Iowa? Nebraska’s Rival? That’s Debatable.

Author’s note:  I came across a blog post entitled “Nebraska, You Have A Rival And It’s Not Up For Debate” on the site Know It All Football today.  In the piece, author J.P. Scott lays out his case for Iowa now truly being Nebraska’s rival.  

I respectfully disagree.

Instead of a doing a full rebuttal, I thought it would be easier to go line by line through Mr. Scott’s piece, which I am reprinting below.  To reduce any confusion, any words in italics are my own.  Everything else belongs to Mr. Scott / Know It All Football.

*   *   *

There are certain things you just don’t see often in life. One of those things is another team carrying trophy off the football field at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska after defeating the Cornhuskers.

This is technically true, albeit very misleading.  

Nebraska has only been in the Big 10 for three years, and in that time, Iowa is just the third B1G team to win in Lincoln.  Prior to that?  Nebraska was in the Big XII, where conference foes didn’t exactly have a ton of success in Lincoln.  Nebraska won 77% of their conference home games between 1996 – 2010 – and that includes the inglorious end of the Frank Solich era and the forgettable period known as Bill Callahan.  Before that?  Nebraska was in the Big 8 under Tom Osborne, so the winning percentage against conference foes at home would be even higher.

But let’s not forget the biggest reason you have never seen another team carrying a trophy off the Memorial Stadium turf in your lifetime:  Nebraska has never been involved in a Big Ten style trophy game.  Yes, technically, NU and Mizzou played for a victory bell, but that series never included the sprinting to the opposite sideline exchange like you see with many Big Ten trophy games.  For all I know, the bell was delivered to the winning team via Fed Ex a few days after the game.

Bottom line: it is rare to see a team running off with a trophy when there was never one to play for.

That’s exactly what happened on Black Friday. What made that scene different was the fact that it was a group of Iowa Hawkeye football players carrying that trophy. It was the 13th time in history that the Hawkeyes had bested the Huskers in 44 tries and the first win in the three-year history of Nebraska’s participation as a member of the Big Ten Conference.

Wow. 13 wins in 44 tries.  By that logic, Nebraska should have had a fierce rivalry with Texas Tech (four wins in eleven games), but I guarantee that nobody on either side considered that a “rivalry”.

Earlier in the week, a local Omaha sports talk radio show asked a question on Facebook in regard to who Nebraska’s Black Friday rivalry game should be played against — Iowa or Wisconsin. A surprisingly large number of Nebraska fans, for whatever reason, chose Wisconsin.

I’ll get into the “Why Wisconsin” reasons below, but a big reason for why I would have voted Wisconsin?  They want to be there.  When Nebraska was entering the B1G, Wisconsin lobbied to have a trophy game with Nebraska.  Iowa?  Kirk Ferentz spent most of the last week telling anybody who would listen how he doesn’t want to play on Black Friday.  Nebraskans would rather foster a rivalry with somebody who wants to be there under the spotlight.

The fact that this is even a question and Wisconsin is a valid answer baffles me. I’ve lived in Omaha for over a decade. As I carry on about my business throughout the Omaha-Council Bluffs, Iowa metro (which happens to the largest metro to sit literally on the border of any two Big Ten states), I see people every day wearing Husker red. I also see, more than any other team, college or pro, Iowa Hawkeye fans.

Yes, Omaha is the biggest city in the state and it has a large (and seemingly growing) Hawkeye community, but let’s not forget that there is another 450 miles of Nebraska west of Omaha, spanning two time zones.  Get west of Kearney – heck, even Lincoln – and you’re likely to see more Wyoming gear that Hawkeye garb.  But nobody considers the Pokes to be a rival.

Wisconsin? The only sign of Wisconsin I’ve seen around these parts was at a local Wal-Mart. I was rooting through some Husker gear when I came across a lunchbox that had “Huskers” painted onto one side and the Wisconsin “W” misprinted on the other. I suppose this is a simple and common factory mishap, considering the two teams have the same colors and same uniforms sans the helmet. Outside of the uniform similarities, the only other Wisconsin/Nebraska connection I can make out is Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin’s athletic director and former coach — who happens to be a Nebraska alum.

That’s it? That’s what constitutes a rival? I don’t think so.

The logic behind a NU-Wisky rivalry is based on the many similarities between the teams (Alvarez modeling everything in his program – right down to the uniforms – after Nebraska, their records of success, their emphasis on run-heavy o6ffenses powered by mammoth home-grown linemen, and much more).  A Husker v. Badger rivalry would be like the two brothers a year apart in school squaring off for dominance.

Where I come from, some kid who sits behind you and flicks your ears, looking for a fight is a rival.  Ah yes, we call that the “Kansas State model”.  Someone who constantly roots for you to fail and celebrates your failures like their own victories is a rival.  The “Big XII North model”.  Someone who comes into your back yard and steals the finest vegetables from your garden is a rival.  Thieves are my rival?  I’m getting confused here.  And finally, someone who beats you, whether it’s once or every time, at the one thing you are supposed to be better than they are at — that’s a rival. To make matters worse, after they beat you, they just walk next door to their own house, close the door, shoot you a quick middle finger from the window and laugh as they close the blinds.

