Posts Tagged ‘football’
In the spring of 1986, a few months after we had arrived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, from a distant state, my wife Susan and I met Budd Gauger, who became one of our dearest friends. This meeting occurred at a gathering of University of Nebraska alumni in a Toledo restaurant. Budd and I found common interests not only in the exploits of the Cornhuskers, whom he called “The Men of Corn,” but also in gardening and journalism, neither of which I professed as avidly or practiced as blithely as Budd.
It soon developed that during football season, we would talk on the phone every week, reviewing details of the previous Saturday’s game. Sometimes we called immediately after a telecast, and Budd always laughed when I answered his ring by saying, “Husker Victory Central!”
But he could never understand a loss.
“We just looked out of synch,” he said disconsolately.
“Budd, the game was in Oklahoma. There were 75,000 people screaming against us.”
“I know, but…my word!”
For a few years when it was still a novelty to see the team on TV, a group of Nebraska exiles gathered in the social hall of St. James Catholic Church in Mason, Michigan, where the pastor was a native Nebraskan, and we watched on a large screen and ate popcorn. Budd would drive to our place–we lived in the village of Clinton in those days–and then we would shuttle the rest of the way together, always a pleasant trip over the country roads.
A big moment came on September 9, 1995, when the Men of Corn took on the Spartans in East Lansing. The home team was led by Nick Saban, the hotshot young coach who has since gone on to distinguish himself, but on that beautiful afternoon we destroyed them, 50 to 10, and as someone who disliked close games, who thought we should always win by 40 points, Budd’s giddy glee overfilled the stadium.
In 2004 we trekked to Pittsburgh to see our team take on the Pitt Panthers at Heinz Field. This game was uncomfortably close–we only won by 24 to 17–and whenever the home team made a good play, a panther snarled over the sound system at truly alarming volume. Budd recoiled every time. His gentle, pacific nature made no allowance for amplified menace. Good thing he never came along with me to hear AC/DC at the Palace of Auburn Hills!
We did many other things together: a violinist’s concert at the Peristyle; an exhibit of Andrew Wyeth’s “Helga Pictures” at the museum; and a Christmas program at his church, where the pastor bent over backwards never to mention God or Jesus.
But the best outing was an October Saturday when we went to the Ohio Gourd Festival in Mount Gilead. Only Budd would propose something like this. Even though it was a little, shall we say, offbeat, it turned out truly special. Vendors sold every variety of gourd and seed that you could think of, if you think of gourds. And crafts? There were birdhouses, Christmas ornaments, utensils, masks, musical instruments, and more.
We never observed Budd reaching a greater ecstasy. He loved to see people use their creativity. On the way home from Gourdtopia, we stopped at his favorite roadside place for dinner. I seem to remember his insisting on pie afterward. Susan remembers his complaints about the loud patrons.
After his retirement, we every so often for lunch in Dundee, Michigan. The first time, I took him into Cabela’s, the hunting and fishing store, where we looked at elaborate displays of taxidermy–noble elk, bears in attack posture, every sort of ridiculous predatory cliche–and he abhorred it as thoroughly as could be. It was like the time we saw the heavy industry on I-75 in Downriver Detroit. His revulsion was physical. “Why do we have to have this?” he said. Same thing when we went to Midland, Michigan, for an architectural tour, passing landfills along the way. Budd couldn’t contemplate ugliness any more than violence–at least the kind of violence that had nothing to do with football.
When he gave up his car, I would come to Lambertville and we lunched in an Alexis Road strip mall, a Chinese restaurant with dirty carpets. Budd thought it was “just marvelous” and enjoyed ice cream for dessert and was satisfied for the rest of the day.
We would have loved to attend his memorial service on May 18, but having left Michigan two years ago, it was just too far. We will think of him, though, imagining his attendance at Heaven’s weekly chicken auction, jangling the change in his pocket while he deliberates: what color silkie, how many, aren’t they all just marvelous?
Then that wry smile of his. He realizes he doesn’t have to choose. At last, he can have them all.
And Heaven excludes raccoons and ’possums.
