Frequently I find World-Herald sports columnist/press-box coach Tom Shatel’s columns mostly amusing, as he contradicts himself at least once in a typically lengthy column.
Then there are the irritating columns, in which Shatel represents himself as being able to divine the mood of all, or nearly all, Nebraska Cornhusker football fans and speak for them in critical comment on the performance of Husker players and coaches—especially the coaches.
Irritation rises to the level of outspoken indignation when Shatel in eight days writes five columns which included negative comments about head coach Bo Pelini and even a Husker victory. (He called the 20-7 win over Iowa “a lot like Nebraska’s season, nondescript.”)
After citing examples of Shatel’s five-columns-in-eight-days comments, I’ll quote strong Pelini endorsements from observers with a good deal more experience and better credentials. Observers who point out, among other things, that in that victory over Iowa, the Pelini-coached Huskers became only one of eight current American collegiate football programs with a record of at least nine wins for four consecutive seasons. Not bad for first-time head coach Bo Pelini.
Turning to those five columns in eight days:
On the day after the 45-17 disastrous loss in Michigan’s “Big House,” Shatel unloaded 30 paragraphs of comment under this headline: “Pelini’s program looks stuck on a treadmill.”
No ‘Comeback’ Under Pelini, Shatel Suggests
A typical quote: “We thought Pelini had NU coming back. But days like these make you shake your head.” And this: “What should be chapping Nebraska fans is the idea that in year four, Pelini’s Huskers are getting blown out by 20th-ranked teams.’”
Two days later, The World-Herald gave top-of-the-sports-page play to a Shatel column headlined: “Pelini’s NU outlook seems partly cloudy.” In that column, Shatel quoted Pelini as saying, among other things, that he was pleased that the players are doing well in the classroom and that they represent Nebraska in the right way.
Shatel ended his criticism with this smart-alecky comment: “But it’s nice to know the kids are doing well in school.”
Is it possible that, from his press box perch, Shatel has not noticed that spread across the north section of the stadium is a banner with a proud reference to the fact that Nebraska athletic teams have produced more academic All-Americans than any other university?
Three days later, again in a column starting on the front page of the sports section, Shatel raised the question of what the reaction would be if Iowa came in later that day and beat the Huskers: “…many people will be shamed and embarrassed.” Once again, Shatel purports to speak for “many” Husker fans.
Decisive Win Over Iowa Doesn’t Impress Critic
So Nebraska beats Iowa, decisively—an Iowa team which Shatel the day before had described favorably as “an Iowa squad that won’t be afraid to win in Memorial Stadium.”
Shatel’s description of the Husker victory included these words: “There was a game? Nebraska owned it. The Big Red won 20-7. It wasn’t pretty. It was a grind…a lot like Nebraska’s season: nondescript.”
This post-game column included the first of two sarcastic references to Coach Pelini saying that he was going to go home and sink into a couch that evening, a remark which was greeted by Shatel with these words: “…when was the last time you heard the coach say that?”
The next day, Sunday, November 27, a Shatel column went on at length—like nearly all of his columns—about the advantage of hiring a coach who, unlike Pelini, has had previous experience as a head coach elsewhere. Shatel wrote:
“If Nebraska fans, media or whoever else out there, is getting impatient with Pelini, if they demand…conference titles now, then there’s a solution.
“Next time, don’t hire a first-time head coach. Don’t take a chance on a coach who has never hired a staff or run a program or had to sell himself to recruits.”
Pelini Came With Too Much Credibity? That’s A Problem?
Antoehr Shatel puzzler:
“The problem with Bo Pelini is that he came with too much credibility. A great defensive mind and motivator? Yes, but when he was hired by Nebraska, he had never been a head coach at any level.”
Realizing that he could be talking also about the credentials of Athletic Director Tom Osborne, the legendary Husker coach who led the Huskers to three national championships (or was it 2 ½, as Michigan fans still argue?) and was never a head coach before taking the job at Nebraska.
Shatel wrote that it wasn’t until his ninth season that Osborne won his big first outright Big Eight title. “First national championship? Only 22 seasons after he started.”
Shatel opines that his failure to have been a head coach “doesn’t excuse Pelini. It certainly ads to the urgency, the impatience and frustration of a fan base that hasn’t been there, done that in at least 10 years.”
One might ask: Been where? Done what?
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More Knowledgeable Observers Praise Pelini
As promised at the start of today’s column, herewith some quotes from much more knowledgeable football observers than any newspaper columnist/press-box coach who follows a single team through each season:
The ABC broadcast team for the Nebraska-Iowa game consisted of Bob Wischusen, who handled the play-by-play and has long experience as an announcer including a current job as radio play-by-play announcer for the New York Jets games, and Bob Davie, described as last Friday’s Nebraska/Iowa color commentator. Davie is a former Notre Dame head coach and is now head coach at New Mexico University. Among the comments of these two experienced football observers:
“I think Bo Pelini has done a real good job with this program.”
And this: “I love their scheme on offense. They’ve always been good on defense.”
And this: “For the fourth consecutive year, Bo Pelini has a nine-win record.”
Also this: “The Black Shirts are back, and they played like Black Shirts today.”
And this, especially significant as I see it: “Easily he (Pelini) has this team headed in the right direction.”
I’ll leave it to my readers to draw their own conclusions as to whether Tom Shatel or Bob Davie and Bob Wischusen have the better credentials for evaluating the performance and the promise of Bo Pelini and his staff and the performance and promise of the players under their guidance.
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Husker Fans In Sports Illustrated Spotlight
To end on an upbeat note, a look at Husker fans as described in a Sports Illustrated article introducing its cover-story “Sport In America” look at how Americans “define ourselves in our games:”
I’ll reprint the article here. I think it speaks for itself as to the kind of fans who respect the opposition and support the Huskers, win or lose—the kind of fans who support the Huskers, a quality which some commentator/press-box coaches may not fully understand or appreciate:
The Sports Illustrated article begins like this:
“In the fall of 1980, when SI senior writer Lars Anderson was nine years old and living in Lincoln, his father took him to the Florida State-Nebraska game. With less than a minute left in the fourth quarter, the highly favored Cornhuskers had the ball on the Seminoles’ three-yard line, trailing 18-14. That’s when heartbreak visited Nebraska: Quarterback Jeff Quinn fumbled. Florida State recovered. Game over. Then, as Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden and his team walked off the field, the crowd rose to its feet in appreciation of the underdogs’ hard-fought victory. At first it was just polite clapping, the kind you hear at a golf tournament, but then fans started cheering for Bowden and his players, building to one of the loudest roars of the day. Tears of disappointment ran down Lars’s cheeks as his father put his arm around him, pointed to the red-clad fans in full throat and said, ‘Lars, this is as good as sports gets.’”
After that impressive tribute to Husker fans (and I would suggest that the character of the fans following Nebraska these days measures up well compared with fans in decades past), Sports Illustrated followed with an 11-page look at those sports over the years that have helped shape the character of the American people.
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