The Skinny Chronicles: 1997

Vito Cole, Columnist

The fall semester is coming to a close, and I couldn’t be more thankful. As I sit here trying to read James Joyce, trying to understand and retain James Joyce, I find myself listening to the sports droll coming from the television on top of the fridge.

Not even good sports talk, just repetitive, empty calories that I habitually eat up, like rice cakes. The sinister, four-letter network I loved as a child, has been replaced by the NFL circus.

Growing up in Nebraska, where we have no NFL team, I followed the NFL, but I was a college football fan. I am old enough to remember the glory days of the Huskers in the mid ‘0s. I remember exactly where I was for all the terrible bowl games we lost in the 80s, sitting next to my dad, on the couch, drinking my Pepsi, eating popcorn and eventually going to bed disappointed.

Dad was a student for a semester in the 80s and even made the cover of the Wayne Stater once. Every year, dad would plant a “Big Red” graveyard in the front yard of our house, across the street from the Willow Bowl. In the graveyard, dad would plant a red cross for each opponent they would face during the season, with the opponent’s name painted in white down the middle. The Wayne Stater took a photo and put it right on the front page.

The glory days of Nebraska ended the night Tom Osborne coached his last game. January 2, 1998. That was also the last game Scott Frost played as a Cornhusker. And sadly, that victory over Peyton Manning’s Tennessee Volunteers, was the last game that my dad lived to see. He died a little over a month later.

The years that followed had highlights, both the Huskers and my life, but mostly it was filled with dysfunction and unhealthy habits. Every time something would go wrong, I would always feel thankful that dad didn’t have to witness this, as I would punish myself.

As things would get worse and start to snowball, I found myself shutting myself off from the people who loved me, just as the Husker Nation started to shut off the fans. A once proud man, a once proud nation, fractured.

This weekend, the Huskers welcomed Scott Frost back to lead this once proud program back into national relevance. Before a helmet is worn, before a coin is flipped, or a ball is snapped, there is healing that needs to happen. The timing is right. My health is failing, the fan base is poisoned. It’s a healing process to repair the damage of 20 years of neglecting the things that once made us the greatest fans on the planet. This sense of entitlement has got to go. This is not 1997 anymore.

The landscape has changed and be thankful for that. They cancelled “Married With Children” in 1997, Mother Theresa died, Biggie too. It was a bad year, unless you were one of the Hanson brothers, MMMMbop! (My wife loves that song.)

I would like to say that I am not the guy that lives, breathes, creates expectations, and swears at the television screen or radio, but, sadly, that description does describe my Husker fandom.

I have mellowed over the years as, I hope, it will lead to a longer, happier life.

Needless to say, I am excited to see what the future holds for the program, and for Scott Frost. His hiring has created a bridge from the success of the past to, hopefully, the promise of future success. It has also brought back the memories my dad and I shared together, sneaking off at halftime to down a couple beers and a quick smoke.

So good luck with finals, everyone. Enjoy the holidays. Eat good food. Hug your Grandma for me and see ya in the Spring.