Waiting for the game was like waiting for Christmas itself. We woke up on Monday, pinched ourselves, and counted only three more days. On Tuesday, two more days. And then an interminable Wednesday, the clock using a walker to drag itself around. Finally, it arrived: Thanksgiving Day, 1971. The Nebraska Cornhuskers would play the Oklahoma Sooners. “The Game of the Century,” the TV was saying, but even a 16-year-old recoiled from the hype. More than a quarter of the century remained to be played out. But it was a huge game. When the Cornhuskers won in thrilling fashion, yet again retaining their number-one ranking, we experienced euphoria in equal measure to the pre-game anxiety, waking Friday, pinching ourselves, and counting the first day since the great victory, and the second, and third, eager to return Monday to school and talk about Johnny Rodgers’s Etch-a-Sketch punt return and share the feeling that we Nebraskans were finally important.
It had never occurred to me that someone would write a book about all this, but my friend Budd recently passed along Michael Corcoran’s “The Game of the Century: Nebraska vs. Oklahoma in College Football’s Ultimate Battle,” published by Simon & Schuster in 2004. I could hardly wait to dip into a slick writer’s treatment of the subject. The opening chapters’ pace is excellent as Corcoran summarizes how Bob Devaney bounced around in Michigan high schools and was almost resigned to a mediocre life as a school administrator when Michigan State’s football staff solicited his services. (It isn’t explained the Spartans had won the 1952 national title and the program was a fecund producer of coaches.) Eight years later, Devaney brought his quips, garrulity, and football savvy to Lincoln.
My view of Oklahoma’s coaches had always been predictably dim, but Corcoran changes all that through his humane portrayals of the likable and accomplished Bud Wilkinson, the beleaguered but determined Chuck Fairbanks, and of course Barry Switzer, who was touched by tragedy. Something the three coaches shared in common, incidentally, was an excellent command of English. (Wilkinson had a master’s degree in literature and liked to sit down at the organ.) After a season of listening to Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez mangle his cases, a yearning arises.
The narrative builds momentum. It is clear why the looming game would be so important. But at an early point in the book I found myself beginning to chafe at some of Corcoran’s contrivances. Before 10 pages pass, the work is already creaking under the strain of the clichéd theme which asserts that football naturally flourished in a state inhabited by people of “pioneer stock,” to whom no game could seem too violent because life was so hard. (Through the rickety sides of a corn crib, do I hear the wind soughing?) Having grown up in Omaha and benefited from such advances as Cinerama, a sprayer attachment at the kitchen faucet, and daily radio serenades from Charlie Graham Buick (“That’s why Omaha-town is Buick-town, they’re all driving Buicks, best car around”), well, my pioneer stock had become diluted, I guess, and I really didn’t see it in my parents, either. Admittedly, Corcoran applies his asseveration to the much earlier era that produced song lyrics like these:
Where the girls are the fairest,
The boys are the squarest,
Of any old school that I knew.
But following his line of reasoning too closely would produce shock that, in 1952, for example, it was possible to drive an automobile from Florence, at Omaha’s northern edge, over to Iowa by crossing
a toll bridge over the Missouri River. (Why would anyone have wanted to go to Iowa, especially if paying a toll?) Or that the Nebraska Capitol, completed in 1932, is a modern masterpiece. It’s possible to lean too hard and long on the rickety fence that surrounds the state’s pioneer history. While also leaning a bit too often on sportswriters’ shopworn phrases like “particularly stellar,” Corcoran still manages to generate the anticipation of a thrilling climax to his tale. Here, I was disappointed. Note to journalism students across the land: it’s sometimes possible to do too much interviewing. Corcoran lets his tape recorder take over the story in the last 20 pages. It’s no longer a book but instead an ESPN retrospective, with each principal taking his turn in the spotlight. All the tension fizzles out as oral history intercedes. The author’s abdication is hard to figure out. It’s like giving up command of your cruise liner too early to the harbor pilot and being dashed against the rocks: hardly a salutary end to the journey.
