By Michael Rose Sr. on December 23, 2013
I remember when I first became a Husker fan. It was January 2nd, 1984. The Nebraska Cornhuskers were playing in the Orange Bowl against the Miami Hurricanes. My family and I were visiting my grandparents in a small town about 30 miles outside of Shreveport named Vivian, Louisiana for the New Years holiday all the way from Kansas City, MO. I can’t honestly say I knew much about the Huskers up to this point in my life. Heck, I don’t recall being that much into the game of football then either. After all, I was only 7 years old.
What I did know was I saw a team with an African-American quarterback — something that was extremely rare during those days. My dad had made a big deal of this and that then head coach Tom Osborne was one of the best coaches in college football. The Huskers were the team from the north, where I was from, going against a team from the south, where we currently were. I remember several of my family members making comments about how the Hurricanes were gonna whip up on the boys from the north and my dad defending the Huskers against the pressures of his in-laws. My dad was cheering for the Huskers to win. Therefore, I wanted the Huskers to win.
I don’t recall all of the details of the game, but I do remember the Huskers had to come from behind to have an opportunity to win or tie the game. After scoring a late touchdown in the 4th quarter, a decision had to be made — go for the extra point and end the game in a tie, claiming a piece of the National Championship or attempt a 2-point conversion and claim the championship all alone.
Of course, we all know what happened then. What I remember most about that moment is how I felt. I felt proud! Even though the Huskers lost, I felt a connection with them from that point on. Why? Maybe it had something to do with them having a quarterback that looked like me. Maybe it was because they were a team from the north, like me, playing a team from the south, where I was. Maybe it was the respect my father had for Tom Osborne. Maybe it was all of the above. Whatever it was, I was a Husker fan from then on.
As every Husker fan did, I thoroughly enjoyed the 90′s. The Huskers had such a impact on me, particularly the BLACKSHIRTS, that I modeled the way I played the game of football to be like them. I wanted to be dominant. I wanted to be fast. I wanted to be confident! I knew Husker Power was the engine behind the Big Red Machine, so I even lifted weights and trained like I was under the tutelage of Boyd Epley himself. I even got a hold of the pyramid of success that shaped the concepts of being a Nebraska Cornhusker. Using the Big Red as my motivation, I became one of the best high school football players in the state of Missouri. The 1995 football season, my senior year at Hickman Mills High School, I was named 1st team to every city and statewide ranking as an undersized defensive tackle (5’10″ 210lbs.) that tallied 150 tackles, 19 1/2 sacks and added nearly 500 yards and 8 TDs on offense as a situational fullback and running back. All of this was achieved because I wanted to be a Cornhusker.
Fast forwarding to where I am today, still a Husker fan, but I have a more unique perspective than most Husker fans. My son is now a football player on the team. I couldn’t be any prouder of him than I am today. Coming out of high school, unlike myself, Michael had PLENTY of opportunities to play D1 football, receiving scholarship offers from schools in the SEC, Big 12, PAC 12 and of course, the Big 10.
Today’s Nebraska Cornhuskers find themselves 12 seasons removed from last appearing in the national title game and 16 seasons from last winning a national title. Although they’ve appeared in two conference championships in the last 6 years, it has been far too long since they’ve won a conference championship outright. Add these facts to the current three-game bowl losing streak and it doesn’t take much more to see Nebraska is far from their glory years. Husker Nation has grown restless, myself included. I’m just as passionate, just as much desiring for the Huskers to be the Huskers I grew up watching — loving and modeling the way I played football, just as the next fan did. However, since I’m now much closer to the program, having established varying levels of personal relationships with the current Husker staff and players, it’s probably a little easier for me to contain my level of frustration or disappointment.
And herein lies the conflict within me: the duality of being a fan and a father.
There’s a unique transition that takes place within me during a Huskers football game. When I wake up in the morning of a game day, all I can think of is Michael. I’m hoping he’s mentally focused, confident in knowing his assignments and most importantly that he stays healthy. I send him the same text message: “Play fast. Play violent. Be a playmaker. You were built for this!!! I love you and I’m proud of you.”
I tell myself it’s important for him to see or hear me before the games, so while other parents are wrapping up their tailgating, I usually arrive at Memorial Stadium about an hour or so before kickoff. I gotta see how he warms up. I gotta lay eyes in him. I pray for his safety and success. Once the opening kick off gets on its way, I turn into the most rabbid, opinionated, passionate fan you may ever meet. Nobody is off limits from my thoughts and opinions about their performance during the game — NOBODY — including Michael. Admittedly, I’m probably harder on him than anybody else. I transition from father to fan.
Just as there’s a transition at the beginning of the game, there’s another transition that takes place afterwards. From fan to father. It’s interesting. The same mistakes that I saw during the game aren’t so bad afterward. The fumbles, interceptions, penalties, questionable play calling, special teams play…doesn’t matter. What calms me down, bringing me back to a level of relative sanity is my relationships. I know these individuals beyond face recognition, jersey numbers or stats from the game. I’ve had players and coaches at my house. On top of that, I see the disappointment on their faces after a loss. I see them beaten up with ice packs on various parts of their bodies. I see them pushing aside their emotions to sign autographs for kids and adults — all the while their families wait patiently for every autograph request be fulfilled.
In other words, I see that they’re kids playing a game. They hurt. They feel disappointment. They know what it means to Husker Nation for them to play well, and when the final score doesn’t have the good guys on top, they feel the weight of it all.
And then I see my son, who I haven’t gotten to spend much time with since the beginning of fall camp. Every moment I spend with him, football is the least of my concerns. I want to just be with ” The Boy.”
But, my pride for his accomplishments and playing for Nebraska is hard to hide. I give him either words of encouragement about the game or let him know how good he played depending on the situation. Never does the fan in me come out in his presence or the presence of the coaching staff or other players. Every once in awhile, during the three and a half hour drive back to my home in Kansas City, I’ll talk to my wife about the game. Afterward, the fan in me is dormant…until the next game.
Then the transition starts all over again.