Teams need emotion at this point
By By Stan Torgerson / sports columnist
Dec. 23, 2002
As the New Orleans Saints proved so conclusively last Sunday, a team playing without emotion is a team playing to lose.
Which prompts the question, will Nebraska be playing without emotion against Ole Miss this week or will they be playing to prove something to somebody?
My guess is they will playing to get the season over with, not to save the coach's job or their own self respect or for hero's status with the Cornhusker fans but just to bring the 2002 campaign finally, mercifully to an end.
Look at what happened this season to a Nebraska team that last year played in the Rose Bowl for the national championship. Yes, they lost then to Miami but the excitment of national TV and over 100,000 fans on hand with the majority of them wearing Nebraska, hand cheering every play, every move, had to be an unforgettable experience.
Do you think that a game in Shreveport, Louisiana before 40,000 mostly enemy fans with 20% of the available seats empty can possibly stir their juices?
In the past nothing less than New Year's day in a major bowl was expected or accepted by both Nebraska players and fans. In 2001, it was Nebraska-Miami in the Rose Bowl. In 2000 Nebraska played Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl and beat them 31-21. Between 1991 and 1998 the Cornhuskers went to the Orange bowl six of those seven years. But in 2002 it's the Independence Bowl.
Who in Nebraska ever heard of the Independence Bowl? Wasn't that a place where Southern and Western also-rans spent their holidays. This year one of the also-rans is from the Midwest playing Ole Miss, a Southern team which is went only 6-6. How much fire can burn in the bellies of the kids from Lincoln?
There was a story on the wire this week which said Cornhusker fans had purchased only 2,000 tickets by that date. The usual alumni organized trip, transportation, hotel rooms and tickets, was cancelled because, Associated Press said, of a lack of interest on the part of the team's usual followers.
Would you suppose the players didn't notice the snub? Not hardly.
Do you believe a 7-6 season for a team which was 10-2 last year is a confidence builder? Or do you understand the Huskers accepted this game because it was the only one they could get and they wanted to keep the nation's longest consecutive bowl appearances streak alive at 34? That's great for history, but once the invitation is accepted and the streak remains alive, it is hardly a do or die incentive to winning.
It makes you wonder how Nebraska will perform next year when they come to Hattiesburg to play Southern Mississippi. Will the combination of the smallest stadium the Cornhuskers will have seen in years and an opponent without a national reputation from a conference not rated strong enough to earn an automatic invitation to the BCS affect their attitude to the point where an upset may occur comparable to Ole Miss beating Notre Dame in 1977?
But that will be then and Nebraska-Ole Miss is now. The other side of that coin is an Ole Miss team that went 7-4 last year and was snubbed. A team which started out 5-1 in 2002 and ended its season only 6-6. Wouldn't you say that's a team with something to prove and the motivation to prove it?
Admittedly Ole Miss was a major disappointment. On paper preseason it appeared to be one of the better teams in the SEC. A few of the members of the press at the July media days even picked the Rebels to win the West over the likes of Alabama, Auburn and LSU, to say nothing of Arkansas, the eventual winner.
But football games are not played on paper nor in whatever room winning and losing odds are figured in Las Vegas each week. Eli Manning was a preseason All America pick by many but didn't play like one as the season wound down. He has something to prove as an individual. In fact, everybody on that squad does.
As for Southern's game against Oklahoma State in the Houston Bowl, that comes down to basics, blocking and tackling and execution. Neither Southern nor Oklahoma State has the storied past of a Nebraska and neither team can possibly look at this as just another afternoon that might possibly be beneath their dignity nor their history. The incentive is the same for both.
Obviously, the men who create the point spreds are not buying my argument. Nebraska opened as a four point favorite and its now up to six and one half. That's a lot of points for a team with Nebraska's problems this year to give to an SEC team which can score. Ole Miss has shown they can throw the ball, even if they can't run it very well.
But the bookmakers have been wrong before and my hunch is they will be again this time.
Of course so have I. Been wrong before, that is. But if I could figure out a way to steal a five spot from my wife's butter and egg money I'd risk it on the Rebels. Not the family farm, however, but five bucks would at least show my heart's in the right place. And if I can find another fiver I'd lay it on the Eagle's nose. I might not be wise parlaying these two teams, but I'm loyal.