Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Pelini Was Right: The Problem With "Fans"

Even with the crazy stories surrounding Monday's Navy Yard shootings, and the federal government on the verge of a shutdown, our attention this week has been a bit diverted from our usual focus on politics. As we've noted previously on more than one occasion, our entire staff proudly hails from Nebraska - and for the past few days, Nebraska Cornhusker fans have been up in arms over the actions their head football coach, Bo Pelini.

Pelini's streak of bad luck began last Saturday, when he, his coaches, and his players took a 21-3 halftime lead, and turned it into an embarrassing 41-21 loss at home to UCLA. As longtime true Husker fans, we weren't as disappointed in the loss as we were in the way much of the team  - both players and coaches - behaved in an uninspired way, not appearing to give their usual 110%. We grumbled relatively quietly, and outwardly hoped that the ugly loss might serve as an educational tool to remind both the student athletes and coaches that no opponent should be overlooked.

Things got worse, though, for Pelini and Husker fans, as sportswriter and longtime media colleague of ours Steve Sipple noted on Monday. That's when a secret tape, recorded in 2011, was released. On that recording, Coach Pelini was caught venting against ungrateful and poorly behaved Husker fans in the wake of the 2011 Husker comeback win against Ohio State.

We can't defend Coach Pelini's actions on Saturday, or the less-then-gentlemanly public argument he and former Husker player Tommie Frazier got into through the media, following the game. We did, however, think the rush by Nebraska's Chancellor and Athletic Director to force Pelini to apologize for cussing out the "new breed" of Husker "fans" in 2011 was wrong.

Bo Pelini was right to be mad at the trashy, childish, spoiled behavior of "new breed" Husker fans - and if you're a fan of any sport, frankly, we think you should be as mad as he was.

Sports fans today, at almost every level, are often boorish, rude, and crass in ways they didn't use to be. They now openly cuss out players, coaches, and officials in ways that would make sailors blush - and that's just at Little League games. By the time these "fans" cheer and jeer their college and pro teams, their language is often far worse, and their attitude of entitlement to perpetual winning teams and seasons is beyond obnoxious.

In the case of Husker football fans, who have long called themselves "the best fans in college football," that kind of boorish behavior towards coaches and players has become far more common, yet it's still rarely acknowledged publicly - like when Husker fans booed their own team at halftime of the 2011 Ohio State game (which Nebraska came back from three touchdowns behind to win).

The new breed of Husker football fans, like other similar "fans" today, insist their aims are true. They complain that Pelini isn't like their historically winning coaching legends of Osborne and Devaney. Sports "fans" like that have short memories, though.

Back in the day, before Coach Devaney and his Huskers won a National Championship, fans were screaming for his head on a platter for several years. Now there's a statue of him at Memorial Stadium. Coach Osborne's story is much the same. Prior to his national titles, he was always accused of not being able to win "the big one." Now the field bears Osborne's name, and he too has a statue at the stadium.

For all of Pelini's personal faults, he is doing his job quite well. With five straight nine-win seasons to open his head coaching career, Pelini joins both Devaney and Osborne as the only Husker football coaches in the school's history to accomplish that feat. Yet that still hasn't seemed to be enough for those ungrateful "fans" - many of whom have been demanding Pelini be fired after the events of the past few days.

For that kind of screaming "fan" no achievement will ever be good enough - which makes Coach Pelini's 2011 private outburst both understandable and just, in our opinion.

True Husker fans - like true fans of any team - know: Being a fan is like being part of a family. You don't always like every member of your family, all the time. But you support your family both when they soar and when they crash - and you love them even if they act like jackasses in public on occasion.

And sometimes, when they curse you out in private, they're right for doing so.