Published Monday, January 28, 2013 AT 1:05 PM / Updated at 1:25 PM
Mad Chatter, Jan. 28
Dirk Chatelain Omaha World-Herald

Sports history is littered with regrettable decisions. Drafting Sam Bowie. Trading for Herschel Walker. Letting Pedro Martinez stay in for another batter.

Saturday night at about 6 p.m., I made mine.

I was all ready to go to Papillion-LaVista High to see if the No. 3 Monarchs could topple No. 1 Central. Nothing in sports gets my blood pumping like a loud high school gymnasium. The pep band. The smell of popcorn. The proximity to the court. I love it all. But it’s hard to get people excited about high school sports these days. I figured the gym would be half-full. And Central would cruise.

An hour before tip, I called an audible. I had spent too much time working lately. In an effort to salvage my Husband of the Year candidacy, I would prioritize my wife (she would add “for once” to that sentence). I would take her to … wait for it … figure skating!! She was thrilled. Off we went.

* Actually, that’s not entirely true. After I suggested figure skating, I pitched an alternative plan to her. Basketball Saturday night, figure skating Sunday afternoon! Then I looked at the figure skating schedule and discovered that Sunday was the men’s singles. Nevermind.

Anyway, we bought the cheapest tickets available ($21??), moved down to some empty seats (she wasn’t comfortable with this, but I assured her that ever since the 2001 Final Four, I’ve been a expert at seat-hopping. When somebody calls you out, just play dumb.)

Somehow we arrived at the beginning of a 40-minute break in the action. Which meant that my 2-year-old watched the Zambonis. Little did I know this would be his highlight of the night.

During the break — in which my kid had, if I remember right, a bag of fruit snacks, a Starburst and a Granola bar — I received my first text message from my boss at the Papio-Central game: Papio’s up 12. Whoa! I felt the first tinge of regret. I passed along the message to my wife, partly to share the information, partly in an attempt to show her what I’d given up to watch Zambonis.

Finally at 8, the skating started. I was expecting something like the U.S. Swim Trials. Flames and waterwalls. A public-address announcer exhorting the crowd. Athlete interviews on the big screen. Big ovations. You know, fun stuff.

Instead, the event had all the atmosphere of a Nebraska-Nicholls State game at Devaney. The skating itself was OK — and I like classical music. But after the first routine, it all looked the same. And the judging, well, more on that in a moment.

Halftime update from Papio: Great crowd. Standing room only. Papio by 14.

My stomach knotted. Standing-room only?!? Some of my best sports memories are of crowds like that. Norfolk-Columbus. Grand Island-Hastings. Wahoo-GICC. Southeast-Lincoln High. Bellevue West-Ravenna. This memorable game was unfolding across town and I was watching double-toe loops!

About that time, the sugar from the fruit snacks kicked in. My son suddenly felt the urge to move.

We took the stairs to the top of the arena (the balcony was almost empty) and walked back and forth, back and forth, along the wall at the top. Yes, I was hurdling railings to make sure he didn’t fall, but that’s OK. He was happy, I was happy. Until he decided he wanted me to go home and get his ball.

What?!?

My wonderful son has thrown a few tantrums in his day, but typically they’re based on a reasonable request. I want candy. I want to watch a movie.

You want me to drive 15 minutes home, get your ball and bring it back? Sorry, Luke. By the time I get back, the skating will be over. That was my first excuse. Didn’t fly. No. 2: We’ll play with a ball when we get home. No. 3: They won’t let us bring balls in here.

The meltdown commenced. His body clock was telling him bedtime. His sugar high was telling him to sprawl out on the germy, dirty CenturyLink concrete steps. And his brain was telling him, Why the heck are we watching a sport that doesn’t use a ball!

Dad didn’t have an excuse for that one.

By the time I calmed him down and we descended the balcony stairs, Papio had held off Central’s late run and finished off the upset. Fans were storming the court. My wife, seeing the look in Luke’s eyes, suggested we just go home. He needed to sleep.

And that’s when I went Clark Griswold*. No, I said. I don’t care if the hubcaps are gone and our credit cards got slashed and Aunt Edna is dead. We’re three skaters from the finish line and you want to bail out!?! Well, I’ll tell you something. This is no longer a night out. This is a quest. A quest for fun. I’m gonna have fun and you’re gonna have fun. We’re all gonna have so much fun, we’re gonna need plastic surgery to remove our smiles. … Praise Marty Moose!

* minus the F-bombs.

Luke cuddled up in my wife’s lap and we prepared to watch the three top contenders do the same jumps and spins and twirls we’d seen from the other nine. When reigning champion Ashley Wagner came onto the ice, I tried to stir a little bit of drama. OK, this is it. She’s the leader. She’s the reason we’ve come.

Wagner made it about a minute before she wiped out. Then she fell again. Good grief.

