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Here's the Thing: Nebraska

It's Heroes Game Day, but this game isn't about heroes (though it's worth it to read the stories of the people being honored). In fact, it's about the opposite. Today's game is about Nebraska fans.

Nebraska fans have self-adopted the nickname of "The Greatest Fans in College Football", and like everyone who nickname themselves, they do their best to live up to their billing. The Greatest Fans in College Football anoint Tom Osborne as God, conveniently ignoring that they loathed him and his ineptitude for a decade. The Greatest Fans in College Football ran off Frank Solich for having the audacity to win only seven games in one year, forgetting that Solich did not have the benefit of playing in the Cold War conference that was the Big Eight (and yes, in this metaphor, Iowa State is a Middle Eastern dictatorship) and quickly finding out what happens when you abandon your principles for the cheap pleasure of a passing offense. The Greatest Fans in College Football support a program built in the smoke-filled backrooms of the NCAA, places long since shut down by the police of the Big Twelve and Big Ten, places like Prop 48 and regional recruiting. Having been bested on the field and in the polls in 1997, they "won" the only pity- and nostalgia-based share of a national championship in history, when their quarterback went on air and begged pollsters to give Tom another one, and then continued to proclaim it an actual championship when they moved to the real champion's conference 12 years later. They stood up for Christian Peter's right to play on Saturday after he had been convicted to seven violent offenses. They booed Miami and called Warren Sapp a thug while telling us all that Lawrence Phillips just needed football in his life. These are the Greatest Fans in College Football.

Nebraska's time as a legitimate football power is done. The Big XII's shift to the south that caused them so much heartburn is a mirage created by Lincoln. The real problem was the NCAA's improved academic standards that prevented the Cornhuskers from taking every 4.4 40 who could spell his name; it's no coincidence that Nebraska won its two outright championships in the last two years before Prop 16 went into effect, and was effectively finished as a national player four years after its implementation. Without a steady stream of skill position players who couldn't get into the California state system or virtually every other school in the country, the Huskers floundered. Since 2002, Nebraska is 81-47 overall, and just 44-36 in conference games (as a comparison, Iowa is 86-40 (50-29) over that stretch). They won two Big XII division titles in their last two season with that conference, in arguably the most top-heavy division in college football history; in those two "championship" seasons, there was exactly one team with a winning record in the conference to oppose them. And yet, The Greatest Fans in College Football told us they would steamroll the Big Ten, and how the Blackshirts could be the greatest defense in conference history. And then Northwestern happened.

Nebraska's lived a charmed life against Iowa. They scheduled the Hawkeyes in the late 70's, as Iowa was completing two decades of futility, and they stomped Iowa in Memorial Stadium in 1980. In 1981, as the preseason #6 team in the country, the Huskers came to Kinnick for their opener and lost 10-7. It was so disastrous that Nebraska wouldn't return to the schedule for 18 years, when they had the fortune of catching the two worst Iowa teams since the late 70's in a home-and-home. Today it renews on as equal of terms as we've had in 50 years, and not a moment too soon.

There's a lot of talk from Lincoln about salvaging something from a disastrous Big Ten season today, and the Greatest Fans on Earth will walk past their self-appointed banners and pile into Memorial Stadium and boo their team and pity clap for the opponents. Today is about amplifying those boos and silencing those claps and exposing this fraud for what it is. Finally, after eleven years of actual, and thirty years of virtual, dormancy, it's Iowa-Nebraska. It's a new rivalry and a border war. More importantly, it's a chance to pass Nebraska in the standings and send The Greatest Fans in College Football to the Texas bowl game they so richly deserve.

Go Hawks. Beat Nebraska.