LINCOLN, Neb. — Out here where the heartbeat of America can be checked without a stethoscope, where the speed limit on the highway from Omaha to Lincoln is 65 again, and where the roadside signs read "Boys Town" and "Gerald R. Ford Birthplace" and "Strategic Air Command Museum," a boy does not have to be an All-American to be an All-American boy.
All he has to do is play football--and, as far as Nebraskans are concerned, there are three kinds of college football players in this world of ours. There are Nebraska football players, who are some kind of wonderful. There are football players from other parts of the country, who are worthy rivals and necessary evils. And then there are Oklahoma football players, who are the most necessary evils of all.
Were it not for the yearly ritual that is the Nebraska-Oklahoma game, life would hardly be worth living for some of the dear hearts and gentle people of the heartland. All the thumpings of Missouri and Kansas in the world would not be satisfying unless the rumble with Oklahoma could go on as scheduled, if for no better reason than to allow Nebraska's motorists to affix their favorite stickers to their bumpers, the ones that go: "If I Owned Oklahoma and Hell, I'd Live in Hell and Rent Out Oklahoma."
It is a vicious and nasty rivalry, full of everything that makes college football fun. The folks from Nebraska spend 358 days a year waiting for those seven dates when their beloved Cornhuskers will be playing a game of football at home, inside the crusty old bowl that was filled Saturday for the 150th straight time.
Carved into the stadium walls are inscriptions like: "Courage, Generosity, Fairness, Honor. These Are the True Awards of Manly Sport." And: "Not the Victory but the Action. Not the Goal but the Game. In the Deed, the Glory." Such are the credos by which Nebraskans propose to live--and do, ordinarily, except for one wacky Saturday in November, when Oklahoma's Sooners occupy the same premises, trod the same ground, soil the soil. On this one day, glory is in victory, and not in any darned deed.
To hate an Oklahoman is to be a good American. This is the Nebraska attitude. Examine some of the T-shirts sold in shops across the street from the Cornhuskers' stadium, like this one here, featuring the \o7 Oklahoma University Entrance Exam for Prospective Athletes.\f7
"Write Your Name Here," it begins--and a blank line is provided.
"Write Your Mama's Name Here," it continues--and another blank line is provided.
"Write Your Daddy's Name Here," comes next--and is followed by \o7 five\f7 blank lines.
More aptitude problems follow. There is a photo quiz, for example, called: "Which One is Different?" In three of the photographs are identical butterflies; in the fourth is a duck. Then there is a connect-the-dots test--with one dot. And so on. An Oklahoma player is considered uncivilized here, and is not welcome. He is the enemy. He is the plague. He is to be scorned and pitied, and should be shot a dirty look on sight.
That goes for former Oklahoma players, too. Which brings us to a young snuff-dipper out of Henryetta, Okla., name of Troy Aikman, who attempted Saturday to sneak into Lincoln in a clever disguise. He was wearing a UCLA uniform and calling signals for that team. Nebraskans, alas, can sniff out an Okie like a hound can find a raccoon.
The principal purpose of Saturday's football game for the Cornhuskers was to beat Aikman's team. That they did, 42-33, in a contest between schools ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in the national polls. Nebraska wanted to beat UCLA every bit as badly as Oklahoma did a year ago, when the Sooners went out and really husked UCLA's corn.
Just as essential, though, was assuring the masses that anything a Sooner can do--even an ex-Sooner--a Cornhusker can do better. So, if the high-falutin' University of California at Los Angeles wanted to try to put one over on the hicks from Nebraska by using some quarterback who only a year ago was getting his transcripts transferred from dumb old Oklahoma, well, OK. So be it. Nebraska simply would get even by springing upon UCLA a certain Steve Taylor, quarterback \o7 extraordinaire, \f7 who happens to be a 100%, born-and-raised, toast-of-the-coast Californian.
Taylor threw five touchdown passes against UCLA, breaking a school record, and needed only 10 completed passes to do it. He looked superb. He looked like a guy who belonged at a school that passes the ball a lot more often, instead of at Nebraska, where the forward pass is still considered a passing fad.
"I'm pretty much happy with my passing game," Taylor said later. "If you want to be national champions, you have to be able to do those things."