It’s Friday! That means Ten Big stories in 10 little bites. We’re loaded with stories and insights. We hit the Nebraska Phillies and replacement refs, the lure of the Ryder Cup and the problem with fantasy football, Casey Sayles and Tim Miles, Big Ten struggles and SEC challengers.
And we cover the day Tom Osborne got dissed in an airport.
But let’s start with Memories of Madison. Husker players and coaches have fielded all sorts of questions this week about the 2011 Wisconsin game. Some, like Bo Pelini, have no interest reminiscing. Receiver Kenny Bell is more open. I asked Bell what one image or feeling from that night stuck with him.
He remembers walking off the field, head down, his long hair hanging over his face. Badger fans heckled him as he walked into Nebraska’s tunnel. Bell made a promise to himself.
“When we played (again in 2012), we could never let that happen again. … Losing is the worst feeling in the world, man. It puts a knot in your stomach — an empty hole — that you have to find a way to fill with fire. That’s something we’re trying to do this week.”
It’s crazy that Wisconsin, after 52 weeks of waiting, is finally here, Bell said.
“We want this one bad.”
>> Tom Osborne announced his retirement Wednesday. You may have heard. Several dignitaries have chimed in on Osborne’s impact, but I think Ron Brown — always eloquent — may have best summarized Osborne’s gifts. How he was able to bring people together, especially when he returned as athletic director in 2007.
As everyone knows, the Nebraska athletic department — football program included — was a cold place back then. People felt underappreciated and disrespected.
“He came back and brought a healing and a peace to it because of who he is,” Brown said. “It started with his relationships with people. It was important to him to re-establish groundwork with people and to treat people with great sensitivity and love and dignity.
“There were no little guys and big guys. Everybody was involved in the process — the janitor, the coach, the administrator were all on the same page. It didn’t matter, there weren’t any hierarchies. That was the mark of his greatness. He was a servant leader.”
Osborne was no different as a head coach, Brown said. That’s why his assistants stuck around so long. When Brown came to Lincoln for a job interview in 1987, he had zero ties to Nebraska. He was a nobody in the coaching world. A 30-year-old defensive backs coach at Brown University. But Osborne insisted on carrying his bags. He never delegated his dirty work.
“That’s why he became a great athletic director,” Brown said. “He cares about people. He won’t always agree with you. But he will be courteous and he will be dignified with you and he’ll treat you like you’re special. That, I think, goes a long way with folks. People want to be loyal to something like that.”
>> Brown’s favorite Osborne story came from his first week of work. They boarded a private plane and flew to Louisiana, where they recruited Mickey Joseph and Reggie Cooper and others. They bounced from airport to airport, all over the South.
Everywhere they went, Brown said, strangers stopped Osborne in the airport and asked for his autograph. He couldn’t get any rest. One day, they were tired after a long trip, walking through another airport. Brown and Osborne made eye contact with two guys in business suits. They pointed at Osborne. Their eyes lit up. A weary Osborne set down his bags and pulled out his pen.
“And the guy looked at him and said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. Wrong guy.’”
The lesson: Even Tom Osborne has to be humbled occasionally.
>> I wrote a column for this morning’s World-Herald about how Osborne’s announcement adds significance to the 2012 season — and especially the next six weeks. He’s never witnessed a Rose Bowl. Can Bo Pelini send him out on top?
>> What if Osborne had coached longer? Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star explores that hypothetical.
>> I’m curious. Osborne first worked for the University of Nebraska 50 years ago. He’s made too many memories to count. But I want to know your favorite. What’s No. 1 on your list?
>> With Stanford going down last night, Oregon and Florida State are the best hope for teams outside the SEC to produce an undefeated national champion. USC and Oklahoma could obviously get back in the mix with a little help. But it’s looking more and more like the SEC’s year — again.
>> Life after the NFL for a replacement ref. Somebody’s going to write a book about these guys.
>> The Ryder Cup on American soil. I’m not sure sports gets any better. I’ll be there Sunday. Here’s my schedule:
4 p.m. Saturday: Leave Omaha for the Wisconsin game.
1:30 a.m. Sunday: Get home from the Wisconsin game.
5:30 a.m.: Leave for the airport.
9 a.m.: Land in Chicago and catch a ($50) cab to Medinah.
11 a.m.: The first singles match begins.
I’m hoping for a good, quick football game, zero flight delays and a close American win. I’ll report back to you Monday morning.
>> This is Phil Mickelson’s ninth Ryder Cup. Nine! Will it be his last? Joe Posnanski says this one’s for Phil.
>> Back to Kenny Bell for a moment. He spoke of Nebraska’s confidence on offense this year compared to last. It’s “night and day,” he said. Every position group is better. But Bell still acknowledged concern about consistency.
“It’s those flashes of last year that scares us as a whole offense. The turnovers, the miscues, the penalties. Those are things we really need to get in control of. That’s something that just haunted us all of last year.”
>> The Philadelphia Phillies played three native Nebraskans last night against the Washington Nationals. All are rookies.
Tyler Cloyd, a UNO product from Papillion, gave up six runs in five innings. Jake Diekman, a Wymore native who went to Cloud County CC in Kansas, worked one scoreless inning of relief. And Darin Ruf, an Omaha native and Creighton Bluejay, started in left field. Ruf went 2 for 4 with three RBIs.
How many nights in major-league history has a single team played three Nebraskans? That might require some serious research.
>> Chuck Klosterman examines how fantasy football has changed the NFL. Good stuff.
>> What’s stopping the Big Ten from competing with the SEC and Big 12? Recruiting, of course.
>> Omaha North’s Casey Sayles reportedly committed last night to Ohio. He’s the latest Metro football player to go somewhere other than Nebraska — at least for now. Sayles told recruiting outlets that Nebraska may still offer him. Remember, the Huskers haven’t taken a scholarship kid from OPS since Niles Paul in 2007.
>> Tim Miles’ “only show in the state” comment ruffled Bluejay feathers this week. But I can understand why he said it. There’s a basketball divide between Omaha and the rest of the state that doesn’t get enough attention.
When you’re Miles and you live in Lincoln, you really do feel like the only show in the area. Every flag, every T-shirt, every bumper sticker in town is red. There are very, very few Creighton fans anywhere to be found. When the Jays go to the NCAA tournament, hardly anyone watches.
In Omaha, it’s almost the opposite. Creighton dominates the scene in the winter, especially when Nebraska is struggling. I have a neighbor who flies a Husker flag in the fall and a Bluejay flag in the winter. Unless you’ve lived in both Lincoln and Omaha — and I have in the past five years — it’s hard to recognize the red/blue gulf.
>> Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.