Anyone who faults that metaphor, pointing out my landlubbing origins, is hereby referred to Corcoran’s line about Bob Devaney, who “looked more like a man who would give you an easy smile as he pushed his cap back slightly on his head and said he was sorry but your radiator was shot and that it’d be a day or two before the parts came in to fix it.” Hmmm. Maybe Corcoran knows something I don’t, but even in jalopies like those the Okies drove to California, the repair of radiators’ brass tubes and tanks just required a flushing out and bit of brazing before you were on your way. Which formula could be applied to “The Game of the Century,” as well.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers used to win the Big Eight football title and get to the Orange Bowl pretty regularly. The Cornhuskers first appeared in the Miami classic in 1955, the year of my birth, losing to fourteenth-rated Duke, 34-7. Returning twice in the 1960s, they had a win over Auburn and a loss to Alabama. Then, in the 28-year period that started in 1971, the road between Nebraska and Florida was traveled 14 times. During that same epoch, the Cornhuskers also played five Fiesta Bowls, three Sugar Bowls, and one Cotton Bowl when it still counted as a biggie. People in my home state got used to planning for an early winter vacation, and Miami was the preferred destination.
Miami was a hell of a long way off to us kids who grew up secure in our provincialism. Omaha seemed like the true center of the United States. I couldn’t figure out why the evening news programs like the NBC’s “Huntley-Brinkley Report,” which aired from 1956 to 1970, concentrated so much on what happened in Washington and New York. So what if Chet Huntley’s anchor desk was in New York and David Brinkley sat his bum down in Washington for each broadcast? Omaha had big companies and important things going on. The Union Pacific railroad was headquartered there, and of course Mutual of Omaha sponsored the weekly “Wild Kingdom” program from 1963 onward, challenging a boy like me to calculate the logistics of getting Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler from our city on the Mighty Mo—the Missouri River—to the Serengeti Plain of Africa on a weekly basis. Did I say there were large undertakings? The reeking Omaha stockyards were vast. It frankly shocked and disappointed me to learn Chicago had stockyards as well. Everything Omaha did, Chicago had to copy or steal. The Chicago Bears had the greatest running back in the National Football League, Gale Sayers, who just happened to have grown up in Omaha. It’s a good thing no one confused me with the information that Marlin Perkins had been director of Chicago’s Lincoln Park zoo.
On top of all this other stuff was Omaha’s importance in the Cold War. Just south of the city, which is situated near the geographic center of the country and therefore at a point far away from Russian missiles, Offutt Air Force Base was home of the Strategic Air Command, where all-out nuclear war could be directed from a bunker. We were used to looking at B-52s rumbling overhead as they approached the base. Later, the 747s of the airborne command center joined the procession. And an allied country occasionally contributed an exotic aircraft like the otherworldly delta-winged British Vulcan bomber. It instilled the belief that Omaha’s real significance far exceeded anything the modest metropolitan population of 400,000 would suggest.
And then the Cornhuskers won their national titles in 1970 and 1971. The four previous champs had been Notre Dame, USC, Ohio State, and Texas. It must be remembered that throughout the 1960s, the slogan on our license plates boasted “The Beef State.” A head count barely produced 1.5 million Nebraskans. Omaha and Lincoln accounted for about one-third of the state’s population. The next largest city was Grand Island, with something like 35,000 people. The teeming Memorial Stadium game-day crowd of fans clad in scarlet and cream more than doubled that total. I remember my surprise upon learning the small cities in the population range of 15,000 to 25,000 like Columbus, North Platte, Hastings, Fremont, and Norfolk (which we pronounced NOR-fork), indeed, these cities had their own daily newspapers. It seemed like a waste of time when they could have just read the World-Herald, along with us Omahans, and found everything they needed to know. Anyhow, nothing besides natural-born killers Charlie Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate had ever happened outstate (and their murder spree was a kind of national champion of its own, unlike anything previously, at least outside of gangland). How could a state with just three congressional districts come away with the national football title? We must have been naturally superior.
