LINCOLN, Neb. — That big red N on Memorial Stadium here does not stand for knowledge, as the Nebraska joke goes. It apparently stands for knaivete. But judge for yourself.
As previously reported, Cornhuskers Willie Griffin and Tyreese Knox recently spent $60 on the streets for a box of bricks, believing they were buying a VCR. But if Californians Griffin, from Monrovia High School, and Knox, of Daly City, were shortchanged, the rest of the team got its money's worth.
Tight end Tom Banderas has been enlivening team meetings each week with a cartoon. This week's, in chalk, showed Griffin holding a box, the balloon thought above his head: "VHS or Beta?"
Even Coach Tom Osborne lost it when he saw that. "He just doubled over," Jones said.
A national title has long eluded Nebraska. Not since 1971, when it beat Oklahoma in Game of the Century I and went on to play Alabama in the Orange Bowl, have the Huskers won one. To blame? Oklahoma, of course.
The Sooners have won their Big Eight matchup 11 times in the last 15 years, when Osborne and Oklahoma's Barry Switzer were the opposing coaches.
But even more galling is the way Oklahoma has won. Including last year's victory, which the Sooners accomplished by scoring with six seconds left, Oklahoma has won 3 of the last 10 games in the final minute. Switzer's team has come from behind six times since he joined the staff in 1966.
Asked in Norman, Okla., just how this was possible, Switzer sheepishly replied: "Coaching?"
It's not so funny here. Asked about this fourth-quarter magic, Nebraska defensive end Broderick Taylor said, "Houdini's not allowed in our house."
Initially, for the first time: The Oklahoma game notes begin, "Deja vu . . . again."
Partly responsible, or maybe mostly, for the continued football excellence at Nebraska and Oklahoma is the continuity of coaching. Osborne and Switzer have each been in charge 15 years, enjoying programs free of staff and philosophic upheavals. The six other schools in the conference have made 23 coaching changes in the same time. There's your parity.
This is as much a credit to Nebraska's and Oklahoma's administrations as to their coaches.
True, Nebraska was never much tested by a coach who has had a top 10 team every year and who has never won fewer than nine games a season. But Oklahoma had reason to consider a coaching change when Switzer, having grown aloof from the program, began bringing home 7-4 seasons.
Reportedly, Switzer had to beg to keep his job. Oklahoma was wise to reconsider since Switzer picked up a couple of national championships after the reprieve.
Coaching changes, cont.: Ohio State, which needed nationwide pressure before letting go of madman Woody Hayes several years back, has gone the other way, dumping Earle Bruce midway through his contract, and a week before the Michigan game. For no good reason.
Whatever you think of Bruce--and we don't think much of him, to tell the truth--this is about as bush as it gets. His 56-17 Big Ten record was second only to the 59-15-1 mark of Michigan's Bo Schembechler during Bruce's nine-year reign. Until this year, when the Buckeyes lost three straight games by a total of 10 points, Bruce was nearly an automatic 9-3 in Columbus.
So he's 5-4-1 going into the Michigan game and he's fired before season's end.
Worse, Ohio Gov. Richard Celeste spreads it around that Bruce was in trouble with university President Edward Jennings ever since quarterback Art Schlichter admitted to a gambling problem. Uh, that was kind of a long time ago. All those 9-3 seasons and Jennings just never quite got around to addressing the problem. Huh.
That said, we have to point out that Bruce is, well, not a great coach. His team's tie with highly ranked LSU earlier this season was one of the saddest coaching jobs we've seen. LSU was taking chances, passing--however badly--trying to win. Ohio State ran the ball stupidly, even after intercepting an LSU pass toward the end of the game.
Said Bruce: "Let them make the mistake."
So our thinking on the Ohio State issue is that he should have been retained. They deserve each other.
Nebraska, Aerial Circus: The Cornhuskers have been criticized for not passing, but Osborne says the charge is unfounded. He says he calls from 23 to 25 passes a game, but since each pass play includes an option to run, the ball is actually thrown only about 15 times. Of the plays in which the ball goes into the air, he says, the 'Huskers average a gain of nine yards. When the option is employed, the average is eight.
"So when we call a pass play, most times something good happens. And we really call a lot more passes than people think."
The reason so little is being made of Oklahoma's lack of experience behind the ball--red-shirt freshman Charles Thompson is getting only his second start since quarterback Jamelle Holieway went down with a knee injury--is that everybody still remembers Holieway coming up here as a freshman and beating Nebraska.