So let me see if I have the rivalry formula straight:

Win (every time or once in a generation) + geographic proximity = rivalry?

By that logic, Florida has a new rival:  Georgia Southern.  Not only did the Eagles just beat the Gators 26-20, but their campuses are only separated by 250 miles – which is almost an hour close than the Nebraska and Iowa campuses.

That’s what Iowa has been doing to Nebraska for decades and continued to do on Saturday. The Iowa Hawkeyes are your rival, Nebraska. There’s no avoiding or denying it.

Decades?  Were Iowa fans really getting their jollies back in the 1980s because Nebraska was losing Orange Bowls?  For your sake, I hope that is not the case.

The fact that you don’t think so and continue to think you are above Iowa only strengthens it. The fact that Iowa smack-talk infuriates you like it does only legitimizes it.

The reason Iowa smack-talk infuriates Husker fans?  Up until Friday, there was no basis for it unless you were really hanging on to that win in 1981 – the last one before Friday’s victory.

The fact that you don’t have another true, natural rivalry decides it.

So since Nebraska does not currently have a true, natural rivalry, we’re stuck with Iowa as a default?   P.S. – for the time being,  we’ll conveniently choose to ignore the side debate on if the Nebraska – Iowa “rivalry” is “natural” or was manufactured by Jim Delaney.

It’s rare that any store in eastern Nebraska sells only Husker garb. Most, whether jewelry stores, sporting goods stores, arts and crafts stores or department stores sell both Husker and Hawkeye merchandise. There is a reason for this. Iowa fans roll deep in eastern Nebraska. Their numbers are strong, right here in your back yard, and they grow stronger by the day.

Hawkeye fans aren’t afraid of the Husker mystique. They sport their colors proudly in the face of you —  in the back yard of the self-proclaimed greatest fans in college football — without fear, seemingly waiting for you to react.

Part of the whole “Greatest Fans” thing is being respectful to opposing fans in our house – even if they are, as you appear to say, baiting us for a response.

And you do. You react by noticing. You sneer. You scowl. You stare, wondering how they have the gall to walk around Henry Doorly Zoo or the Old Market, sporting that black and gold trash. It angers you, even if only for a moment.

You don’t feel that way about Wisconsin. The last time you felt that way, it was Oklahoma.

Two things here.  1) We would feel that way about Wisconsin, but since we share color schemes and apparel providers (adidas) Badger gear blends in much more than black and gold.  2) Since Oklahoma, Husker fans have not enjoyed seeing people wearing the gear of Kansas State, Colorado, Missouri, and Texas.  

Oklahoma has moved on. Penn State screwed you 30 years ago. Mizzou has bigger fish to fry. Colorado is a bottom feeder in the PAC 12. Wisconsin only acknowledges your existence during the week you play them.

Penn State?  That cross-over game was done with good intentions (the programs of Osborne and Paterno squaring off every year), but nobody will miss it when the B1G goes to the East/West divisions in 2014.  Mizzou?  That rivalry was showing signs of taking off, but aside from the NU’s on-field dominance we all know that Nebraska won be getting the thing that Mizzou coveted most:  the Big 10 invite.  

Colorado is the interesting case, and most apt comparison for Iowa.  Border schools who lack Nebraska’s pedigree, appear to get a kick out of sticking it to Husker fans whenever possible, black and gold color scheme.  We’ll see if Iowa can match CU’s run as a national power which pushed the NU-CU rivalry to it’s peak or if Iowa fans care to match the reputation of Colorado fans for being Grade A jerks.  Regardless, when Iowa is a year removed from 4-8, calling another team a “bottom feeder” is…um…interesting.

But Iowa — Iowa is a different animal. Iowa is sitting in your front yard, throwing rocks at your house 365 days a year. They watch you through your window and laugh as you celebrate accomplishments from 20 years ago.

Man, you make Iowa sound like a bunch of creeper pricks.  Given the choice, I’ll celebrate the greatest team in college football history (the 1995 Huskers, of course) over the leering vandalism of Hawkeye fans (that must be what a school does when they don’t have any widely recognized national championships of their own).

For the last two years, you shoved them away and celebrated victory and supremacy. But this year, you walked outside and got stomped out in your own front yard. And now, for another calendar year, you have to look at those black and gold-clad fans in your back yard and keep your mouth shut when they walk by and whisper one word in your ear: SCOREBOARD.

Yep, Iowa earned the right to say “Scoreboard” for the next year.  Good on them.  Without getting into the land of sour grapes and third-string quarterbacks, I would hope most reasonable Hawkeye fans would observe the glaring examples of coaching malpractice that occurred in that game.  A fake punt after a time out from your own 30?  That is Cyclone-level stupidity.

Speaking of the Clones, let’s discuss another reason why Husker fans have not embraced the Hawkeyes as their rival.  In our eyes, between Iowa State, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, we question if Iowa has time (or hatred) for another rival?  