When her routine were done, fans threw the customary flowers and stuffed bears onto the ice, mostly out of sympathy. She climbed into the booth to wait for her scores. This, I had to come to realize, was the funniest part of figure skating. The announcer releases the numbers and — if the skater is disappointed — she tries sooooo hard not to show it. She looks at her coach with panic, starts to think, “All those hours of practice were worthless! Why did you make me do this! I could be at a Justin Timberlake concert with my friends!,” then realizes the cameras are on her. So she grits her teeth and nods repeatedly as if to say, “It’s OK, it’s OK. At least a bomb didn’t fall on the arena.”

Ashley Wagner didn’t even get her hopes up. She knew she’d screwed up. She knew her dream was done. Then the scores popped up on the screen. And according to the judges, she was in … wait for it … first place.

What?!?

That’s when I remembered third-world elections are less corrupt than figure-skating competitions. That’s when I remembered any sport with judges has more in common with 4-H than baseball, basketball and football.

We shook our heads, grabbed our coats and headed into the night. Driving home, suddenly I knew what it felt like to draft Sam Bowie.

***

>> Sunday we published an extensive breakdown of Nebraska football’s turnover problems in 2012. In my mind, there’s no doubt NU can win 11 or 12 games next fall if it can produce a positive turnover margin — that’s not much to ask.

But turnover improvement doesn’t happen without improvement in several other areas. It’s not just a matter of holding onto the ball and making better decisions.

Two areas stand out.

One is pass protection. Taylor Martinez was blindsided and strip-sacked three times in 2012. And other times, he was flushed from his spot and ended up making a poor throw. If the O-line play improves, so will Martinez’s turnover count.

The other area is defense. The Blackshirts produced 23 turnovers in 2012, middle-of-the-pack nationally. If they can boost that to 30, for instance, they’re in position to win a few more games. That means finding a few edge rushers who can do to quarterbacks what opponents did to Martinez. That means finding a few playmakers in the back seven who can put themselves in position for interceptions and big hits.

The problem starts with Martinez, there is no doubt. But the solution involves more than one guy.

>> There are so many stats in that project that blew my mind. For instance, Nebraska’s lost fumbles the past five years exceed Alabama’s total turnovers. Here’s another: the last time a team had a turnover margin as bad as 2012 Nebraska and managed nine wins was 2002 Hawaii.

But the issue really comes down to this: NU is 8-1 against ranked teams when it wins or ties the turnover battle. And 0-11 when it loses it. There it is, black and white. For the record, the only time NU lost a game when it was even in turnovers? Texas 2009. Probably should be 9-0, huh.

>> One of our smartest readers, Justin, digested the turnovers project and responded with this:

“I’m not sure what was more fascinating, the original article or the sampling of reader comments it generated. First, the article was excellent…great job. Second, the reaction to it was both interesting and disheartening. Basically the comments fall into two camps: 1) anything written or said about Bo Pelini that isn’t positive is therefore negative and akin to treason. 2) Bo/Martinez (they seem to be interchangeable among some) are absolutely worthless and haven’t done anything positive. … It seems the level of division/polarization among Husker fans is approaching what it was during Pederson years.”

>> Speaking of great high school games, how ’bout this buzzer beater from Elkhorn South-Waverly Friday night?

>> A couple thoughts on Central’s loss (even though I didn’t attend): One, Tra-Deon Hollins is an underrated talent and without him, Central is a very different team. Two, having five or six really good, veteran players is a blessing — and a curse. It’s harder to build depth because your No. 7, 8 and 9 players don’t have chemistry with the starters and don’t carry much responsibility. So Hollins gets hurt and suddenly Central’s starting five has to play almost the entire game against Papio. The Eagles are still the best team in the state. And I’d be shocked if they don’t win state.

>> UNO men’s basketball has won two Summit League games in a row, including a roadie at South Dakota. That’s impressive. Justin Simmons is hot. And John Karhoff continues to produce offensively. Thursday night the Mavs are home against Fort Wayne.

>> A lot of people (including Doc Sadler, I think) questioned whether Mike Gesell was good enough for the Big Ten. Well, last night he had 18 points at Purdue. Husker fans are gonna get real tired of watching him in black and gold.

>> Tennessee’s athletic department is $200 million in debt. Yikes.

>> Charlie Pierce on the NCAA’s botched investigation at Miami.

>> With the Super Bowl returning to New Orleans, an excellent profile of Archie Manning.

>> Did Ray Lewis really make 44 tackles in the AFC playoffs? Uh, no.

>> Tiger Woods is gonna win at Torrey Pines for the 46th time today. But here’s a great story on his never-ending quest for the perfect swing.

>> Finally, I posed this question to Twitter followers Sunday: LeBron is 28. Durant is 24. LeBron has one championship. Durant has none. When it’s all said and done, who retires with more rings?

Aside from the Redskins, I root harder for the Thunder than any pro sports team. And I love Durant. But my answer is James. Right now, he has a better supporting cast. He’ll likely get another ring in June to go ahead 2-0. And I’m not sure how much better OKC will get in the short-term without an offensive post presence.

About Dirk Chatelain

Dirk Chatelain is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and general assignments. You can follow Dirk on Twitter (@dirkchatelain) or email him at dchatelain@owh.com