I hope I didn’t just give away the ending
Sit down kids and let me you a little story about the real reason Nebraska is a Big Ten team. Sure you’ve heard other stories about expanding the footprint, Big Ten network and the like but the reason is much simpler, much B1G-er you might even say.
The story begins on a regular Saturday in September of 2009. After the Nebraska legislature made the bizarre decision to ban Metallica music from the state (the move was so controversial it passed with only one house of the state legislature), the Cornhuskers were forced to head out to Blacksburg, Virginia to get their fix of the Napster hating rock band.
It was billed as a matchup of the walk-ons versus the lunch pail carrying Hokies. The Black Shirts versus Beamer Ball. And the game lived up to it’s hard nosed, Top 20 billing.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Huskers were holding a 15-10 lead thanks to 5 Alex Henery field goals. You may think this is where the story ends, winning a game with five field goals and without any new-fangled touchdowns the kids are talking about. Five fields is about as B1G as it gets, but there was more, oh so much more.
With five field goals in their pocket and an insurmountable five point lead, Nebraska pounded the ball down to the Hokie 37 yard line and forced Virginia Tech to burn the last of their three timeouts. Roy Helu Jr and quarterback Zac Lee combined for over 200 yards and nearly 6 yards a carry. It was fourth down and only one yard separated the Huskers from a couple kneel downs and marquee win and a 3-0 start to the season.
If things were that easy, Nebraska would still be playing Oklahoma every year and cashing Longhorn Network checks today. But Tom Osborne, Bo Pelini and the Huskers had bigger plans. Why put the game away when you could…punt the way game away.
Rather than risk giving the Hokies the ball with 63 yards and no timeouts to a victory, Nebraska shelved the chance at ending the game then and there and ruthlessly punted the ball, gaining a critical 25 yards of field position.
When game MVP Alex Henery trotted out to punt the ball, I can only imagine how the telegraph machine in Jim Delany’s office lit up. Messages from Barry, Lloyd, Ron and all of the Big Ten punting legends. Forget conference numerical accuracy, that already went out the door with Penn St, forget the cool logo with the 11 in the white space, the Big Ten had found their soul mate. It didn’t even matter when they were kicked out of the AAU shortly later. Nebraska had proven that they were the one. The one the Big Ten would be willing to sell all of its possessions to have.
Within three months the Big Ten put out a coy statement about reviewing expansion but the decision had been made. Nebraska must be ours, and within six months she was. Our perfect punting bride.
Years have passed and the once great program’s descent into mediocrity has been a perfect fit for the Big Ten. Every weekend, Jim Delany waits for that perfect moment, that perfect punt from that perfect team. The need for a new punting fix pushed him out to Maryland and Rutgers but with each new hit the high recedes a little. There will never be a moment like that September afternoon back in 2010.
Now by this point in the story you are surely jumping between tabs in your browser and have looked up this moment in time, that is if you are one of the few who doesn’t remember where you were when Nebraska proved they were B1G at heart. You have looked at the final from the game and saw that Virginia Tech did in fact go 88 yards for a touchdown to secure a 1 point win, and what you would see would be true. Despite the onerous burden of 25 extra yards, the Hokies were able to do the possible and defeat the Husker punting strategy. But that fact that punting to win actually led to a loss, just solidified the marriage. Better to lose the right way than win the wrong way.
And punting is definitely the right way.