So Nebraska had just lost 80-70 in the Big 12 tournament after facing a Texas A&M team that had everything working right. It was the first defeat of the season for the Huskers, and not surprising considering how both teams had looked in their quarterfinal match-ups. Texas A&M had appeared to click well against Texas, while there were things that didn’t look as good for Nebraska against Kansas State.
Still, even though this was a loss that all but those with the rosiest-colored glasses might have seen coming, there was a sense of sadness for the Nebraska fans that the “perfect” part of their season ended. To go unbeaten is such a rare and unlikely thing, especially for a program that’s had to scratch and claw its way to this level of success.
I was walking down to the interview area from press row, a little trip I’ve made perhaps 700,000 times in all the years of covering the Big 12 women’s tournament, and got behind the A&M tuba players. Then I looked ahead to see a cluster of Nebraska fans standing in the hallway.
Now, this is the kind of situation that could cause just a little irritation or verbal unpleasantness … band members of the team that won walking out and going past sad fans whose team lost its first game all season. I thought for a second, “I bet the Huskers folks are feeling a little grumpy now.”
Then, just as quickly, I flashed back to this:
Early in my freshman year at Missouri hundreds of years ago – OK, 1983 – I had my first meeting with some Huskers fans. It was before an MU-Nebraska football game. I was getting something out of my car, which all that school year I had to park far, far, far from my dorm, in a lot up by the football stadium.
That was because of one of those important things you don’t know as a freshman (or at least I didn’t): That you had to go wait in a long line on a certain day to get a “good” parking-lot pass that was actually next to the dorms. Otherwise, you were stuck parking about a 15-minute walk away.
Anyhow, a bunch of Nebraska fans had parked around my car and were tailgating. They were older folks, and they said, “You guys sure have a good team,” which Missouri actually did then (the Tigers went to the Holiday Bowl to conclude that season, before the program entered a long down cycle).
So we started talking, and I found myself telling these people the whole story about why I had to park in this lot so far away from where I lived … and they asked me what I was going to major in, and I said I had no idea … heck, I didn’t even know enough to stand in line on the right day to get a decent parking pass.
And they said, “Oh, but you’ll know next year!” … and they asked me where I was from and was I a big football fan … which gave me the opening to pour out my then-lifelong love of the St. Louis Cardinals no matter how much misery they caused me … and they said, “Oh, so you must be a Cardinals baseball fan, too?” and I said, “Oh, my gosh, let me tell you …”
When I left to walk down to the stadium, one of the women said, “Well, honey, we hope the Huskers win. But if Missouri wins, we’ll be happy for you.” And that pretty much sealed what I’ve thought about Nebraska fans – though I know they can’t all be like that _for the rest of my life.
So … back to the hallway in Municipal Auditorium on Saturday, with the Texas A&M tuba players walking past the group of Nebraska fans after the Aggies had just eliminated the Huskers from the Big 12 tournament. When it comes to college sports, I stopped being a “fan” a long, long time ago. Still, I certainly could imagine how down the Nebraska folks must have felt.
And then I heard them say to the A&M tuba players, “Hey, you guys have the best band! We love listening to you!”
I couldn’t stop smiling all the way down the stairwell, into the media room, and then into the interview room. I thought, “That is SO Nebraska!”