With its national championships, Nebraska not only joined the ranks of elite programs from huge states, we kicked their asses. Orange Bowl appearances in 1971, 1972, and 1973 resulted in three victories. We squeaked past LSU, 17-12, in that first one. But the next year’s game against Bear Bryant’s houndstooth hat was a 38-6 blowout. And the next year provided the utmost gratification for someone who loathed, detested, and reviled all the claptrap about Notre Dame. Quarterback Tom Clements led the Fighting Irish, but the Cornhuskers’ David Humm only needed to rely on Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers, who jittered and juked for three rushing touchdowns, tossed a 52-yard pass to Frosty Anderson for six more points, and later received a 50-yard TD lob from his lefty QB. The Irish trailed 40-0 after three quarters, when the Cornhuskers’ scrubs went in and surrendered six points. As a footnote to all this, I should include that the vacation and victory destination for 1974 was the Cotton Bowl, where we defeated Texas, 19-3.
As I say, we Nebraskans were becoming aristocrats of football and had begun to take for granted a nice excursion, at least to Dallas or New Orleans if not to semitropical Miami. But then Coach Bob Devaney retired, handing off the Cornhuskers to Tom Osborne, and it was a while before he could beat Barry Switzer’s Oklahoma Sooners in the Big Eight. After a few tries, we did manage to drop the Sooners in 1978, the reward being a league title and, alas, a rematch with them New Year’s Day in Miami. (Oklahoma won by a touchdown.) Our next Orange Bowl, in 1982, was the first of another skein of three appearances, which culminated in the unforgettable loss to the Miami Hurricanes, 31-30, when our two-point conversion attempt failed with 48 seconds remaining and the ’Canes spoiled our undefeated season and claimed the national title.
A couple of years later, in the autumn of 1986, my parents, who were lifelong Nebraskans, startled everybody by announcing they were moving to the Tampa Bay area. They were in their mid-50s, so this wasn’t retirement. My father just wanted a change. He had once mentioned his dream of puttering up and down the Gulf coast of Florida in a boat. They made their plans accordingly.
Not too long before they loaded the truck and headed off, my younger sister, Julie, then 24 years old, called up to say she had decided to go along with them to Florida.
“I wonder what I should do about the two-hundred-and-seventy-five dollar red-leather outfit I put on layaway,” she said.
Hearing this from her made me cringe. Not only did I happen to know, through our mother, that Julie’s credit cards were maxed out, but there was also the delicate consideration of whether such a costume was in exquisitely good taste. The owners of the shop probably had my sister specifically in mind when they acquired such a clamorous item of apparel for their inventory.
“You can take it off layaway, can’t you?” I asked.
“Oh, I definitely plan to buy it.”
“Yeah, for the football games.”
“How many Nebraska football games will you go to in Tampa?”
“I could wear it to the Orange Bowl.”
Maybe she should also have picked out a space suit in case NASA invited her along on the shuttle. The Cornhuskers next appeared in the Orange Bowl in 1989. My sister had initially gone to work at Hooters, but as our brother Dan subtly expressed it, “I think she put on a little weight and they had to let her go.” If she kept the red leather outfit and was still able to wriggle into it, good times lay ahead: during a seven-year stretch of the 1990s, the Cornhuskers qualified for the Orange Bowl six times, winning three of those games and bringing two more national championship trophies back to Lincoln. The year they weren’t in Miami, they claimed yet another national title at the Fiesta Bowl, hammering Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators, 62-24, and reinforcing lessons about the essentiality of Nebraska to a new generation of youngsters from Omaha to Benkelman.
At some point in his life my friend Budd must have decided that learning anything technical or mastering the fine points of everyday gadgets was incompatible with his asceticism. He is exclusively devoted to the pure and the good. Helping him to pick out a new TV was going to be a challenge, but I was prepared to be patient. He said he needed one because he was unable to get any channels. The set just wouldn’t go on. Last weekend he missed all the opening-round NCAA tourney games.
When I arrived I found that his 13-inch portable was receiving input from the DVD player and he had been able to watch the Nebraska Cornhuskers football games that he loves. (He subscribes to a service that sends an edited version of each game, and he plays these throughout the year.) I quickly ascertained the reason he was unable to receive any channels was that the power to his DIRECTV receiver was switched off. Maybe he had inadvertently bumped into it. But I wanted him to upgrade to a better TV. Where did he want to go shopping?
“Circuit City,” he said.
