Between The Lines

The economy is weak.

The war in Afghanistan is costly, and we'll likely have troops there for a long time yet.

National unemployment figures remain high.

The deficit is growing.

This election year has Republicans waging an aggressive battle against Democrats, with the Tea Party and Glenn Beck and Fox News and Sarah Palin all thrown into the mix.

It's a lot to worry about, frankly.

I thought I'd surely be entering a worry-free zone when a friend with an unused season ticket to Saturday's Nebraska Cornhusker game in Lincoln invited me to tag along and take in the game with him at Memorial Stadium.

It's the second Husker game I've experienced. The first time was about three or four years ago, with the same friend, under the same circumstances. It was my first taste of the mania that precedes and follows each game in Lincoln.

I knew there would be non-stop chatter on the radio during the drive down to Lincoln. And I knew the Huskers would likely have an easy time, in front of a capacity crowd of over 85,000 cheering fans on their home turf against the rather innocuous Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, an opponent that is hardly a powerhouse.

What piqued my interest the most about Western Kentucky was the team name. Just what is a Hilltopper anyway?

I digress. As expected, Nebraska had a pretty easy time. They defeated the Hilltoppers handily. Final score was 49-10.

As we began the drive home, with the radio now abuzz with the post game show, I thought all would be happy in Husker Nation or Husker Planet or Husker Universe — perhaps the team's influence knows no bounds.

I mean, who wouldn't be happy by starting the season with a strong, lopsided, glass- more-than-half-full victory?

Well, just about everyone. But Nebraska fans.

The post game radio show's main feature is the calls received from fans from all over the Midwest, and people from close by, who were in the stands that day, and saw all of the action firsthand, and, I thought, would have good reason to be, well, happy.

I've become convinced that there's no such thing as a "happy" Husker fan.

Freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez was the surprise starter for the Huskers, and it didn't take him long to get a touchdown for Nebraska.

He had, in my estimation, a stellar day. He was 9-of-15 passing for 136 yards. And the guy is quick. He rushed seven times for 127 yards, and scored three touchdowns.

But all you could hear was, well, a bit of worry in the voices of the faithful who called the radio station to give their observations, sprinkled, at times, with a question or two.

I asked my friend, as we drove through the now darkened plains of Nebraska, why it is so hard for Husker fans to be, well, happy.

This friend grew up in Nebraska. Unlike me, he is a lifelong follower of the Huskers. Sitting beside him in the stands, I ended up watching and following him as the various rituals of every home game were played out. The sequence of clapping, followed by a cheer (I kept screwing that up, so I would just watch my friend and try my best to copy him).

Most of all, I, along with over 85,000 other people, just took in the festive atmosphere, the fantastic weather, and the simple grandeur of it all.

Back in the car, on the drive home, it was as if it was a gloomy, cold day and that the home team had lost, judging by the tone of the calls.

My friend tried to explain it all to me. He taught me that people who love the Huskers also love to worry about the Huskers.

And judging from the tone of the phone calls, it appears that part of being a staunch Nebraska fan is to never be "overly happy" about the team's performance. Because once that happens, something will certainly go wrong.

I seriously think any university student with aspirations to one day be a psychologist could write a thesis on this topic.

If it hasn't already been done.

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