Harvey Perlman, Shawn Eichorst, and Bo Pelini are in the center of a figurative tornado. But first, you need context because what I am trying to convey is not obvious, and to some of you may be totally incomprehensible.
Let me start this way: Nebraska, geographically speaking, is huge, but there are very few people that inhabit the immense space. Indeed, there are literally more cows than people. The few people who live here are by and large the salt of the earth. And that comes from someone like me who was born and raised in Ohio and Florida even though I have lived here now for about 50 years.
The people of Nebraska love football and the Nebraska Huskers. “Love” is not too strong a word. When the stadium in Lincoln fills up it becomes the third largest city in the state. Nebraskans have packed that stadium to capacity for 51 years. No other school comes close to that record. The fans have reason to fill the stadium. Nebraska’s football record is impressive: three Heisman trophy winners, five national titles, 43 conference championships, 49 bowl appearances, and a national leader in academic All-Americans.
But what is truly remarkable to me is that Nebraska fans are not rabid partisans. They treat opponents and their supporters with genuine respect. Here is what a Georgia fan wrote in that regard:
They’re too nice to dislike. Nebraska fans have a national reputation for being among the classiest in college football, and for being especially gracious to opposing fans. Every Cornhusker fan with whom I ever have come into contact seemed to be a genuinely nice person. They’re polite to the point of being rude. I mean, really, people; we’re trying to hate y’all over here. Do you mind?
Here is what Jim Mora, the coach at UCLA, said after UCLA beat the hell out of the Huskers this year:
First of all I want to start by saying a very heartfelt thanks to the Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst, Head Coach Bo Pelini, to the Husker Nation, their fans, their students and their players for the compassion they showed us this week. I thought it was an incredible gesture they made here, and I think it kind of shows the class here at Nebraska. The fact that they would put a No. 36 decal on their helmets [for a Bruin player who was tragically killed], and they would have a moment of silence, and their student section cheered us when we took the field and encouraged us on, you just don’t find that at many places. It is just a true testament to the people here at Nebraska and how much they care about football. We are very, very appreciative about that.
So, there you have the context. I wish I could do better.
After Nebraska lost badly yesterday to Iowa, leaving the Huskers 8 and 4, there is a raging debate about whether our head football coach, Bo Pelini, should be fired. Pelini is a passionate coach known for recruiting kids of great character who graduate with something other than concussions, his loyalty to his players and coaches and his volcanic eruptions on the sidelines and at press conferences.
As Kenny Bell, the wide receiver, who will surely play on Sunday, said yesterday after the loss: “I would play for Bo Pelini against Satan himself and a team of demons at the gates of the underworld.” On the other hand, after Pelini got a penalty for swinging his hat too close to an official during yesterday’s game and erupted during the post-game press conference with a variety of provocative statements (e.g., an official’s call was “chickenshit”), one of the leading sports writers in Nebraska observed, “I just saw a man set himself on fire.”
So, it comes down to two men, Harvey Perlman, the Chancellor (head) of the University, and Shawn Eichorst, the athletic director, whether Coach Bo will be around next year. So what? Perlman and Eichorst are dealing with something that binds a tiny group of truly good people together in a common pursuit. That intangible connection may seem unimportant to others in bigger, more diverse places. But “each other” are two of the most important words in these High Plains.
Perlman and Eichorst are both very good lawyers. For some reason, that makes me feel better. Although I don’t know what they will decide, I believe they will do the right thing.