I had already told him they went out of business just after Christmas. We went to Best Buy. Entering the TV department we saw a fabulous home theater system. Having one look at it, Budd declared that nobody needs such a thing and anyone who could afford it should be taxed. This is what comes of listening to NPR all day long.
We ended up in the aisle with the 19- and 22-inch TVs. One screen showed a lot of semi-naked men seated on the ground and swaying their shoulders as they faced a kind of altar. Budd ventured the rite was in Indonesia. We looked at another TV with a built-in DVD player. The difference is price was only $50. Budd was acting confused, so I suggested we take a walk and discuss the options.
“I don’t understand any of it,” he said. Pulling himself together, he finally decided to go for a 19-inch set with the DVD feature. We brought it home and I hooked it up. Then I tried to help him make sense of the new remote control and the DIRECTV remote, too. Despite having subscribed to this service for several years, it appeared Budd had no idea that channels could be selected by punching the number keys. He must have relied exclusively on the channel up/down toggle. He also seemed surprised to learn a channel guide could be called up with one touch of a button and he could navigate through this on-screen menu and select a channel. I wrote out a few simple guidelines for the basic functions he will be using most. We practiced with the built-in DVD player, looking at a Nebraska-Iowa State game from the Bill Callahan era. Budd noted that a large number of men in the student section wore strange costumes and gestured with their upper bodies and directed their painted faces at a kind of altar.
Then I asked to have a look at his computer. It recently came to my attention that he has no clue about hyperlinks or that a specific URL can be entered in the browser bar, which leaves him relying exclusively on Google searches to get to websites. And I’d bet $50 that he has no idea how to create folders and organize his inbox. In fact, I’d bet $500.
So I sat down in front of the monitor and found 15 e-mail files open in Microsoft Outlook. He has mentioned more than once that his “techie,” to whom he paid consulting fees, grew angry with him and refused to come out any longer. I managed to keep my patience but came home puzzled by how anyone—Budd isn’t the only example—could will himself to ignorance. “I can’t possibly do this” is a byword with him. Being quick to surrender is a continual foible. On the other hand, if I need to know the scientific name of a plant or isolate a strange religious practice, even one that’s enacted on the gridiron, he’s the guy to call.
Our classy neighbor Melissa invited us to her Super Bowl party. Among the other guests were assorted neighbors, several women friends of Melissa’s own, and some people who are involved with her son Michael’s youth football program. “Happy holidays,” she greeted us. The Super Bowl is an extension of the holidays, I guess. Melissa was showing off a brand-new flat-screen above the mantel in her family room. “We’ve been having a relationship,” she said. Michael and his friends had their own TV downstairs in the man cave. There was a barrel of pop in the garage, beer in the fridge, and lots of food in the counter, including chili and cornbread, and three kinds of dip, all cheesy-heavy and unambiguously scrumptious. A great philosopher who was present said, “The Super Bowl is the only day of the year when it’s OK for the kids to have brownies for dinner.”
The first half of the game was spellbinding. Just when it looked as though the Cardinals had rallied from being ten down and would go ahead before halftime, James Harrison made the stunning goal-line interception and 100-yard runback for touchdown, which raised the roof and ballooned the Steelers’ lead to 17-7. It was one of the most dramatic football moments ever.
We were well stocked with 3-D glasses from various contributors and watched the promotions that opened the halftime portion. I’d never seen 3-D and my life is completely changed and I can never look at regular TV again and will just have to find an ophthalmologist who will weld those lenses to my eyes so I don’t have to bother about the glasses. My favorite commercial was the Doritos spot in which the guy takes a bite of a chip and an attractive woman loses her dress and parades in her underwear. He takes another bite and cash spews from an ATM. Another bite: the policeman melts away. But then, empty bag in hand, the Doritos guy is smacked by a bus.
I also liked the later Cheetos spot with Chester the Cheetah coming to the aid of the damsel in distress at the outdoor restaurant, throwing a few Cheetos at the feet of the louche woman yakking on her phone: a flock of pigeons descend.
