the win, on the weekend of the assassination of President Kennedy, gave the Huskers the Big Eight crown and shoved the program squarely into the national limelight, with a win over Auburn in the Orange Bowl and a #6 national ranking………..it was electric across Nebraska, we were there at long last! But that ended for me in 1968 when a telephone call and fate changed my life and took me out of Omaha to Boulder as the University of Colorado’s new sports information director. I was a Buff, for crying out loud, destined to endure ten straight defeats at the hands of the Huskers. But Boulder, and the state, were different animals than Nebraska…………we had our mountains, our skiing, our breathtaking vistas and a transient population that included thousands of former Nebraskans who had moved to the state or retired there………..yeah, Denver felt a little disrespected at times, one Denver Post wag coining the shopworn moniker, “Dusty Old Cowtown,” when the city was just beginning its all-consuming love affair with its NFL Broncos and long before the city’s current reputation as one of the nation’s best professional sports cities and one with all the lifestyle amenities and dynamics, from weather to arts and quality of life………the football fortunes in Boulder ebbed and flowed through the years, a national title in 1990 under Bill McCartney and back-to-back wins over Nebraska in huge, nationally-televised showdowns………….in 2001 in Boulder, Gary Barnett’s Buffs destroyed #1 and undefeated Nebraska, 62-36 and won the Big 12 title with a defeat of Texas, only to see Nebraska play Miami for the national championship…………but throughout all the years, 10,000 or more Nebraska fans made the trek to Boulder every other year, swamping the Denver-Boulder area in a sea of Red, an endless automobile caravan across the state, fingers in the air, confident of their superiority, ridiculed by Buff fans on the occasion of a defeat in the rarified air of Boulder………..Nebraska never accepted McCartney’s brilliant ploy of creating a “rivalry” in the series……….who were the Buffs in the first place when they had the annual clash of the superpowers with Oklahoma? Now, it’s over, a series dominated by Nebraska, which is moving on to the Big Ten just as Colorado heads West to the PAC-10……….Denver is a great city, and Omaha? My hometown is a vibrant, thriving city keeping its gifted youth at home, a national player and destination for major sports events like the Olympic Swimming Trials, NCAA Championships, a sizzling new NCAA Division I ice hockey program at my alma mater (Nebraska-Omaha) and opening a gorgeous new downtown baseball stadium next summer to keep the prestigious College World Series, the “Road To Omaha!” for the next three decades……..the city is home to great restaurants and shops, two outstanding universities, a bustling downtown, wonderful neighborhoods and suburbs, and an envied economy and quality of life………….both states enjoy burnished reputations and prestige, and Nebraska is no longer part of any comedian’s monologue…………..but its powerful football program remains the cornerstone of it all, just as Colorado sits on the cusp of a new conference and the hire of a head football coach who will be challenged with the restoration of its battered program………now, the hordes of Red-clad faithful will make autumn treks to Evanston, Iowa City, State College, Ann Arbor, East Lansing and points East, while Black and Gold wearing Buff loyalists book hotels and restaurants in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and destinations West, where they have a huge alumni base waiting, men and women who came to school in Colorado for its mountains, skiing and hip lifestyles………I’ll miss those Nebraska-Colorado weekends more than most, the adrenaline rush, the jabs by Denver scribes at Nebraska and the old stereotypes and its citizens, the screeching on Denver talk radio, the Big Red store in Estes Park, the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln, and the memories………..but I still have my periodic visits back “home,” where I am still treated at times as a “Buff,” even now more than three decades gone from Boulder in my sunset years. Truth is, I loved every minute of the rivalry, and today, I am saddened with its passing.

Mike Moran was the chief spokesman for the United States Olympic Committee for a quarter century, through thirteen Games from Lake Placid through Salt Lake City. The Omaha, Nebraska native was the Sports Information Director at the University of Colorado for a decade before joining the USOC in 1978 as it left New York City for Colorado Springs. He was the Senior Communications Counselor for NYC2012, New York City’s Olympic bid group from 2003-2005 and is now a media consultant.

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