Nebraska fans serious about rivalry with Texas

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 | 8:26 p.m. CDT; updated 11:18 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 13, 2010
"Beat Texas" shirts are offered for sale Wednesday at the Husker Hounds store in Omaha, Neb., ahead of the game against Texas. Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne is following coach Bo Pelini's lead and urging fans to treat Texas players, coaches and fans with respect at Saturday's game. The game has been built up as a grudge match because of last year's controversial finish to the Big 12 championship game and Nebraska's looming departure from the Big 12 to join the Big Ten.

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska fans don't like Texas, and that's putting it mildly.

Guess what? Texas and its fans don't seem to care.

Folks of the Cornhusker persuasion have been counting down the days to Saturday's game with the Longhorns for 10 months.

Texas fans have been thinking about this game for, oh, 10 days.

Around Lincoln, passions against Texas have roiled since the clash of cultures that resulted in the Big Eight merging with four schools from the dying Southwest Conference to create the Big 12 in 1996.

The Huskers were in the middle of their three-national-championships-in-four-years run when the Big 12 came along, and they didn't exactly buddy up to the wealthy and powerful Longhorns.

Passions heated up again after December's Big 12 championship game and more so once Nebraska announced its move to the Big Ten in 2011. Some have suggested that Nebraska bolted for the Big Ten because it was fed up with Texas.

"Anyone reading into us going to the Big Ten to spite Texas is ridiculous," athletic director Tom Osborne said. "You don't change conference just to show your heels to a school."

At the administrative level the relationship between the Big 12 heavyweights is cordial, Osborne said. 

At the fan level, not so much after Texas beat Nebraska 13-12 in the Big 12 title game. One second was put back on the clock after it hit zeroes, giving the Longhorns enough time to kick the winning field goal.

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini shouted about a conspiracy on his way to the locker room, alleging Texas was given extra help to get to the BCS championship game. (Pelini this week said the right call was made.)

By June, Nebraska was on its way to the greater riches and exposure of the Big Ten. Some Texas folks accused the Huskers of nearly killing off the Big 12. Nebraska countered that the Longhorns tried to work out a deal to go to the Pac-10 while publicly saying they wanted the Big 12 to survive.

For the Nebraska faithful, Saturday will be one last throw-down with the team it loves to hate, unless the two should meet again in a conference championship game rematch.

The backdrop is similar to the 1970s, when Nebraska routinely lost to Oklahoma. Sooners coach Barry Switzer, on the sideline with a cigarette in his mouth, was the man in the black hat back then, the antitheses of the clean-living Osborne.

The vitriol leveled at Switzer and his Sooners was cartoonish compared with the nastiness directed toward Texas nowadays on social media, radio sports talk shows and even in the newspaper. Over the summer, the Omaha World-Herald featured a part-time meatpacking plant employee who happened upon a steer head with horns measuring 5 feet from tip to tip. He "ran home, grabbed his Husker hat and camera and called over the meat plant owner for assistance. He turned the 150-pound head toward the camera, knelt behind it, grabbed the horns and smiled," the newspaper reported.

Bob Knowles, an Omaha attorney and board member of the Nebraska Touchdown Club, suspects the sour attitude is mostly attributable to Nebraska's 1-8 record against the Longhorns since the Big 12 started.

"If we were 8-1, I don't think we're having this conversation," Knowles said. "It's the losing that is the primary driving force, in my opinion, for why Nebraskans dislike Texas."

Is a rivalry a rivalry if one team wins all the time?

Joe Jamail, the billionaire trial lawyer and Texas benefactor who had the field at DKR-Royal Memorial Stadium named after him, said he and other Longhorn fans have no animosity for Nebraska.

"It never occurred to me that a thinking human being would waste a lot of time dredging up a reason to despise someone," the 84-year-old Jamail said with a chuckle. "People have been e-mailing me, calling us the 'evil orange.' What did they do all year, sit around and wait for this game? Show me a whole population that feels that way and I'll show you a large population of people who are either bored to death or not capable of doing anything else."

Jamail said he wouldn't be in Lincoln for the game, and added a little dig: "I'll never go to Nebraska. You have to get sent to Nebraska. You don't go there."

On the football field, the games have been close and important. It started with the 1996 Big 12 title game. Nebraska was favored by three touchdowns but lost 37-27. Two years later, Ricky Williams ran for 150 yards as Texas won 20-16 to end Nebraska's 47-game home win streak.

In 2006, the Huskers were on the verge of upsetting the fifth-ranked Longhorns before Terrence Nunn fumbled at his own 44 and Texas' backup kicker made the winning field goal in the last seconds.

Need we go on?

Nebraska fans will be wearing their emotions on their chests Saturday. Husker Hounds, a Big Red clothier in Omaha, has been selling T-shirts for the occasion since July.

Among the messages: "Beat Texas and the Steer They Rode In On," "Not This Time Texas" and "To The People of the 'Horn From the People of the Corn: It's Barbecue Time, and You Are the Menu.'"

Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman said he can see how some people think Texas is arrogant, just as some think Nebraska is arrogant.

"It goes with success," Perlman said.

Former Nebraska All-American defensive lineman Jason Peter said his own teammates, the guys from Texas, used to talk about how everything is bigger and better in the Lone Star State. Peter said he's eager for Nebraska to put Texas in its rearview mirror and head to the Big Ten — but not before it beats the Longhorns on Saturday.

He figures every Husker player would love to "walk into the sunset" — maybe after using a gesture their mothers wouldn't be proud of — and saying "we're outta here."

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