There I was watching television Sunday night, alternating between thrusting my arms into the air with joy to sitting in stunned silence brought on by the images I was watching on the screen. Finally, I felt my eyes moisten over the complete realization of how much I miss Nebraska. This was all brought about from a most unlikely source, Nebraska men’s basketball.
Not that many people where I live have noticed, but Nebraska basketball has made March meaningful again for reasons that go beyond the health of star KU center Joel Embiid’s ailing back and worry whether he can return to the court in time to help lead KU to a National Championship. Certainly the relevancy of Nebraska’s hopes are much smaller. Even with the loss in the Big 10 tournament to Ohio State, the team, coaches and now a growing number of fans are hoping, and trying to will, the men’s team to selection in the NCAA Championship. That would touch off a statewide hope that Nebraska might finally win a game in the big dance, a statistic of no distinction.
Oh, how it was fun last Sunday night after Nebraska closed out their home season by defeating highly ranked Wisconsin. With that victory, Nebraska finished fourth in the Big 10, a conference noted for its basketball strength. Fourth! Again, nothing in comparison to the team I cover that just won the regular season Big 12 Conference for their own “big 10” titles in a row. Fantastic, but think about Nebraska, a team that has floundered badly for so many recent years on the basketball court. Past moments of glory seem so distant to be all but out of sight.
Suddenly, thanks to new facilities – a luxurious new basketball practice center on campus and the top-notch Pinnacle Bank Arena just a short walk from campus and downtown Lincoln – to a coach with a track record of making the most out of what some viewed as the least, Nebraska basketball began winning. Fans began to show up and students stormed the court after the Wisconsin victory. Sure, this is a classic case of riding along with the not new team, but the wagon has been empty for so long, go ahead and enjoy the ride.
Unfortunately, my ride with the Huskers has been as an absentee fan since Nebraska left the Big 12. How I miss a Nebraska team in any sport. I am not just a Nebraska football fan, which made it difficult to be working for Kansas while down deep pulling for the Huskers during those Big 12 years. I used to joke with the KU volleyball coach that I hoped his team would go 30-something and three, with the only losses in the two regular season matches to the Huskers and in the national championship match against Nebraska.
In the time since I last covered an event at Nebraska, the football stadium grew even larger, all the new basketball facilities helped revive basketball. Volleyball moved into the renovated arena in the Devaney Center and kept right on filling the 8,000 seats every match. A new tennis facility with indoor and outdoor courts and a new soccer complex will soon find room on the expanded campus area that once was the fairgrounds, just north of the Devaney Center.
Maybe this is all for the best. It is better in my line of work not to be a fan of the teams I photograph. While I always want KU’s teams to do well, I try to keep the “fan” in me at bay so that I can do my work with complete attention, win or lose. I love working for KU and for so many wonderful people over so many years, and I do pull for some of those teams very much. Yet, there can be no dispute, I am, and always will be, a Husker fan through and through. So, I celebrated in my house Sunday night right along with all the happy Nebraska fans over the basketball team’s great successes this season. I just wish I could be there to do it person, even if I might have to mute my joy for the sake of my job. Go Big Red!