In the halftime musicale, it was clear from the way he hoisted his bones atop the piano that the Boss had taken his Geritol. With apologies to Laura in Texas and other Springsteen devotees, I found this performance to be pure fontina. I saw him at the L.A. Sports Center almost thirty years ago; there was nothing original about him then and I can’t believe he’s still promulgating his tawdry East Coast clichés. Prince’s halftime show a couple of years ago still stands as the all-time Super Bowl concert.
Some people arrived late, and I was introduced to a woman who said, “So you’re the neighbor with no kids?” She had already spoken to Susan, who divulged as much. The nosy interloper persisted. I could swear she asked whether we were childless by choice, but this morning Susan says the question addressed whether we’ve ever had any children at all. That’s a stupid thing to ask anyone, but I guess it would match the answer I gave: “We had some, but we ate them. They were delicious.” This riposte was perfectly placed, and she recoiled. Otherwise, I would have happily elaborated about the four-year-old and the barbecue sauce.
Susan went home during the third quarter, but I stayed in order to ensure that Melissa wouldn’t be left with a surplus of beer. While the Cards worked away at the Steelers’ 20-7 lead, I chatted with a couple of neighbor guys, one a “Go Blue” Michigan Wolverines sports fan. “What school did Edgerrin James play for?” someone asked about the Cards’ back.
“Miami,” I said.
Go Blue corrected me. “It was Florida.”
A moment later, as if by divine intervention, a graphic appeared on the screen and asserted that Edgerrin James was in his tenth year out of Miami.
I let Go Blue off the hook by saying James has a similar style to Fred Taylor, the longtime Jaguars’ runner, out of Florida.
Larry Fitzgerald’s catch and gallop for the go-ahead score delivered another thrilling moment, and I fervently hoped the Cards would hang on. Everybody was rooting for them. But the Steelers dramatically marched downfield. In the game’s last minute, Go Blue made sport of Santonio Holmes after he missed a catch while leaping high in the corner of the end zone. Holmes is from Ohio State—I’ve always marveled at how he is but one ascender away from being named Santohio—so Go Blue’s cry was, “Hah, good hands, Buckeye!” But on the next try, Holmes dazzled everyone with his splendid grab and inbounds toe-dragging for the game-winner.
We were happy to be treated to such a spectacle. John Madden could be heard saying this is what the NFL is all about, a heavyweight title fight, which pallid metaphor must have been authored by Springsteen. The picture that stays with me is of Roethlisberger, at six feet five and 241 pounds, standing on the sideline and snuggling Holmes, listed as five feet eleven and 192 pounds but looking dwarfish.
My friend Budd endears himself to me by passing along his copies of Huskers Illustrated, the Nebraska sports magazine. He has done so for years; the issues arrive in 9×12 envelopes that Budd re-uses by sealing them shut with masking tape. He even scribbles out the address label and writes my address below, sometimes with a line drawn between. Budd is the odd—I mean this in the sense of unusual—combination of Unitarian pacifist and ardent football fan. A few years ago we drove to Pittsburgh to watch the Cornhuskers take on the Pitt Panthers, and early in the game a Panther runner was on the loose, which caused Budd to rise and shout, “Stop him, goddammit!” This from a man whose strongest exclamation is usually limited to “My stars!”
The magazines arrive bearing evidence of intense perusal. Budd annotates them for me, and his comments serve as the basis for later conversation. I’ll call up and chat and we will eventually get to the fact that he has underlined the name of Sione Tuihalamaka, a defensive lineman whom the Huskers are recruiting. Did his mark imply a challenge to say the youngster’s name three times in a row? He has also underlined another recruit’s school, which is Quince Orchard High, in Gaithersburg, Maryland. (Jason Ankrah, a defensive end, is coming from there to Lincoln.) Budd adores odd—there’s that word again—and obscure facts. He can indefatigably sit and watch “Jeopardy.” The Mormon guy, Ken Jennings, who ran the “Jeopardy” table a few years ago, is Budd’s hero. Jennings is the master of the esoteric fact, just the sort of thing Budd has always pursued. After retiring in the early 1990s, he did some traveling, and instead of going to a beautiful beach somewhere or to the great capitals of the world, he went to Ethiopia to see cathedrals carved into cliffsides and came home effusing about teff, the grain. He went to Morocco and boogied with a whirling dervish. (I’m alluding to the Sufi mystics who whirl around and chant.) He spooked around Haiti on a voodoo tour. And there was also the jaunt to the Transcaucasus: Armenia and Azerbaijan. I think it had to do with a nearly extinct sect of some sort.