Admittedly, we Huskers are a proud bunch (some would say vain and egotistical, but that’s a separate conversation too), but I’ll be honest with you – we feel our resume (five titles, three Heismans, top five all-time in wins) should warrant a rival that is either equal in stature (like Oklahoma) or gives us their full hatred for 365 days (Colorado).  Is living down the block enough for a rivalry if you spend a good portion of your time hating the Clones and Gophers and discussing pig statues with Minnesota?  I’m not so sure.

Iowa is your rival, Nebraska. It’s been a long time coming. It’s time to own it.

In conclusion, I’m not saying that Nebraska cannot become rivals, but I am definitely saying they are not there yet.  A single win in the last six meetings does not make a rivalry.  The first road win in 70 years does not make a rivalry.  

I think I speak for most Husker fans in saying that we would love to have a true rivalry game with enough hatred and bad feelings to last the entire year.  We have never really known that, as the Oklahoma rivalry was based more on mutual respect than a deep hatred.  From what I’ve seen of the Big 10, Iowa is definitely a top competitor for the job (along with Wisconsin).  But if Iowa wants to make it official, a few things need to happen:

  • Embrace the Black Friday time slot.  That is a signature date for Nebraska football with several program-shaping wins and losses occurring on that date.  It baffles me that Ferentz would shy away from a national showcase game – and especially one that he could easily brand as a major Iowa holiday (“Black Friday” writes itself, no?).
  • Get an upset win.  The raw numbers of the series (a 28-13-2 NU advantage) are bad enough, but consider than of those 13 Iowa wins, a grand total of zero game against a Nebraska team ranked in the Top 20/25 (Iowa is 0 for 10 when Nebraska is ranked – CORRECTION:  1-9, I omitted the 1981 Iowa victory over #7 Nebraska).  It doesn’t help that Iowa has never been ranked for this game.
  • Screw us over.  You want to get our attention?  Do something that makes some noise.  Almost getting Pelini fired was a good start (even if it would have endeared you to a good chunk of the fan base).  Have Ferentz say something negative about Nebraska at media days next August.  Get a win that keeps Nebraska from a division title.  Have a Hawkeye involved in a controversial play that gets brought up for decades.  That sort of thing.
  • Just win.  One win in six tries won’t do it.  Two wins in seven tries probably won’t do it either.  Splitting a decade 5-5 or 6-4 would definitely go a long way towards getting this rivalry off the ground.
  • Drop the Heroes Game name and bland trophy.  When Nebraska signed up for the Big Ten, we were envisioning rivalry games with cool names (Floyd of Rosedale) and odd-ball trophies (spittoons, buckets, axes, etc.).  I don’t think many Nebraskans were blown away by the generically bland concept of The Heroes Game (sponsored by Hy-Vee!) with its boring and nondescript trophy.  Switch it to an ear of corn, an old tractor, or something else that gives personality and uniqueness to this game.

Make these things happen and we’ll look forward to dominating you in this rivalry for years to come.  If not, enjoy watching us and Wisconsin battle for the West Division title while you dine on turkey leftovers.


Husker Nation


Well, this should stir the pot and rustle up the hate …. I never thought that Nebraska deserved to be in the Big Ten. There should be standards besides mythical National Championships. Nebraska doesn’t measure up to other standards. At the University of Iowa, for decades, we have had inclusion, diversity. We respect everyone. Not so in Lincoln. Kirk Ferentz, the university, and the fans would never accept an assistant coach like Nebraska’s Ron Brown bashing gay citizens. So, until Nebraska joins the 21st century, go back to the Big 12 and play with your redneck brother Texas. Go Hawks!

“Iowa is 0 for 10 when Nebraska is ranked” – Incorrect, Nebraska was in the top 10 (#7?) in ’81 when Iowa won.

It’s this arrogance of Nebraska Cornhuskers that makes people hate them. Iowa is not beneath you. There’s always excuses when you lose. There’s always people that you demand to be fired when you lose. You’re in the Big 10 now, and you’re not dominating this conference like you thought you would. Those glory days are over for you. Get over it.

    I’d appreciate it if you could point out (either in this piece or any of the dozens of Husker pieces I written over the years) where I have ever called for a coach to be fired after a loss. That’s not my style.

    As for excuses, admittedly that is a little more subjective – what I consider a legitimate fact (Nebraska played Iowa with their third string QB and a patchwork offensive line) you may see as an excuse. There’s not much I can do about that.

Almost no significant rebuttal here. Still read a bunch of wishful thinking and unfounded elitism. Wisconsin doesn’t care about you and for the most part destroyed you on the field. Barry Alvarez coaches at Iowa. Wonder where he got the massive homegrown lineman ideas??

    I was not aware that Barry Alvarez coaches at Iowa. Do you think his bosses at Wisconsin are aware of this?

    If you meant to say that he “coached” at Iowa, I agree. But I would argue that he picked up the idea for “massive homegrown linemen” in Iowa City between 1979 and 1986, considering he played under Bob Devaney at Nebraska from 1966 – 1968 and saw how Devaney (and later Osborne) used those kids as a foundation for conference and national championships.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

[…] know, I know, Iowa isn’t a rival to Nebraska. I’ve heard that over and over and over again. For a (ahem) seasoned observer of Nebraska football, those protestations sound hauntingly […]

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