“You keep banging away. You just keep banging away. There are a lot of great stories in all walks of life of people who were close, who were close, who were close, you just keep fighting, keep battling. You just gotta be persistent, you gotta keep believing. Somehow, someway we’ll break through.”
I grew up adoring Nebraska football. I grew up hating the Dallas Cowboys. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the two would morph into brothers.
The quote above is from Jason Garrett last night after Dallas lost at home to Philadelphia, recording a third straight 8-8 season (and a third straight Week 17 loss with a division title on the line). But the words just as easily could’ve come from Bo Pelini, who’s on the verge of a sixth straight nine-win, four-loss season.
Some might say, there’s NO WAY you can compare 8-8 to 9-4. But that’s exactly what I’m doing.
9-4 at Nebraska = 8-8 in the NFL.
Neither organization has embarrassed itself with a terrible season (like Iowa or the Redskins). But neither organization does enough little things right to break through the door. It’s the same season, over and over.
That’s only the start of the similarities:
>> Each won three championships over a four-year span in the 90s (Dallas 92-95, Nebraska 94-97).
>> The face of their recent teams is an enigmatic lightning rod quarterback known for his back-breaking mistakes as much as his incredible talent. Taylor Martinez is college football’s version of Tony Romo. And both finished the 2013 season on the sideline, giving defenders of Garrett and Pelini an excuse for losing the season’s critical game.
>> Garrett is 47, Pelini 46. Each is a first-time head coach. They have very different personalities, but each appears worn down by a larger force. For Garrett, it’s Jerry Jones. For Pelini, it’s the Nebraska fan base.
>> As one Huskers/Cowboys fan pointed out, each has the maddening tendency to play well when expected to play poorly — and to play poorly when expected to play well.
>> (I could make a Dallas/NU connection here with the guy calling offensive plays, but that would just be cruel to Husker fans who still gag upon seeing his name).
This morning on ESPN, Merril Hoge and Ron Jaworski occupied the positions of Bo-liever and Bo-leaver.
Said Hoge: “If you want to look at the global picture for the Dallas Cowboys, why Jason Garrett stays around, he’s a young football coach — young head football coach. So he doesn’t know everything. They evolve, they learn, they grow. Maybe these experiences help him build his team in the right fashion to win in moments like this. …
“As long as Jerry Jones says, he’s the right guy for me…”
That’s when Jaworski interrupted: “I can’t let you go on any further. 8-8, 8-8, 8-8. 136-136 since 1997. You’re accepting mediocrity! You cannot accept that!”
Moments later, Hoge and Jaws picked it up again.
“I like Jason Garrett, from Jerry Jones’ perspective,” Hoge said. “I like how he’s evolving and growing. Maybe there needs some slight changes so it stays on that consistent path, but … they are moving in the right direction.”
“Whoa!” Jaworski said. “How are they moving in the right direction? 8-8. 8-8. 8-8. 136-136. How’s that moving in the right direction?”
If Dallas is anything like Nebraska, they’ll be arguing all winter.
* * *
>> Michigan laid one of the finest eggs you’ll ever see Saturday night in the desert, following Minnesota’s ugly performance at the Texas Bowl (and bowl losses by Rutgers and Maryland). It all puts even more pressure on the four Big Ten teams playing New Year’s Day — Ohio State plays Friday.
The league needs at least two wins to save face. But perception aside, the results make you wonder just how bad this league was in 2013. Aside from Michigan’s win over Notre Dame, the Big Ten’s best non-conference win (in my opinion) was Wisconsin over BYU.
I believed Ohio State’s loss in the Big Ten championship was best-case scenario for the league. It removed the possibility of the Buckeyes getting blitzed again in the BCS championship game. It moved Michigan State into the Top 10, spreading the Big Ten spotlight. But if the Big Ten doesn’t come to play the next four days — and if it loses Bill O’Brien to the NFL — its national reputation may drop to an all-time low.
>> The Big Ten’s reverence for the Rose Bowl doesn’t match its performance in the actual game. Stewart Mandel on the league’s struggles in Pasadena.
>> David Jones breaks down Penn State’s challenges in replacing O’Brien — if he bolts for the NFL.
>> Trying to sell bowl tickets is a disaster for schools. Here’s the latest example.
>> The Oregonian profiled Scott Frost on the eve of the Alamo Bowl. Frost sounds very interested in a head coaching job in 2014.
>> Ranking the top 40 college football coaches you’d hire to build your program. Bo Pelini probably deserves to be on this list.
>> The best open job in the NFL is in Houston, thanks in part to the No. 1 pick. Tampa Bay and Detroit are a close second. The worst — by far — is in Washington, where the Redskins don’t have a first-rounder. Worse, Dan Snyder is still the owner.
>> Joe Posnanski examines the checkered coaching history of the Cleveland Browns. Cover your eyes!
>> Before the NFL season, Mad Chatter announced a confidence pool for playoff teams. We’ll have results of that pool later in the week.
>> Happy Birthday, Tiger Woods. 38 years old and without a major championship since he was 32.
>> Thanks to all who read and commented on the World-Herald project about Lindsay Holy Family football, published Dec. 22. The latest shout-out came from Richard Deitsch’s end-of-the-year media column on SI.com, where he listed the story among his 100 best of 2013.
It illustrates again how some of the most intriguing subjects are in seemingly ordinary places, like a town of 321 in northeast Nebraska.
If you know of a good story that’s dying to be written, please share it with me via email — firstname.lastname@example.org. With Husker football in hibernation starting Thursday, I’ll be looking for good feature ideas.
>> Finally, a New Year’s Eve like none before. Creighton’s Big East opener is one day away. Biggest Bluejay home game ever? Considering the historical significance, you could make an argument.
DePaul was No. 1 in the country when it came to Omaha (and won) in 1980. Indiana State was No. 3 with Larry Bird in ’79. Marquette was top-5 multiple times in the early 70s. But I might submit a vote for the winter of 1960-61, when Creighton hosted college basketball’s biggest name at the peak of its powers — North Carolina.
It was Frank McGuire’s last year before handing off to Dean Smith. The Tar Heels beat Creighton 72-64 with a sophomore point guard named Larry Brown.
Tuesday night at CenturyLink, like last year’s finale against Wichita State, is more than just a historical moment, though. It’s a chance for Creighton to strut its stuff. Show that it can challenge Villanova for a conference championship.
One thing I know for sure: Doug McDermott won’t be intimidated. This is why he came back.