One of the biggest farces running in sports is Nebraska football’s sellout streak. The Big Red has been a shadow of its former self for going on two decades, but the streak, currently at 389 games, persists because this is all Nebraska football fans have left, and the seats get bought solely to keep it alive. Any true Husker fan knows this — including myself — because it’s been forever since Memorial Stadium had the type of turnout and energy that the volleyball team received Wednesday night.
The turnout was a world record for a women’s sporting event, and it shouldn’t be a surprise considering the loyalty of the fanbase, and dominance of the program.
On the other side of the success pendulum is the football team, which kicks off its season tonight. Regardless of how paltry recent iterations have been, it’s still a big deal in the state. However, the cover of the Omaha World-Herald had the volleyball game on its front and center on A1 this morning, and that has to be a first for that publication on an opening day for the football team.
It tracks, though, because Nebraskans are extremely proud of their state, and the successful college sports programs that reside in it — Creighton basketball, and UNO hockey both have dedicated followings. NU volleyball coach John Cook is already in the pantheon of skippers to ever hold court in Lincoln, joining Tom Osborne and Bob Devaney among borderline deities their approval rating is so high.
Seriously, if Cook ever wanted to get into politics, he’d just have to slap his name on a ballot like Dr. Tom did, and voila you’re a congressman. (Though I’d advise against it given the polarizing nature of contemporary politics, and the way a lot of Nebraskans lean. You never want to align yourself with a Ricketts.)
The best moments for Nebraska fans this century have come from Cook’s team, which has four national championships since 2000, produced a number of great players, and a (still legitimate) sellout streak of its own. Those athletes have gone on to represent not only Nebraska, but America, helping the US women’s national team to its first Olympic gold medal at the Tokyo Games in 2021. (USA has multiple gold medals in women’s sand volleyball, but never hardcourt until a couple years ago.)
Among the gold medalists were three Huskers: Justine Wong-Orantes, Kelsey Robinson, and MVP of that tournament, Jordan Larson. The best — or at least most notable — NFL product out of the football program this century is more known for stomping on quarterbacks than being truly great. (Never change, Ndamukong Suh.)
Husker football is on its fifth coach in the past 20 years, and those hires have ranged from raving lunatic, to an entitled native son, and now another NFL washout. Mike Riley oversaw the last 10-win season and bowl game appearance, and the only top-five ranking the team has come close to is “most dead money among college athletic departments.” (We certainly know the volleyball team didn’t contribute to that ledger.)
The Huskers are 7-point dogs to the Minnesota Golden Gophers tonight in Minnesota, and I fully expect them to get boatraced, because the past 20 years have drained all optimism from my body. I mean Scott Frost and the school sued for the right to play football during COVID, and won three games. Hell, the COVID year was reason enough to end the sellout streak.
At the very least, deading the streak would inject some much-needed humility into the program, because until the atmosphere for a Nebraska football game reaches volleyball levels at Memorial Stadium, the sellout record is good for nothing but bar trivia.