“Guess what, Budd. Sione Tuihalamaka, Sione Tuihalamaka, Sione Tuihalamaka.”
“I don’t get it.”
“I can say his name three times.”
“The six-foot-three-inch, two-hundred-seventy-five-pound defensive tackle from Gardena, California, who is leaning toward Cal or Arizona but hasn’t ruled out the Huskers.”
In the Gator Bowl victory special of Huskers Illustrated (Nebraska 26-Clemson 21), a yellow sticky note is affixed to the full-page ad for a year’s subscription at “only” $51.95 by second-class postage. The note bears Budd’s artful handwriting: “The lost is found.” A few days ago he said he was unable to find anything and suffered other calamities as well. For example, his TV clicker, which had fallen to the floor when he abruptly woke in his chair, now refused to function. Clickerless, he missed the Steelers’ AFC championship game on January 18. Budd has always loved the Steelers, even in the 1930s, when he was growing up in southwestern Nebraska. (He once explained the connection; I’ve forgotten it.) As of the next day, when I called, he still hadn’t heard the Steelers won. Besides losing the Gator Bowl victory special of HI in a stack of papers—he said the issue was “in hiding”—he also had a leaky faucet and the man at the hardware store recommended a $3 gadget but Budd couldn’t figure out how to install it. And it’s been so damn cold outside!
Budd frequently highlights an important statistic from the magazine’s game report or some of the commentary, yet he has a way of forgetting the same information he highlights. I keep his marginalia in mind, his eternal black checkmark. For example, I’ll gloatingly quote columnist Curt McKeever: “It should be noted that the Big Ten went 1-6 in bowl games.” And Budd will profess astonishment at this new information. Once or twice I’ve pointed out that he first called it to my attention, but he is innocent of any recollection.
One of these days I’ll quit freeloading and subscribe for myself. Maybe what’s called for is to get on the phone and read the new issue of Huskers Illustrated to each other, line by line, commenting on minutiae regarding the Men of Corn, as he calls them. But I’ll bet that even if I plunk down $70.95 for the first-class mail deal, I’ll rather miss the masking tape that seals Budd’s envelopes shut.
A well-meaning soul sent me the clip of Larry the Cable Guy on the “Tonight Show.” That idiot sat next to Scarlett Johansson and told potty jokes, but the real travesty was that he wore a Huskers cap. Yeah, I’ve noticed him on the sidelines at Nebraska football games. He’s supposedly a big fan.
What I’d like to know is: What would it take to eliminate the Huskers cap from his costume? Could we buy him out? I can’t believe that we’re so desperate for a little celebrity rub-off that we’ll put up with Larry the Cable Guy. I don’t care that he was born in Nebraska; his redneck humor is embarrassing, and it reflects poorly on the university that has produced Willa Cather and Johnny Carson, the school where students prepare to become doctors, lawyers, teachers, and professional cornerbacks.
Could we stop issuing him a sideline pass so he can no longer schmooze with players and, oh, incidentally, get free face time on network TV? Could he be persuaded to wear a Jayhawks cap instead? Maybe the Sooners would find he enhances their brand. Brian Bosworth used to prowl the sidelines and get on TV every autumn, and we were reminded by the announcers that he was supposedly an actor, but he seems to have vanished. Maybe Larry the Cable Guy could go to Norman and afflict them guys.
Who should replace Larry as Nebraska’s “big-time” Hollywood supporter? It should be someone classy, like Matthew McConaughey, a Texas Longhorns fan. Not someone cheesy, like Verne Troyer (Mini-Me), a Michigan Wolverines fan.
I wonder if Scarlett Johansson likes football. It wouldn’t matter to me if she’s never even been to Nebraska. She would look terrific in a Huskers cap—maybe they could even make her an honorary Blackshirt.